National Museum of Natural History director Kirk Johnson responds to sexual misconduct issues

Ocean Hall at the NMNH (WikiMedia)
Yesterday, in response to an article last week in The Verge relating the story of a research student named "Angie" who was sexually assaulted at the National Museum of Natural History, NMNH director Kirk Johnson issued the followed statement to staff, fellows, and other museum associates. Also yesterday, Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) called upon the Smithsonian Institution (which runs the NMNH) to investigate the mishandling of this case. I discussed both of these developments in an update story yesterday, but we did not have space to reproduce the entire statement from Johnson (although we did reproduce Rep Speier's letter to the SI's Inspector General in its entirety.)

I will leave it to readers to judge the seriousness of Johnson's memo, but one thing did strike me: The presentation on sexual harassment mentioned at the end will take place at an all-staff meeting the morning after the U.S. presidential election. I'm not sure how well NMNH researchers and staff will be able to concentrate on the subject immediately after a major historical event. Perhaps not the ideal timing for such an important discussion?

Dear NMNH Colleagues,

I’m sure I am not alone in the dismay and sadness I have felt in recent months as report after report has underscored the serious threat of sexism and sexual misconduct in the workplace. This is an issue that affects all of us, and one that weighs heavily on my mind as the person who bears responsibility for the safety and well-being of all members of the NMNH community. This is a responsibility that we all share. I’m writing to you to acknowledge those among you who have courageously raised your concerns about whether we are doing all that we can to ensure a harassment-free environment, to invite further discussion within our community, and to highlight the important protections that are already in place at NMNH.

As communicated by Secretary Skorton to all Smithsonian staff on October 7, we address reports of workplace harassment (including sexual harassment) through a formal process led by the Office of Equal Employment and Minority Affairs. These procedures are outlined in the Prevention of Workplace Harassment Policy Statement issued to all employees, and codified in Smithsonian Directive 214. All Smithsonian staff must complete prevention of workplace harassment training every three years. An anti-harassment hotline (202-633-6620) is available for individuals who do not feel comfortable discussing the issue with their supervisor or supervisory chain.

I would like to reinforce these policies and reaffirm that all members of our community (employees, contractors, fellows, agency partners, volunteers, and interns) should know that they have the right to confidentiality, and that they will have support if they bring to light any incident of sexual harassment, or harassment of any kind.

Our next all-staff meeting will occur on Wednesday, November 9, at 10:30 AM and will include a presentation on our procedures for preventing and responding to sexual harassment.

I am committed to dialogue on this important subject, and to making improvements to ensure a safe, harassment-free workplace. I am grateful for your support on this important issue and I invite your feedback and suggestions.



Kirk Johnson
Sant Director

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