This piece is a testimonial, and our general disclaimer about testimonials applies. We have spoken to some students at an instute and are faithfully reporting what they have said; we have not fact-checked these claims and make no claim about the truth of what the students told us.
This piece is about some events at the Madras School of Social Work (MSSW) in Chennai. In the past, we have covered the unjust dismissal of Prof R G Sudharson from MSSW,1 essentially for speaking up on behalf of social justice. Since then, we have been in contact with some students at the college, who have told us about the horrific mismanagement they are facing.
The students set up an online portal to collect anonymous testimonials from students, regarding the harrassment they faced. These testimonials were posted on the instagram page @mssw600008.
Together, they tell a story of an institute that is deeply sexist and abusive to its students. Some of the facts brought out are as follows. Faculty apparently feel empowered to discriminate against women and make constant comments about their attire and behaviour. They create a toxic and non-supportive environment for their students and often abuse them. Women who live in the hostel have very limited freedoms.
Here are some of the testimonials, from their instagram page:
Click here to read issue #1 of Notes on the Academy, a magazine dedicated to a critical evaluation of academic institutions and culture. As we mention in our manifesto, academia is a diseased community. To diagnose this disease, we must both study its symptoms and analyse the sources of these symptoms.
To study the symptoms of the disease in any social community, we must listen to the stories of those most affected by it. So, we collect testimonials — anonymised accounts from people across the academy about their suffering. The present issue contains three testimonials. The first, “We Are No Longer Afraid,” is a document prepared by students at a prominent institute of higher education regarding the mishandling of the pandemic by their administration. The second and third, “The Subtle Problem of Exclusion” and “The Mine Field,” are the stories of individuals within academia.
To analyse the symptoms of the disease, it always helps to classify. Thus, we have chosen to include articles about casteism in our institutes. Since there is already a wealth of literature analysing this issue, our role here is merely to introduce you to this literature.
I read the recent testimonial “The Mine Field” published by NOTA. It was an honest account of how most of the summer internships look like. It brought back memories of my own summer internships, the period where I struggled to understand what I did wrong, the frustration of not getting into a good institute, a great program, a reputed lab.
Before I elaborate my frustration and anger on the system, let me explain how summer internships work in elite institutes, like the one I studied in. Unlike the author writes in the earlier article, it was not an unwritten rule in my college. We had to do a summer internship to avail our scholarship for those three months.
We were also told that summer internships help us improve our research skills and know how research is done, and we believed summer internships are just that. However, what is kept hidden is that it is a resume-building endeavor – the better places we go to, the sooner we start, the higher are our chances of excelling in academia. But, how to get into those great places is left for us to figure out. And this is where I didn’t understand what the hell was going on.
My story is a collection of my experiences and some “subtle” issues that I faced during my PhD. I intentionally call these issues “subtle” because for a lot of people, the things which bothered me wouldn’t even be noticed. When I used to share these with people around me, the reactions I got were more like
“These are not real problems!”
“This happens to everybody, so it’s normal and you are supposed to face this!”
“You should ignore it!”
“People face much bigger issues, compared to those your life is very good. You should appreciate that!”
I do agree that some of these are valid points and some of these are probably an attempt to make me feel better but none of these helped me. Instead, they caused me more discomfort and self-doubt.