In 2014, a woman named Tchiya Amet accused Neil deGrasse Tyson of
raping her while they were both graduate students in astronomy at UT
Austin, ultimately leading to her dropping out of the program. In
the aftermath, I encouraged journalists at mainstream outlets to
pursue it. But they told me that they ran into problems convincing
their editors to allow them to publish what details they could find
—for example, confirming that Amet was indeed enrolled in the
program. The story was picked up by a blog on the religious
commentary site Patheos in October of last year, and I reached out
to journalists again, with a similar response.
I have, since I first learned about them, felt that Tchiya Amet’s
allegations merited a response, and I waited, for years, for one.
Another post from Patheos last week featured an interview with Amet
along with stories of alleged sexual harassment from two other
women, an astronomy professor and a Cosmos production assistant.
(Buzzfeed also had a subsequent article citing a fourth woman with
Tyson was finally prompted to respond this week with a Facebook note
(which I assume, based on his celebrity and the nature of these
accusations, was vetted by both a lawyer and a publicist). He
admitted to engaging in behavior that he felt had been
unintentionally misinterpreted—except the rape, claiming all sexual
contact between him and Amet was consensual.
But he also said, “A few years later…I learned that she had dropped
out of the program” and I saw what I believed to be a lie
immediately. When I discussed it with my daily Black scientist chat
group, they agreed. Would he really have us believe that in the
1980s, in a field where there are almost no Black people, he hadn’t
noticed right away that the only other Black graduate student had
dropped out of the program? It wasn’t credible.
The truth is that Black academics (Blackademics) usually know what’s
up with Black people in departments across campus, even when they
hate each other. It’s also the case that Blackademics are often
loath to air our dislike of each other in front of white people. We
know that the bar for being seen as “good” is higher for us than
others, and we tend to be forgiving of people who may not be our