Letter #1: “Like a Kid in a Candy Store”

Hello Alchemist Letters,

I get it, my hair is cool. Its curly. Its kinky. It is whatever I want it to be, because its mine. I understand for a lot of people my hair is so fascinating to the point that they can’t help but stare. I was use to it, especially being one of only a few black people in my department. It was fine as long as it was look, but don’t touch. But on this day that line was crossed. I was working at my desk. Very focused to the point that I didn’t noticed anyone approaching me. My hair had just changed for the 3rd time this month and apparently this style was the most attention grabbing, because my co-worker, a white woman, asked if she could touch it. I respectfully responded, “no thank you” and went about my day. Then suddenly I felt hands in my hair. I assumed it was my co-workers, but when I turned around it was my boss/PI with my loc still in his hand.

He then decides now is an appropriate time to ask permission to touch my hair. I respond, respectfully no. He responds, “Can you blame me? I’m like a kid in a candy store.”

I attempt to laugh it off and explain to him that I am not a petting zoo. He continues to touch my hair. I attempt a different method, explaining to him that my hair is a unique ecosystem and his hands carry things that disrupt it. No cigar. I finally excuse myself from the room to escape his hands. I hate that because he’s my PI I feel that can’t do anything.


Author Submitted Identifiers: African American, Female (she/her/hers), Graduate Student

Case Study Analysis

Thank you for reading today’s Letter. Please leave your comments below on what you would do as a P.I. , mentor, and/or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer if you were presented with this case. Please remember that, although these cases are real, this discussion board is only for learning purposes. Our hope is that by sharing our responses we can continue to grow as a fully engaged community by answering challenging questions before they reach our desks. If you realize at any point that your company or institution has a deficit on policies that would be useful in addressing topics in this case study, we ask that you fight for the change that you wish to see.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How would you respond the submitter?
  2. Are there any follow up questions you would ask the submitter?
  3. What D.E.I.J. topic(s) does this case study reflect?
  4. Are there any “red flags” you can identify within this event?
  5. What policies, offices, or structures exists at your institution that could help the submitter or parties mentioned in this case?
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3 replies on “Letter #1: “Like a Kid in a Candy Store””

It’s incredibly concerning that this man has gotten to the position of PI without ever having to learn that touching someone when they’ve asked you not to is not okay. Especially given the fact that PIs often have undue power over their graduate students, so I understand why the submitter feels they can’t “do anything” about it.

I’m interested to see the expert DEI consultant response to learn how situations like this might be handled within an academic lab setting.

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