Edit ModuleShow Tags

Why She Said #MeToo

Years after experiencing terrible abuse from her mentor, researcher Jane Willenbring spoke up for accountability in the science community


Published:

 

Before Me Too became a hashtag, Jane Willenbring decided to take on a powerful man in a male-dominated field for sexually harassing her some 20 years earlier.

His name is David Marchant, a prominent geologist who was her professor and thesis advisor at Boston University when she was a graduate student.

Willenbring, who is now an associate professor in geoscience research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, said that during Antarctic expeditions, Marchant constantly called her sexually degrading names, hit her with rocks, repeatedly shoved her down a hill, and blew volcanic ash containing glass shards into her eyes.

While the experience was traumatic, Willenbring decided to keep quiet as she pursued her education, worried that speaking up would be detrimental to her career.

“This is not the most healthy approach, but I sort of packed it away like a box to be opened later, like a bad Christmas present,” she says.

She unwrapped that box in October 2016 by filing a complaint with the university against Marchant after a confluence of events made her realize she no longer could—or should—remain silent: First, she had just received tenure, so she felt her career would no longer be in jeopardy. Second, a wave of sexual harassment allegations was rising against presidential candidate Donald Trump, including the infamous Access Hollywood tape. And although Willenbring had long hoped she was Marchant’s only victim, she’d heard that was not the case.

“It was wishful thinking that my not saying anything was not doing any harm,” she says.

The real kicker was when Willenbring’s then-three-year-old daughter saw her in her lab coat and exclaimed, “I want to be a scientist like you, Mommy.”

“It was a perfect storm,” she says. “The idea that my little girl would experience something like that… I wanted to make it better for her, for my female students, for the people I haven’t met yet.”

Several other women joined Willenbring’s complaint, and after a yearlong investigation, Boston University terminated Marchant and rejected an appeal to regain his post. The Geological Society of America has revoked his fellowship and is revamping its code of conduct related to sexual harassment. Other scientific organizations are taking steps to prevent this behavior, too: the National Science Foundation, which provides grants for research, says it is considering requiring universities to report sexual harassment issues as a part of funding requests.

For Willenbring, all of this is positive. But above all, what she hopes will come from her experience and all of the other #MeToo stories is better understanding of sexual harassment and a sense of community, especially among women.

“When other women say, ‘Well, he never harassed me,’ I find that to be flawed reasoning,” she says. “It’s like if someone came up to you and said, ‘Your neighbor killed someone,’ and you said: ‘Well, he never killed me.’ You don’t need to sexually harass every woman to be a sexual harasser.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More in What San Diego Women Want:

How I’m Empowering Women in the Workplace

Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry reveals what has driven her to make a change in San Diego

What Women in San Diego Earn

Seven San Diego women get transparent with us—about salary, how they got where they are, and what motivates them

Why Does a Gender Pay Gap Exist?

San Diego Magazine Editor in Chief (and mom) Erin Meanley Glenny talks with UC San Diego economics professor (and mom) Kate Antonovics to break down the crucial question

What Happens When a Company Goes Salary Transparent?

Lauren Burgoni and Kim Barwise from Seer Interactive share their experiences

Why She Said #MeToo

Years after experiencing terrible abuse from her mentor, researcher Jane Willenbring spoke up

I Wear What I Want

Employment attorney and chair of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation says it’s all about confidence

I Work with My Mom/Daughter

The old adage is “Don’t mix blood with business,” but the mother-daughter duos who run these successful San Diego brands would beg to differ

What Women Want? Perks and Flexibility

These are some of the San Diego companies doing it best, with work-from-home days, elder care, and more

My Other Job Is...

Meet three San Diego women pursuing multiple, seemingly disparate jobs

What San Diego Women Want

53 working women share their compelling stories on navigating pay equity, the baby penalty, #MeToo, and more
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

My Other Job Is...

Meet three San Diego women pursuing multiple, seemingly disparate jobs

I Work with My Mom/Daughter

The old adage is “Don’t mix blood with business,” but the mother-daughter duos who run these successful San Diego brands would beg to differ

I Wear What I Want

Employment attorney and chair of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation says it’s all about confidence
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Ten Pet Friendly Palm Springs Restaurants
    Ten Pet Friendly Palm Springs Restaurants
  2. Best of San Diego Party 2018
  3. A Sneak Peek at ‘The Heart of Rock & Roll’
    The Old Globe’s newest world-premiere musical promises a familiar soundtrack and all the good feels of an ’80s rom-com
  4. What San Diego Women Want
    53 working women share their compelling stories on navigating pay equity, the baby penalty, #MeToo, and more
  5. First Look: Lola 55
    A top restaurant industry strategist brings a chef-driven taco shop to the East Village
  6. Sushi’s Next Gen Is Here at Himitsu
    In La Jolla, a Sushi Ota protégé sticks to an age-old tradition of quality
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Vote Now for Your Orangetheory Winner!

Winners will be announced at our Sweat event on May 12

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

Ten Pet Friendly Palm Springs Restaurants

Ten Pet Friendly Palm Springs Restaurants

AquaVie: 10 Reasons It’s Downtown’s Best Kept Secret

The best workout and spa getaway around? It’s actually right underneath your nose.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags