[Ethnocomm] Bringing ongoing conversations about Hymes to Ethnocomm

David Boromisza-Habashi dbh at Colorado.EDU
Sun Aug 11 16:08:33 EDT 2019


Dear Ethnocommers,

I have been participating in, and hearing about, ongoing discussions of graduate students' efforts at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (GSE) to shed new light on allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment against Dell Hymes during his tenure as GSE Dean between 1975 and 1987. (This article<https://www.thedp.com/article/2018/04/gse-getup-sexual-harassment-dell-hymes-portrait-removal-upenn-penn-philadelphia> provides a quick summary of the allegations and GSE graduate students' advocacy.)

I was deeply shaken by the information these students shared with the world about Hymes's troubling past, as I'm sure many others would be if they learned that the main founder of their research tradition had been credibly accused of discrimination and harassment against women. These revelations against Hymes - whom I still consider a brilliant scholar, and to whom I will remain intellectually indebted throughout my academic career - are especially disturbing at a time when we are witnessing an unparalleled openness and abuse that, for those who have experienced it, can be really challenging to hear. Personally, I feel a great need to talk them over with you all, my primary intellectual community. I am not assuming that all of you agree with this sentiment - after all, Hymes can no longer speak for himself - but I hope that those of you who do will indulge me.

In particular, there is a question I would like to invite all of us to answer: What are our moral and practical obligations as scholars, here and now, in the light of Penn GSE graduate students' revelations? I don't think we need to reach a consensus about what those obligations might be. When I put this question to graduate students in my Ethnography of Communication course this past spring they offered six different, equally compelling, and perhaps not altogether incompatible, suggestions. I am happy to share these, but I would also love to hear from my colleagues, including those who have already found creative ways to act upon a sense of moral obligation.

Those of you who are considering joining this conversation may be interested in the context in which accusations against Hymes were made. Penn GSE students had compiled issues of The Daily Pennsylvanian containing coverage of Hymes's time as GSE Dean in The Daily Pennsylvanian. I extracted all relevant articles and uploaded them into this folder on Google Drive<https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1hqK1aKTFJ0iAe6noCE7Kzy1YoI9MVn19?usp=sharing>. TDP articles are arranged in chronological order. GSE students also identified two articles containing relevant critical reflections on Hymes's relationship to social justice (Shirley Brice Heath) and the feminization of anthropology (Susan Philips), both of which are included in the same folder.

For those of you who lack the time or energy to read through these materials, let me summarize the basic facts I'm aware of (based on these materials):

- There were credible allegations of rampant sexism at Penn GSE in the mid-to-late 1980s.
- There were credible allegations of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination against Hymes at the time of his service as Dean of Penn GSE (1975-1987).
- Hymes neither apologized publicly, nor faced legal repercussions. Legal cases in which he was involved were settled out of court.
- Allegations against Hymes are a part of Penn GSE's institutional memory to this day.
- The GSE hid Hymes's past misconduct from public scrutiny.
- Graduate students have made successful demands for contemporary symbolic and policy responses.

If this list is not exhaustive, or accurate, I hope you will let me know.

Let me use this opportunity to thank those colleagues who encouraged me to bring this discussion to Ethnocomm. Also, advance thanks to everyone willing to join this reflection on our research tradition's past, present, and future, and for sharing your responses and thoughts.

Cheers, David

---
David Boromisza-Habashi, Ph.D. (he/him/his)
Associate Professor
Department of Communication
University of Colorado Boulder
CMCI<http://www.colorado.edu/cmci/people/communication/david-boromisza-habashi> | Academia.edu<https://colorado.academia.edu/DavidBoromiszaHabashi> | Twitter<https://twitter.com/dr_dbh>

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