Multiple women are filing sexual harassment charges against a prominent geologist, David Marchant. After reading the accusations, if true, Marchant is not at all suited to a life of teaching.
Willenbring alleges that Marchant, her thesis adviser, then 37, greeted her daily with the words: “Today I’m going to make you cry.” He slept in his own tent and Lewis in the cook tent, leaving Willenbring to share a tent with Jeffrey Marchant, she writes. According to Willenbring, Marchant told her repeatedly that his brother had a “porn-sized” penis, and said she should have sex with him and feel lucky for the opportunity.
One week, Willenbring alleges, David Marchant “decided that he would throw rocks at me every time I urinated in the field.” She cut her water consumption so she could last the 12-hour days far from camp without urinating, then drank liters at night. She says she developed a urinary tract infection and urinary incontinence, which has since recurred. When blood appeared in her urine, she alleges, Marchant prohibited her from going back to McMurdo for treatment.
“Most days,” Willenbring writes, “I would listen to long discussions about how I was a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore.’” When she disagreed, she alleges, “he would call me a liar and say, ‘There’s no place in science for liars, is there Jane? Is there Jane?’” repeating the phrase for up to 20 minutes.
As they neared camp near the end of one arduous day, Willenbring alleges in the complaint that Marchant waited above her on a steep slope. He said, “I noticed someone hasn’t cried today,” grabbed her by the backpack and threw her down the slope, she writes. She climbed up twice more; each time, she claims, he shoved her down again, leaving her bruised, with an injured knee and a twisted wrist.
In another instance, Willenbring alleges in the complaint, Marchant declared it was “training time.” Excited that he might be about to teach her something, Willenbring allowed him to pour volcanic ash, which includes tiny shards of glass, into her hand. She had been troubled by ice blindness, caused by excessive ultraviolet light exposure, which sensitizes the eyes. She says she leaned in to observe, and Marchant blew the ash into her eyes. “He knew that glass shards hitting my already sensitive eyes would be really painful—and it was,” she writes.
That isn’t just sexual harassment, it’s sadistic abuse of a student who is dependent on her instructor and isolated from any support network of any kind. There is also corroboration from other students who were in the field with them.
Willenbring writes that she waited to file her complaint with BU until October 2016, shortly after she received tenure, for fear of professional reprisal from Marchant before she had established herself as a scholar. Several of the women involved and two male witnesses say they feel guilty about not speaking out at the time, guilt that fuels their desire to speak now.
I would hope they feel guilt. Allies ought to speak up when they hear of these things.
Speaking of allies…
Nearly all of the women say they considered reporting the abuse at the time. Doe met with then–department chair Carol Simpson after returning to BU to discuss filing academic charges against Marchant. Doe’s letter alleges that Simpson, noting Marchant’s “sizeable” reputation and funding, “asked me if it wouldn’t just be easier on me to complete my degree and leave. I was astonished, deflated, and, I believed at that time, left without recourse.”
Jesus fucking christ. An academic reputation ought not to shield you from criminal failures to meet your academic obligations as a scholar and a teacher and a citizen of a research community. Bringing in grant money is not the weregild for mistreating those in your care.
I’m impressed with Willenbring for persisting in the face of such traumatic abuse to earn a career of her own in science. I’m not at all impressed with Marchant, no matter how many publications and grants he might have.