I did not kill the chili pepper on RateMyProfessors. You did.

Today we had small but important victory in getting the folks at RateMyProfessors to take down the chili peppers students use to evaluate professors’ ‘hotness.’ Within 72 hours of being called out by 14,000 academics and students, they pulled a thorn from the side of women in education. I am grateful that MTV and Viacom recognized that telling students that evaluating professors based on their looks has aged poorly. In the age of #MeToo, #TimesUp and #MeTooSTEM, we know better, so we must do better.

Being a professor is an incredibly stressful job, but being a female professor is measurably more difficult. Females make up the majority of educators for our college students yet earn far less than our male colleagues, do more university service and still experience higher levels of sexual harassment than any other profession outside of the military.

Three days ago I was lost and angry watching the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine share shameful numbers on the sexual harassment and isolation of women in academia. These were more than numbers to me. They were stories of loss and sadness. Stories of brokenness we have just started sharing outside of whispers.

It was painfully clear in that moment that the failure to respect women in academics was ingrained far too early in our young men. RateMyProfessors is one of the earliest opportunities for students to exert very public power over our careers and reputations. Giving us chili peppers is degrading. Put simply, my single mother did not put my brother and me through college and graduate school for 25 years so that I could be measured by a vegetable.

In spite of all the challenges women in academics face, we continue to strive to empower our students with a sense that a university education provides a chance to be judged on their creativity without fear for their safety. Chili peppers fly in the face of this mission. As a mother with a son heading to college, this point strikes me very close to home these days. I want all of our students to know that colleges provide safe havens to explore new ideas that fuel our growth, care for our sick and enrich the lives of everyone. But the reality is that this is still not true. Women are sexually assaulted and harassed as students with horrifying frequency in college as well as in life outside of campuses. Our university system for addressing these violations is often more demeaning than the attacks themselves. We have to do better and this is a small but important step in the right direction.

Today, the good people at RateMyProfessors took a hard look at how we are judging one another and made the right call. They chose civility and kindness over snarky banter and retribution.  They chose to show our students that the path forward is not one of pettiness and locker room banter. So I thank you, RateMyProfessors, on behalf of all professors. Your executives made the right call quickly and with the moral authority we should all be empowered with when we see that our actions and long held ideas are hurting others. You did the right thing.

Tomorrow, we will pull some more thorns and tell some more truths, but today I am grateful. Thank you, friends in academia. This is your win.

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Please consider signing the petition to Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, to stop lecturing us about sexual harassment and ostracize scientists who have been found guilty of sexually assaulting and harassing students and colleagues from our communities and the National Academy of Sciences. They have hurt too many and deserve no honors.

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10 Comments

[…] the move as another win for campus climate and, for female professors, in particular. In an essay on Edge for Scholars, a commentary website, McLaughlin wrote, “Today we had small but important […]

[…] an essay following the controversy, McLaughlin wrote that the removal of the chili pepper “pulled a […]

[…] the move as another win for campus climate and, for female professors, in particular. In an essay on Edge for Scholars, a commentary website, McLaughlin wrote, “Today we had small but important […]

… call me hopelessly naive, but I had always assumed that the ‘hotness’ meter on that website referred to some other characteristic than physical appearance. How well you meshed with the zeitgeist, or something…Good for you, for slaying dragons.

[…] “Telling students that evaluating professors based on their looks has aged poorly. In the age of #MeToo, #TimesUp and #MeTooSTEM, we know better, so we must do better,” McLaughlin wrote in an article on edgeforscholars.org. […]

[…] “Telling students that evaluating professors based on their looks has aged poorly. In the age of #MeToo, #TimesUp and #MeTooSTEM, we know better, so we must do better,” McLaughlin wrote in an article on edgeforscholars.org. […]

[…] “Telling students that evaluating professors based on their looks has aged poorly. In the age of #MeToo, #TimesUp and #MeTooSTEM, we know better, so we must do better,” McLaughlin wrote in an article on edgeforscholars.org. […]

[…] “Telling students that evaluating professors based on their looks has aged poorly. In the age of #MeToo, #TimesUp and #MeTooSTEM, we know better, so we must do better,” McLaughlin wrote in an article on edgeforscholars.org. […]

[…] of sexual harassment than any other profession outside of the military,” she wrote in a blog post on […]

[…] levels of sexual harassment than any other profession outside of the military,” she wrote in a blog post on […]

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