When I entered Chiropractic College, I was approaching forty years old. I had already been working for over twenty years and living on my own since I was seventeen. My first years of working were in the music business where “harassment” was an every day occurrence; it wasn’t spoken about but was something we each dealt with on our own terms privately. There are lots of stories I could tell, if I wanted to.
By the time I reached Chiropractic College, I had left the music business and been trained as a Hellerwork Practitioner - a type of Structural Integration physical therapist in the tradition of Ida Rolf, working with physician referrals. I had chosen one of the best Chiropractic schools in the country for its Harvard Medical School model and international student body. I was in a class of one hundred and fifty smart, competitive students, about eighty per cent male and most, right out of college. By then, I was skilled, mature and knew how to work with patients.
The first week of this intense four year program was an orientation, where professors introduced themselves and described labs, expectations and protocols - as in any medical school. The labs were split into small groups, while the lectures were all done in large lecture halls with all the students present. That week, we all filed into the lecture hall for an introduction by the head anatomy professor, who began a slide program.
The anatomy professor was a man in his forties, with frizzy red hair. He passed out a syllabus, introduced himself and started the slides. It began as expected, with slides of human dissections. Perhaps to keep the interest of the room, within five minutes of the first dissection slides, were slides of his Mexican fishing trip. The focus of these slides were young girls in bikinis. The room exploded with whistles and shouts from the young men when the girls in bikinis came on the screen; when it got quiet again, the dissection slides continued, interspersed again and again with more girls in bikinis from his vacation. This went on until the lecture concluded.
During this time, I was seeing private patients, two of whom were attorneys whose expertise was in sexual harassment in the workplace. They were hired by large companies, like Disney, to present workshops on the topic and they were experts on the subject. I saw them (they were a couple) frequently and they were excited to hear about how my first week of Chiropractic College went. When I told them about the slides of girls in bikinis, they sat me down and said, “Risa, we are going to coach you on how to handle this”. They were serious. They said I was to make an appointment with him in his office and not tell him beforehand what the meeting was about. Then they said I was to sit down with him and tell him exactly how I felt watching the slide presentation, without anger or blame. I was to report back to them after I had done it.
I did exactly as they said, arranging the meeting, and once in his private office, telling him how shocked I was when the first slides of the girls in bikinis came on the screen. I continued, telling him how embarrassed, disappointed and hurt I felt - for myself and for the other young women in the room. The more I spoke, the quieter he became; he didn’t speak a word to me until I had finished. I told him that I was forty years old, had already been through this kind of workplace harassment and was hoping to have a different experience in medical school. As I was coached to do, I never blamed him and only told him how I felt.
At first, he looked shocked; I know he was not expecting this conversation. He sat down and listened to me until I stopped speaking. When I finished describing how I felt, he apologized and said it would never happen again. He kept his word.
Honestly, I was going to write you a holiday blog, but with the stories coming out about sexual harassment, I felt it was important to tell this story now. I do extend my wishes to you for a wonderful holiday and hope, alongside your celebrations that you teach your children well.