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These Women Came to Antarctica for Science. Then the Predators Emerged

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the widespread sexual harassment and assault faced by women scientists conducting research in Antarctica, with a focus on the experiences of Jane Willenbring, a geologist who was harassed by her advisor David Marchant during a research trip to Antarctica in the late 1990s. The article also covers similar incidents reported on other Antarctic expeditions, the lack of accountability and support for victims, and the ongoing efforts to address the issue and improve safety and inclusion in Antarctic research programs.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] The Trouble in Antarctica

1. What were the initial challenges Jane Willenbring faced when she arrived in Boston to study under David Marchant?

  • Marchant insisted on picking Willenbring up from the airport, made her feel bad for his gesture, and asked personal questions about her boyfriend and whether she would be alone in Boston.
  • Marchant boasted about having a glacier named after him and suggested it was like a "pickup line".

2. What were some of the issues Willenbring faced during the research trip to Antarctica with Marchant?

  • Lack of privacy on the plane, with a partially concealed bucket as the only toilet option.
  • Marchant brought his unqualified brother Jeffrey along, who made Willenbring uncomfortable by peeing in front of her.
  • Marchant was abusive, belittling, and physically aggressive towards Willenbring, including blowing crystalline shards into her eyes and pushing her down a hill.
  • Willenbring was afraid to challenge Marchant's behavior due to her need for his support as her advisor.

3. What happened after Willenbring returned from the Antarctica trip?

  • Marchant tried to get Willenbring to write a tenure recommendation letter for him and threatened her career if she spoke about their time in Antarctica.
  • Willenbring experienced continued harassment and discrimination from male colleagues at her subsequent academic positions.

[02] Harassment on Other Antarctic Expeditions

1. What were the allegations of harassment and assault on the Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica?

  • Several women reported incidents of sexual harassment, coercion, and assault by crew members, including one woman waking up next to a naked crew member with no memory of what happened.
  • The expedition organizers were slow to address the issues, and some women felt unsafe and that their experiences were dismissed.

2. What did the government-funded review by Meredith Nash uncover about harassment in Antarctic research programs?

  • Nash's interviews and surveys found widespread incidents of harassment and assault, with women often having to work in the field with their abusers.
  • Women felt the program leadership lacked the knowledge and willingness to properly address the issues, and doubted the ability of HR to handle formal complaints.

[03] Lack of Accountability and Ongoing Issues

1. How did institutions and companies respond to the allegations of harassment?

  • Boston University initially only suspended Marchant for 3 years before allowing him to return, despite finding he had sexually harassed Willenbring.
  • Companies like Leidos and GHG were slow to properly investigate and address allegations, sometimes dismissing them or failing to protect victims from further contact with their abusers.

2. What are the ongoing challenges and efforts to improve safety and inclusion in Antarctic research programs?

  • The NSF and Australian Antarctic Division have implemented some changes, like banning alcohol sales and adding more women to leadership roles, but women still report a lack of trust and fear of retaliation for speaking up.
  • The issue extends beyond the US and Australia, as many countries with Antarctic programs lack proper policies and accountability measures around harassment and assault.
  • Addressing the problem is crucial to supporting the important climate research being conducted in Antarctica.
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