January 29, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WOMEN AS WHISTLEBLOWERS
Smith Conference to Examine
the Role of Gender in Ethical Resistance
Editor's note: Photos of Bensel-Meyers,
Dierkes, Harris, Kleiman, Levy and Nunn are available. To request,
contact at (413) 585-2190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.-With three women
whistleblowers recently honored as Time Magazine's "Persons
of the Year," the role of gender in ethical resistance is
timely and visible. Are women more inclined than men to blow
the whistle on corruption and abuse? Is the burden of proof higher
for women whistleblowers? Do women face particular retributions
when they speak out?
A two-day conference at Smith College-"Women of Courage:
Whistleblowers in the Public Interest"-will feature reflections
by seven women who exposed violations in fields ranging from
airline security to special education, customs inspection to
environmental protection. In going public with the abuses they
discovered, the women confronted retaliations that included death
threats to their families, denial of promotion, blackballing
and public defamation.
The conference, which is free and open to the public without
registration, begins at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, and concludes
at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8. All sessions will take place in the
Neilson Library Browsing Room.
The conference will open with an introduction by Myron Peretz
Glazer, professor of sociology and co-director of Smith's Project on Women and Social
Change, which is sponsoring the event. Glazer is the co-author
with his wife, Penina Migdal Glazer, of "The Whistleblowers:
Exposing Corruption in Government and Industry" and "The
Environmental Crusaders: Confronting Disaster, Mobilizing Community."
Susan Bourque, provost and dean of the faculty, will join Glazer
in welcoming conference participants.
At 4 p.m., the first panel will consider "Blowing the Whistle
on Issues of Racial Mistreatment." Marsha Coleman-Adebayo,
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will recount her experience
in exposing an American company in South Africa that was poisoning
African workers and their families with toxic waste. In 2001,
Coleman-Adebayo won a landmark case against the EPA on the basis
of race, sex, color and hostile work environment. The case inspired
the introduction of the "No Fear Act," legislation
barring discrimination against whistleblowers in federal agencies.
Coleman-Adebayo will be joined by Cathy Harris, former inspector
for the U.S. Customs Service, who revealed violations carried
out by fellow inspectors against female international travelers,
especially African-American women. These violations included
invasive strip-searches; x-ray examinations without pregnancy
tests; and prolonged detentions, sometimes involving arm or leg
shackling. Harris is a community activist and organizer and the
author of "Flying While Black: A Whistleblower's Story."
Louis Clark, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based
Government Accountability Project (GAP), will serve as moderator.
All panels will include a student discussant.
Saturday's sessions will open at 9:30 a.m. with a consideration
of "Old and New Issues for Whistleblowers in the Post-9/11
World." Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project
on Government Oversight (POGO) and a Smith graduate, will moderate
a discussion between Diane Kleiman and Sandy G. Nunn, both former
special agents with the U.S. Customs Service.
Kleiman, who was assigned to JFK International Airport, blew
the whistle about drug overdoses and deaths of special agents,
cash disappearing from property seizures, and serious airline
security lapses that allowed narcotics, cash and illegal aliens
to enter the country.
Nunn, while stationed in southern California, identified serious
instances of corruption and obstruction of justice when she and
several colleagues discovered massive shipments of narcotics
being smuggled into the U.S. via pressurized railway tanker cars.
In July 2001, Nunn testified before the Senate that those discoveries
constituted a breach of national security and a potential terrorist
Following a lunch break, the conference will reconvene at 1 p.m.
to discuss "Blowing the Whistle on Educational Malpractice."
Christine M. Shelton, associate professor of exercise and sport
studies at Smith and co-director of the Project on Women and
Social Change, will moderate a discussion among three current
and former educators about abuses of funds and facilities in
While serving as director of composition at the University of
Tennessee, English professor Linda Bensel-Meyers uncovered a
pattern of plagiarized term papers and altered grades among athletes,
a practice she describes as supported by the athletic department
"with the complicity of university officials." When
her efforts to address the infractions led to disclosure on national
television, she charged the university with tapping her phones,
breaking into her office and orchestrating public defamation
of her character. Although she has been removed from all administrative
positions, Bensel-Meyers retains her faculty appointment and
continues to fight "to expose how the university knowingly
violates federal law and academic policy to exploit collegiate
athletes for institutional profit."
Tina Dierkes, a kindergarten teacher in northwestern Oregon,
brought suit against her school district for endangering the
health of students and teachers by failing to replace light fixtures
containing a hazardous substance. The school district claimed
the substance was harmless tar; and even after officials learned
that the substance contained the suspected carcinogen PCB, they
continued to downplay the risk and took no precautionary measures.
Dierkes' suit resulted in a fine of more than $300,000 against
the school district for what the EPA termed "egregious violations."
As a special education teacher and social worker in New York
City's public schools, Estelle Levy blew the whistle on diversion
of funds intended for special education students as well as misrepresentation
of special education enrollment designed to garner additional
state and federal monies. The practices she uncovered "reflected
the approved misuse of allotted funds" as well as "a
sanctioning of mainstream students' educational needs while devaluing
those of others."
The conference will conclude with a 3:30 p.m. session titled
"Reflections on Whistleblowing and Gender," in which
all panelists will participate. The discussion will be moderated
by Penina Migdal Glazer, professor of history at Hampshire College.
"Women of Courage" is this year's Kathleen Ridder Conference,
an annual Smith event designed to explore current research on
gender. It was made possible by the Kathleen Ridder Fund, which
honors Jill Ker Conway, Smith's president from 1975 to 1985,
and by the Mary Hamilton Collett '25 Symposium Fund.
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Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost
liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state
and 55 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's
college in the country.