Update (March 3): MeTooSTEM’s board of directors has issued support for BethAnn McLaughlin. A statement provided to Science notes that the board “asked Dr. BethAnn McLaughlin to continue to serve in a leadership position.” The board includes Johns Hopkins University biologist Carol Greider, Salk Institute for Biological Studies biologist Vicki Lundblad, and McLaughlin’s brother, John McLaughlin, Science reports.
The nonprofit group MeTooSTEM was hit by another round of resignations last week, following further accusations of bullying from the organization’s founder, BethAnn McLaughlin, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on Friday (February 21). The departures, which included two of the group’s leaders, leave McLaughlin as the only remaining member of the leadership.
“We resigned in part because of BethAnn’s refusal to be accountable for the pain she caused to others and to us,” write ex-leaders Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, and Teresa Swanson, a science communicator based in Seattle, in a statement to BuzzFeed News, which reported on previous bullying accusations against McLaughlin’s leadership and resignations last year. “It is unconscionable and cowardly that a ‘leader’ of this movement remains silent when there are so many people suffering because she will not take responsibility for her abuse and the damage she has caused,” they continue.
Founded by McLaughlin in June 2018, MeTooSTEM and its website have provided a platform for survivors of sexual harassment and assault in STEM fields to share their stories. The organization has also spearheaded petitions to scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science to revoke fellowships from sexual harassers, with considerable success.
The latest turmoil for the organization follows months of complaints about McLaughlin’s leadership style, and began with a disagreement between McLaughlin and volunteer Jaedyn Ruli, a recent graduate of Binghamton University, at the end of January, BuzzFeed reports. A videochat conversation about police involvement in sexual harassment complaints turned into a dispute between the two organization members, with Ruli (their middle name, used for privacy) later writing a letter to MeTooSTEM’s board of directors to complain about McLaughlin’s behavior.
Ruli, who posted a resignation statement on Twitter on February 19, tells Science, “I left because I saw no future for MeTooSTEM that represented inclusivity or equity,” adding, “I feel an intense amount of fear and distress being remotely associated with BethAnn McLaughlin.”
Carol Greider, a member of the board of MeTooSTEM and a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University, tells BuzzFeed in an email that the board has scheduled a meeting for this week to discuss the issue. She adds that the board had let Swanson and Rasmussen know that their messages had been received. “We told them we were digesting their many concerns,” she says.
Responding to the resignations, McLaughlin tells Science that she is sorry people who had resigned and were calling her out on Twitter were hurting, saying, “I know they’re not lying. I care deeply, but I cannot fix that problem.” She also defends her work record with the organization, and suggests that part of the criticism against her stems from social discomfort about “strong women. . . . I think there are lot of people that feel uncomfortable and they should get used to it.”
Catherine Offord is an associate editor at The Scientist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.