Ada Gregory is the Associate Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the student Ombudsperson at Duke University. Ada Gregory’s career demonstrates passion and commitment to violence prevention. She brings more than 25 years of experience working in a variety of capacities designing, implementing, and evaluating training for judges, physicians, teachers, police officers, 911 operators, attorneys, students and a variety of other professionals and lay people. As a former police officer, victim advocate, trainer, non-profit director, and campus administrator, she brings hands-on experience working with diverse groups to develop a coordinated response to violence, harassment and other equity concerns. She received the 2002 National Peace Award in recognition of her efforts in the field of violence against women.
Ada Gregory recently provided training to the Duke School of Medicine on creating a culture where harassment and incivility can be effectively stopped.
Emilia Chiscop-Head: How do you think of / see incivility, harassment and bullying in the context of research integrity (and research misconduct)?
Ada Gregory: Oftentimes, callous behavior and insensitive remarks create the breeding grounds for more egregious harassment and abuse. It contributes to a culture of fear in which speaking up is seen as risking abuse or retaliation. That kind of silencing makes it less likely for someone to raise questions or concerns about research conduct early and that puts everyone at risk.
ECH: What is the most common story that you hear when students come to you?
AG: Every story seems to have its own unique aspects but often the underlying issue is the powerlessness they feel to address concerns or fear that speaking up will compromise their progress toward graduation, will affect their grades, evaluations, recommendations, manuscript submissions, and job options, and will follow them well after graduate school. That kind of fear and powerlessness prevent us from having the kind of environment where everyone can thrive and too often disproportionally affects underrepresented minorities.
ECH: Do you think that universities have more violence and harassment now than a decade ago? If so, why? Or why not?
AG: I don’t know that the prevalence has changed—we’ve just become more aware of it because of things like #metoo. More people are speaking up about their experiences in all kinds of contexts and that influences what we see and hear.
“It’s so important to start having more conversations and truly listening to understand the experience of folks who have different experiences than our own.”
ECH: What would you say to those who think that the anti-harassment movement and the attention to Title IX issues are not based in a real problem, but “would rather be driven by excessive political correctness”?
AG: All of us tend to have a “confirmation bias.” We see what we believe and look for evidence to support those beliefs. Sometimes it’s hard to see what we don’t experience ourselves. I believe that is why it’s so important to start having more conversations about these experiences and truly listening to understand the experience of folks who have different experiences than our own.
ECH: Are you approached only by students or also by other members of the Duke community who need to be heard?
AG: I serve only students in my role as ombudsperson – undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Faculty have their own ombuds; staff are encouraged to bring their concerns to Human Resources.
ECH: Could you name the most common forms of bullying and harassment in the academic / research work place?
AG: Many of the things that I hear about range from subtle things like ignoring someone in a meeting or other setting, isolating them by not including them in group communications, meetings, etc., to aggressively criticizing or shaming in a public setting to direct derogatory comments about their race, gender, sexuality, etc. There’s a continuum of these behaviors and it’s often the cumulative effect of continually experiencing slights and micro aggressions that affect students, making them reconsider their place at Duke and in the academy altogether.
ECH: Do you think that incivility, violence, wrong behavior need to be addressed at the personal, cultural or institutional level?
AG: All of the above! We really have to work at all levels to change culture.
“I like helping students avoid some of the mistakes that I made and use their soaring sense of possibility to make the change that they want to see.”
ECH: When did you decide to dedicate your career to eradicating violence?
AG: I don’t know that I set out to do this work – I’ve found myself a witness to and sometimes the cause of so much harm. I feel an obligation to try and make some effort to repair that harm in any way that I can.
ECH: Why did you choose the Academic arena over politics, governance or advocacy?
AG: I’ve worked in local and state government - it’s important, hard, and sometimes frustrating work. I love being able to bring what I learned from doing that work to the educational setting. I like helping students avoid some of the mistakes that I made and use their soaring sense of possibility to make the change that they want to see.
ECH: What is your number one piece of advice for someone who is mistreated at work, on the street or at home?
AG: To talk to someone for support – whether that’s a friend, co-worker, or therapist. That’s often the first step in finding a way forward, giving voice to the harm that they experience.
ECH: What’s next for you?
AG: We’ll have to see!
Note: The opinions expressed in this rubric belong exclusively to those we interviewed and do not represent the official point of view of the Duke Office of Scientific Integrity.