UCD academic Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin said it took her a huge amount of time to process her experience of harassment and abuse in her job and she feels a broader conversation is needed around the issue.
She said as a consequence of this she decided to go public with her experience.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said the issue of harassment is not confined to UCD or to one gender and it is time to address the problem properly and change the culture and structures in academia.
She said she hopes her story will lead to meaningful changes in third level institutions.
She said did not expect the volume of messages that she received as a result of her Irish Times article at the weekend, adding it was quite overwhelming to hear from so many people who have been in the same position or advocated for those suffering harassment.
She spoke of how she began lecturing in UCD in September 2014 and was happy and proud to start there as an academic.
Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said the harassment began in March/April 2015 when Professor Hans-Benjamin Braun began initiating conversation that were “a little out of the norm” and escalated to the point where she had to lock her office door, she could not work on campus late and did not go on campus on weekends.
In addition, she had her phone ready to call emergency numbers at all time.
She said she made a complaint to the human resources department every time she was contacted by Professor Braun, which eventually went in her favour when she went to gardaí in April 2017 after it “felt like things were really getting out of hand”.
“I love my work and I don’t want to leave but it did feel like I was going to have to.”@aoibhinn_ni_s discusses the immense impact harassment had on her life. @TodaywithClaire #TodayCB pic.twitter.com/PIsNnwqTw5
— RTÉ Radio 1 (@RTERadio1) September 8, 2020
Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said it was such a relief when the process was completed and she regrets not making a victim impact statement, but at the time she was on maternity leave and did not want to relive it all over again or potentially see Professor Braun in court.
She said she would have liked more encouragement from UCD to make a formal complaint and asks herself continuously why it took her so long to do so.
Everyone in UCD followed the protocols, she said, but the policy at the time emphasised informal mediation, which is not appropriate for harassment cases because harassment is all about power.
Professor Braun wanted to be in a room with her, she said, and she did not want to be in a room with him.
Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said she knew that institutions are reviewing their policies, which is to be welcomed, but she hopes new policies are victim-centred, and said cultures must be changed to help people disclose their experiences.
She added that if she was a 17 or 18-year-old student she would probably prefer to speak to someone who was independent of the university rather than somebody who may have loyalties to the institution.
She said she has had some really nice emails and letters from colleagues and former students who knew nothing of her experiences, adding that she does not want to be negative about UCD because she is really passionate about her job and enjoys her career as an academic.
She said she was really glad she did not have to leave her job but the only reason she did not leave is because she came across a webinar about harassment in academia which gave her the impetus to go to gardaí.
Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said she has received a written apology from President Andrew Deeks and has spoken to him.
She said she knew nothing of the apology until a friend sent her a link to the story on Sunday evening.
In her opinion, she said, she was just worried that might be indicative of the university response because “if writing something on a piece of paper is the action, that’s not going to be enough”.