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The #MeToo movement and the voices of women of color

The expression “Me too”, that later gave name to the movement to empower women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault, was originally created by Tarana Burke in 2007. It only became mainstream once it was used by Alyssa Milano around a decade later. However, most of the names of victims in the spotlight have been of white women, while less attention has been given to the victims when they are women of color. This shows again how the voices of women of color have been systematically ignored and undermined.

Another example of this has been brought to light in the past weeks. The docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” exposed yet again the decades of sexual misconduct of singer R. Kelly against black girls and women. Although it appears that he will finally face justice, is cannot be forgotten that his misconduct has been known for many years, and little to nothing was done to protect black girls from becoming his victims.

The institution of science is not free of sexual harassment and assault on women. You may remember this past winter when astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was accused of harassing women, and as Prof. Chandra Prescod-Weinstein said, the event reminds “us that racial and gender bias continue to harm science and scientists”.  

Dr. BethAnn McLaughlin, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University (VU) Medical Center, is the creator of MeTooSTEM and has been one of the most important voices on the internet for empowering women and fighting sexual misconduct in the fields of STEM. In 2018, she was awarded the MIT's Media Lab Disobedience Award along with biologist Sherry Marts and the MeToo founder Tarana Burke. Her advocacy and her efforts to expose sexual harassers, however, have come with a cost to her career. Her tenure, which was initially approved by the Executive Committee of the Executive Faculty, was later reversed without being transparent about the reason (Read our letter regarding the process).

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This action was written by Ana Carvalho of the 500WS leadership team.