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A Brief But Spectacular take on reducing sexism in science

Jane Willenbring is a geologist who solves problems related to the earth’s surface. In 2020, she was featured in a NOVA documentary called “Picture a Scientist.” She and two other women shared their experiences in the sciences, ranging from brutal harassment to years of subtle slights. Tonight, she gives her Brief But Spectacular take on making science more diverse, equitable and open to all.

AIRED: July 30, 2021 | 0:03:59
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Jane Willenbring is a geologist who solves problems related to the earth's surface.

in 2020, she was featured in a nova documentary called "picture a scientist."

found on PBS Passport. She and two other women shared their experiences in the sciences,

ranging from brutal harassment to years of subtle slights.

Tonight, Willenbring gives her brief but spectacular take on

making science more diverse, equitable and open to all.

JANE WILLENBRING: I'm a geologist, and I study how landscapes change.

When I was starting to do my master's degree, one of the things that I was so

excited that I was going to get to do is to actually go to Antarctica.

And then when we finally got there, the thing that was most challenging to me was,

uh, the behavior of my graduate advisor.

Every day there would be some comment, um, about who I had had sex with.

He would call me a slut and a whore.

It was just very difficult to keep my spirits up during that period. Um, and so

I remember it was, uh, you know, just very difficult to navigate that situation.

He told me that if I said anything about it, that I would never have a job in science.

That was really hard. I was pretty vulnerable at the time because I really needed to get

this degree and I needed to get a letter from him too, so that I could go on to get my PhD.

And so I just kind of had to suck it up. And that's basically what I did for over a decade.

I did not realize how many women who are doing field science experience,

this kind of behavior. Over half of them experienced sexual harassment during field work.

One day, my little girl said "I want to be a scientist just like you." And she was

three years old, and that little comment from that little girl just triggered me.

That night I decided to, uh, file a title IX complaint against my former advisor.

Other women came forward as a result. He filed an appeal.

Then the president of the university actually stepped in

and said, Nope. We are firing him. He is no longer going to be working at this university.

He had had a glacier named after him in Antarctica,

and they actually decided to rename the glacier. I actually don't know what he's doing now.

when you talk to people about how to improve academia or STEM, for women,

you hear a lot about like, "Oh, we have to get more women interested in science and math." I

feel like we should, we should take a step back, and sort of protect the women and, um, and people

of color and people with disabilities and LGBTQ, uh, persons who are in science already

I have done a lot of work since submitting the harassment complaint

to try to make it so that my daughter has a better, has a better science life than I did.

My name is Jane Willenbring, and this is my Breif

But Spectacular take on calling out harassment in the sciences.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You can watch all our brief but spectacular episodes at PBS.org/newshour/brief.

On the NewsHour online right now, our Friday "5 STORIES" video

shares news items you may have missed, like a deadly red tide in Florida and pandemic-related

passport delays. Watch on our YouTube channel or on our website, pbs.org/newshour

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