Today is the day to celebrate love in Brazil! It is also the 1st anniversary of the immoral termination of my contract as a scientist at the Arecibo Observatory.
It is an important day for me, because today I can say that I got my career back on track, I reinvented myself after all the bullying, defamation and harassment I suffered by the “Arecibo managers” and finally feel strong to talk openly about it. It is still painful to see, from outside, what is going on there. I’m a powerless voice in this fight against everything that is wrong there. But there is one thing that I still didn’t try: openly report what happened there, hoping that the science community can help somehow the staff that are still there facing the same problems. So here it is:
It was not a surprise to me that the “managers” were trying to get rid of me last year. I was being a loud voice against all the harassments, discriminatory treatments, stupid decisions and toxic work environment that my colleagues and I were facing there since the UCF took over the management of the observatory. Shocked, we saw the “managers” clapping when the senior astronomers decided to quit just after they got the power. “Let them go, we don’t need them!” I heard from one of the “managers”, even though they kept relying on them to run the observations (of course none of the “managers” have a clue on how to start an observation). That was just the beginning…
Working at Arecibo was a dream for me and for many of my colleagues there (specially my female colleagues that were inspired by the Contact movie, just like me). It was very, very painful to witness the living hell our work environment became after that “management" was established. Finding friends and colleagues crying on the stairs was super common and driving back home in tears after work became my everyday routine.
Inside the gates of the Observatory, I found a family. Friends from maintenance, visitor center, cafeteria, control room, science team. It was really heartbreaking to see their hard-work being dismissed by “managers” that didn’t value the legacy of that iconic national facility and couldn’t understand the importance of their contribution. Sad and angry, we saw top-down decisions based on personal preferences, exchange of privileges and unprofessional relationships. Our feeling was that no decision was being taken based on the best interest of the observatory or based on scientific interest. Money was being pushed to stupid experiments to validade friends projects while the priorities of the main instrument were never fully addressed. Knowing one of the "managers" from decades, I couldn't believe what I was seen... I tried pushing some sense in his mind, desperately. First, talking. Then, yelling. Finally I realized he was not making a mistake, he had an agenda! So, the old friends became big enemies, as one might expect.
I wasn’t the only voice against that situation. We were many, but we weren’t unified. We realized that too late. And that fact was used to invalidate each one of our complaints. During one meeting, one of the “managers” brought up that someone had mentioned suicidal thoughts. The only action taken by them was closing the access to the telescope platform (the message was kind of: if you want to kill yourself, don’t jump on the telescope dish!). No other kind of support or resource was provided to the staff. The other “manager” even said that he was sure it was just a rumor and he accused somebody else of starting it. No proves, no acknowledge of the real problem (toxic work environment), no real action to support the staffer in need. Nothing!
After months fighting against those facts (and many others) in a passionate and chaotic way (including multiple discussions with the “managers”), I decided to report the situation to the HR department at the UCF in April 2019. We didn’t have HR onsite, by the way. But we didn’t even have basic benefits (like 401k), so didn’t make too much sense to care about the lack of HR, right? That was a mistake.
The “HR investigation” was performed by the phone and an HR was sent to Puerto Rico to talk for 40 min to the staff. Her concern was clearly protect the "managers". Less than 2 months later, the main “Arecibo manager” from UCF told us in a meeting that the investigation was closed following his demand. “No time for this kind of distractions, I told the HR to close this case! We will take corrective actions as a result of this HR claim and move on”, he said that morning. The same afternoon, my contract was terminated. Retaliation, you ask. Yes, I guess!
“No harassment was detected along the investigation”, they claimed. Even though people were quitting due to harassment. Nope, they found no harassment! No toxic environment, even though many of us were under psychologists treatments and medicines to help enduring that work. Nothing was found by the super quick HR remote investigation. That is how much UCF care about their employees in Puerto Rico.
That June 12th, was a sunny and beautiful day in Arecibo, as usual. I was working with my REU student in my office. I was called for a meeting with the “managers”. No agenda. No notice. I had to leave the site immediately and couldn’t even say goodbye to my student or get my personal belongs in my office. I left like a criminal. Again, crying driving down the mountain.
Reason for termination: Heliophysics was not a priority for the “Arecibo management plan”.
I was hired to establish a solar program at the observatory and that was what I was doing, with success. I brought new users, students, instruments... I even host one related workshop at the Arecibo Observatory. I brought one senior male helioscientist from India for a 1-month visit in 2018 to validate the implementation of that measurements. He’s being working with that for decades, and I was only an early career scientist exploring the idea of using the Arecibo for that purpose. It was 2018, but I still needed the validation. One of the “managers” was dedicated to tell the staff that I was useless, that I had bad intentions, that I was not a good scientist, you know… That created a little resistance from the team. Yes, I experienced bullying very late in my life.
Anyways, they fired me, an early career female helioscientist, claiming that the solar program was not a priority. However, they hired him, a senior male helioscientist to carry on my projects. Yes, they hired the same scientist that once visited me. They claimed he was coming to perform other kind of studies, but you can go to the Arecibo schedule webpage and check it for yourself the kind of experiments that helioscientist is running (Spoiler: yes, of course he is performing the exact same experiments as I was doing).
Since Arecibo is an NSF facility, they couldn’t stop me of applying proposals to get telescope time. So I did it and that’s how I’m running my campaign today remotely. My observing proposal was evaluated accordingly to whatever process they have there to rank the submitted proposals. At the same time, the senior male helioscientist of their staff just got 200 hours of telescope time to run the same observations with no evaluation at all. That’s how they roll.
During that meeting, 1 year ago, I got very, very offended. It was not a simple termination with a fake reason. It was also an attempt to buy my silence. they offered me more than 20k to leave and be quiet forever.
Of course, I’d never sign this kind of disgusting agreement. I did not sign anything. So I left in pain, powerless, frustrated… But not quiet. I did spoke about it around. The problem is that if you are not reporting a proven sexual harassment or a proven discrimination by race, seems that it is easier to just dismiss your story and don’t change the institutional bad behavior. Very sad…
But today is the day to celebrate love after all. I’ve met the love of my life, Mymarido, because of the Arecibo Observatory. Arecibo is a common passion for both of us and ended up bringing us together 9 years ago. Mymarido stood by my side when all this nightmare was happening. He helped me to get out of the darkness that was my professional life last year. Now, the sun is back and I celebrate our love! So, here is a big shout out to the mymarido, my beloved partner in all the life adventures, who helped me restoring my love for Arecibo: the love that inspired me to become a scientist in the first place.