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‘Are there any doctors on the aircraft?’

Well, I knew of at least three doctors on board traveling together to attend a conference. It was only a few months after being awarded our doctorate degrees and with a sense of pride we selected ‘Dr.’ instead of the equally useless ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ when booking our tickets. That was the first time that I started thinking that titles are possibly less than relevant outside the academic bubble.

Since then, I have had many titles assigned to me. I went through the ranks of assistant professor though I was not assisting any other professor, associate professor even though I was associated with others prior to this rank, and to full professor despite the fact that I’ve never felt less than a full person. I also have had titles such as manager, chair (this does not sit well with my brain), team-leader, and director, even though my tasks have not changed much throughout these titles. 

However, becoming a full professor and a director altered how others saw me, and that has a lot to do with power. Let’s just say that my requests are now received with more urgency. And, while I typically find amusing comments such as ‘sorry, I thought you were a student’, ‘you don’t look like a professor’, ‘we can meet whenever you can, you are the busy one’, ‘it’s my job to support you’, they are a little troubling. They are a potent reminder that students, the so-called ‘support’ staff, and professors in lower ranks carry an unhealthy excess of respect for others at higher ranks. 

We cannot address social safety if we do not address power and we cannot address power if we do not stop obsessing over titles and hierarchies

And this is where the hierarchical system  – a symptom of power – proves to be not-flawless. Because power is the driving force of harassment. Commonly, it is a director, a manager, a chair, a full professor who is accused of abuse or misconduct and more often than not it is a rector and not an assistant professor who gets away with sexual harassment for years. Historically, this person happens to be a man, because academia not only nurtures but it also celebrates a masculine culture.  

I don’t say that titles are the reason for harassment. I say that we cannot address social safety if we do not address power and we cannot address power if we do not stop obsessing over titles and hierarchies. Everyone professor offers a great departure point towards this direction.

Many would argue that titles are a necessary form of recognition of hard work (or wasted youth, exhaustion, and self-doubt) that it takes to get there. The only good I see in titles is using them towards shifting of power by challenging conservative, stereotypical, and patriarchal assumptions about who can be a professor. 

Put simply: if you don’t belong in a minoritised group, do not fall into the ego trap of abusing your title. Because, the truth is, no matter what you name something, it remains the same. Much like a (dining) chair. 

LUCY AVRAAMIDOU

Dutch

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