Chasing Closure

I have spent months, literal months, thinking about what to say and when to say it. After six years, my litigation against UT Austin settled three weeks before trial, on 10 April 2022. Per the terms of the settlement, I can only say that the terms were mutually beneficial to both parties. It was a very tough decision to settle. I went back and forth A LOT. My motivation for suing was primarly to protect my job, not because I wanted $$ or other things. Trust me, the hourly rate for a lawsuit against your employer is so not worth it. So it was a hard decision to not let things play out to the end. That said, most days I am grateful to have opted to settle, though I can’t help but laugh at a formulaic line in the settlement documents: the settlement buys peace. If only peace could be bought. What it buys is some form of end.

Soon after settling, some of the reasons I opted to settle rather than go to trial in a state with public records were removed from the equation. The specific ways that this happened saddened me (and that’s all I will ever say). One of the main reasons I sued was to force institutional changes to processes that harmed me. Partly because of Covid, those processes seem to have been changed sufficiently. I will be making sure that this remains the case. It aggravates me that these kinds of basic changes required a global pandemic and a lawsuit but there we are. Most important to me is that nobody else can have the ADA process weaponized against them; and then have retaliation after retaliation go unaddressed for years.

Sometime in July, I realized that I was waiting for a feeling of closure. I also realized that there wasn’t going to be one. Sure, there are plenty of things that can perform the task of closing one door and opening another; but those things don’t come with anything like a feeling of closure. Like many readers of novels, I like, no, I crave closure. I hate those books that force you to read the next one in the series. I want a satisfying narrative arc, probably because real life so rarely offers one. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that such a long, winding, terrible ordeal can’t just end in a satisfying way and be placed back on the bookshelf. For starters, I can’t pretend nothing happened and now it’s back to business as usual.

Over the last several months, I have come to think of closure as a process, not so different from grieving. And, in a lot of ways, that is exactly what I am doing: grieving the career trajectory that was taken away from me by the actions of my employer and its representatives. I am grieving a version of my life story that was taken away. It feels incredibly unfair at times. I am still trying to see it, also, as a blessing. Something life has taught me, repeatedly, is that none of us really get the lives we imagined we would have at 35 or even 50. At some point, something happens beyond our control and our lives take abrupt turns. The goal is not to avoid the twists and turns, even the really big and hard ones; it’s to figure out how to re-route, perhaps to a different destination than an earlier version of yourself ever could have imagined.

Closure will come with time, with being able to focus my energy on my job and my life instead of playing part time lawyer. It will come with reclaiming and redefining my career trajectory. With all of the pain came many blessings and insights that never would have happened without a truly awful life experience. I can’t un-remember things but I can redirect my anger. Most of all, *I* am the one in control of my life and time for the first time in a very long time. I am on research leave this year and taking great pleasure in the chance to do the work I love so much. I have complete faith in my ability to reclaim my career, in part because I was lucky enough to have so much support from my colleagues in Late Antiquity.

Something that I realized, far too late, was that much of what happened to me could have been tempered by a good mentor outside of my department back in the beginning, even before tenure. Universities really need to up their mentoring game (or, at least, mine does). We need external mentors just as much as we need mentors in our department. Only in hindsight do I understand that, even from the start, my colleagues viewed the harassment as an opportunity to deal with a situation and not as something I should be protected from. At every turn, nobody had my best interests in mind. Some perhaps thought they did but their actions betray them.

I was too inexperienced to understand the dynamics of the situation. I needed someone from outside to tell me, straight out, what I needed to do to protect myself and, especially, my career trajectory. I now have an external mentor. I wish I had him advising me fifteen years ago, or even a decade ago, but I know that he will be invaluable going forward. And that’s actually what closure is: taking one step at a time, away from the past and towards the future. Closure is realizing that the pain doesn’t vanish, it fades. It is realizing that it is possible to re-imagine one’s professional and personal life. It is realizing that I am me and not the caricature I read about in so many documents. Closure does not demand that I forget anything, only that I use those memories and experiences for good.

Most of all, closure is realizing that what happened to me is my story. I owe it to nobody to re-traumatize myself so that they can maybe see a different side of the story. It is not my job to prove anything to anyone. I did not sign an NDA. Nobody is silencing me. I have not been intimidated into silence. I am not protecting anyone or anything. I am choosing silence because it isthe healthiest way for me to move forward in my career and life.

What is my job? Live life, happily and as fully as possible; give my time to causes that matter to me; never forget the enormous value of empathy. I am always available to anyone who finds themselves being harassed and/or retaliated against. I learned a lot through my experience and am happy (?) to share that hardwon knowledge with those who need guidance or just some empathy and encouragement.

I plan to continue writing in this space, just not about myself or my own experience. So, by way of conclusion, many people will remember this as the week that Queen Elizabeth died. I will remember it as the week that the DOJ filed an amicus brief in support of three women who are suing Harvard for refusing to take responsibility for the harmful behavior of one of their employees. I am watching this case closely, largely because I know how hard it is to do what these three graduate students are doing; but also because this case has a chance of changing the legal landscape in higher education.

For far too long, universities have shielded abusers because, in their calculation, that is the best way to shield themselves from liability. The DOJ amicus brief makes it clear that universities are, in fact, liable for the actions of their employees, including retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, under Title IX. Title IX — that little law, passed on the day I was born, now will hopefully protect generations of future students and other members of the campus community from abusive university employees (and we all know I mean tenured faculty). It is shameful that, in 2022, universities continue to claim no liability for actions taken by their employees when employees are acting in their employee role (ie not as “regular people with no power”). It should not require legal precedents to establish liability but of course it will. By going to trial, these three brave women have a chance to make things so much better for those that come after them. I hope university legal offices around the country are taking note.



I am who I am.

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