Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Rape: Why Has No One Investigated This Allegation?

Amid the past year’s flurry of allegations of harassment, sexual assault, and child abuse leveled against Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Louis CK, Charlie Sheen, Dr. Luke, Gaslamp Killer, George Takei, Al Franken, Hadrian Belove, Bryan Singer, Woody Allen, Kevin Spacey, and Roy Moore, ad infinitum…

… why has no major news outlet covered this woman‘s accusations against Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

Her name is Tchiya Amet, and the alleged incident happened during her time as a student at the University of Texas at Austin in 1984:

I was a grad student in Astronomy at  UT Austin, the same time that Mr Tyson was there.  I was studying Galactic Astronomy with the de Vaucoleurs. My dream was to become the first Black Female Astronaut. I was like 15 years ahead of Emma Mae Jamison.  I wen to his apartment to visit like I did almost everyday. He was like my big brother, or so I thought.  He offered me a glass of water. I accepted a liquid in a cup made out of a coconut shell. I recall coming back to consciousness briefly, then next thing I remember is seeing him in the hallway the next day. I have lived in this nightmare for 30 years …

I do not know how long I was in his apartment. I have no idea how I got back to my apartment. I do not even remember waking up the next day. All I remember is seeing him in the hallway at the astronomy department at UT Austin, and I asked him,  “Why did this happen?” He responded, “We are in this alone, and we are in this together” …

According to Amet, Tyson knew her by the name she used when she was younger, Staci Alison Hambric. She was a graduate student who had majored in physics at Oberlin College, a musical prodigy who wanted to become an astronaut and thought she had a trusted friend, a “big brother,” in Tyson.

And the story she tells now is pretty damning, especially when she backs up her claims with a photo of Tyson taken in her dorm room over 30 years ago:

NeilDegrasseTyson

According to Amet, the incident created huge problems for her for the rest of her life, including leading to her dropping out of UT and giving up her dreams of a life in astronomy:

By forcing your way into MY flower, you completely and [totally] disrupted my life, the lives ho[p]es and dreams of my parents and the people that loved and cared about me…

How does it feel to know that YOU are the reason there is one less black female galactic astronomer on this planet?

A few folks online have debated whether her photo of Tyson is actually Tyson. But note how similar it looks to the below-right photo of Tyson from his youthful days as a wrestler:

NeilDegrasseTyson2

It’s nearly a perfect match on outfit, hairstyle, sideburns, and build. It might even be the same shirt in both photos.

Here’s another photo of Tyson from 1983. In this one, you can see he’s sporting the same white-ish wristband/watch on his right wrist as in her photograph above:

NeilDegrasseTysonWristThing

NeilDegrasseTysonWristThingCloseUp3

And Amet’s timeline of events matches up with Tyson’s time at UT pretty well. She says it happened in 1984, and we know Tyson was there in 1983, which is when he got his MA and was photographed with the wrestling team above. And he was still there in 1985, when he won a gold medal for the University of Texas Dance Team. He also met his wife at UT, who was still there in 1985 to get her PhD.

Amet claims Tyson was her teacher’s assistant, and gave a few more details in some comments last year when some bloggers denied her claims:

I was never his student. I was also a grad student. I studied with Gerard. DeVaucoukeurs. I have legally changed my name since then. Look for Staci Alison Hambric. We were both grad students at UT Austin. After I dropped out, he got me a job at Austin Community College, probably cuz he felt guilty. I was innocent and naive. I did not know understand or realize what had happened. You can ask any professor if I was enrolled there. They remember me. They just did not know about the rape. I contacted them years later for a recommendation when I considered grad school at Temple U.

And she’s definitely right about his being a TA at the time. It’s also corroborated elsewhere online by people who really like Tyson. Here’s an independent verification from 1982 by another student who had Tyson as a TA in Frank Bash’s intro class (Amet started at UT in 1983):

NeilTyson

According to Amet, she kept silent for decades but has been recently motivated to come out with her story so that she can move on with her life and heal. She even filed a police report upon a recent return visit to Austin:

Next, I took a trip to the Austin Police Department, where I proceeded to file a report against my assailant, yes 30 years after the encounter.

It was just something that I had to do in order to move forward. I have waited for so long to make sure that I was taking the right action. This entire event manifested from my pure heart, from a pure desire for healing and to see justice. there is much confusion about whether or not I can press charges. There was no statute of limitation on rape at the time, nor were there any DNA samples. I am not attached to the outcome. So we shall have to see how this plays out. I feel so much better now that I have “come out” about the assault.

When we add it all up, we can see that Amet seems to have a rather solid story to back her accusation on. It goes back decades, but she’s easily as credible as other women who have been sharing their stories over the past year:

  1. She has specific details about and photos of Tyson
  2. She definitely did attend UT at the same time as Tyson
  3. She has even filed a report with the cops

Supposedly (according to one blog) there even is a UT directory that lists her and Tyson together, though you’d need a UT login to get there. I’ve even tracked down at least one other third-party account of his being accused publicly by someone who could have been Amet, or could have been another accuser:

NeilDeGrasseTysonLecture

So why has this story never gained traction in the public eye?

Amet brought these accusations to light on her personal blog in 2014, 2016, and again in 2017 during the height of the #MeToo movement, during which the accusation showed up on this list at Medium of celebrities accused of sexual harassment and assault. Yet no major news outlets and only a few sites have picked up the story since, most notably Science 2.0 and Dailywire.

Perhaps the posting at Dailywire, a conservative news outlet, is telling–is the fact that conservatives love this story the reason we’ve been disregarding it? For years, we’ve squealed with delight at all the ways Tyson annoys conservatives. The rise in their hatred for him has been matched pound for pound with how much we’ve grown to love him. He’s become a hero to atheists, to feminists, to late night hosts, to fans of space exploration, to nerds, to science-loving comic book readers, and to environmentalists.

Is Tyson too much of a hero of the left for us to believe he could have moral failings?

One thing’s for sure: sexual harassment and inappropriate boundaries in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, and the sciences in general have been far too common. And the left has known it for years.

Over a year before #MeToo broke into the public eye, several influential scientists with nearly as much cultural panache as Tyson were outed as harassers or bullies, including:

The problem was so bad that a movement called #astroSH broke out on Twitter and in the media, specifically devoted to identifying issues of harassment and violence towards women in these fields. Amet tried to contribute, but no one really followed up on it, as she shared on a blog:

#astroSH yes, a movement to uncover sexual harassment in astronomy departments. HELLO? sound familiar?  If you know anything at all about me, you know what happened next. I made a cup of tea. I cried. I did a pendulum reading. I consulted the Ancestors and Guides, prayed. and then I added my experience.

more silence,

I cried myself to sleep….

Later that day, there were several tweets and comments about my story, so someone had read about it. A few reporters contacted me, and even someone from a congresswoman’s office. I was not really trying to “get anything” as many asked of me. I just wanted to share my experience, and perhaps warn others, or help find others that had same experience at UT Austin in the Astronomy department.  #astroSH confirmed that I was not alone.  Someone had mentioned this to me 10 years ago about Astronomy departments, but I did not know the depth or the degree, or that it was a longstanding mess. However, the silence also showed me that #astroSH is 1) just for #whitefeminism and/or 2) Neil de Grasse Tyson is both very popular and powerful, and people are angry that I said anything about it.

By “angry” she means dozens of hateful tweets accusing her of lying to get media attention, and not enough sharing of her story–this despite the fact that women of color in the sciences, such as Amet, report more harassment and are more likely to avoid work environments due to feeling unsafe. When she says she suspects that feminist outcry over rape minimizes the stories of women of color, she has a point.

Of the few online communities who did pick up on the story, many were folks on the right, usually linking to the Dailywire article, who merely wanted to exploit the story because they hate Tyson, but not because they care about or believe Amet. And then there were the racists and white nationalists (who will get no link from me, but you can find them), which has nothing to do with Amet but also didn’t help folks in the mainstream pick up on it.

The “Skeptic Community” (which definitely has some conservative tendencies but often thinks of itself as left-leaning due to its abhorrence of the right’s evangelical beliefs) seems to have had the harshest words about Amet. The general gist is because Tyson believes in science, and because Amet’s blog is full of references to astrology and pseudoscience, she’s not credible:

victimshaming

woowoo2

PTSDTyson

And this isn’t just the “anti-SJW” wing of the skeptic community, either. In 2016, Amet tweeted her story to PZ Myers, the “proudly feminist” biologist and skeptic who runs the popular Pharyngula blog, and received even worse treatment.

Myers probably seemed like a good candidate to help. Back in 2013, he had broken the story about a very similar accusation against Michael Shermer, the founder of Skeptic magazine. In that story, he published the detailed but admittedly uncorroborated testimony of atheist Alison Smith, who was forced into sex by Shermer at a freethought convention in 2008, after a party when she was too drunk to consent.

But despite the fact that the situations were oddly similar–older experts, younger novices, possible drugging, and even the fact that Tyson had also been a speaker at the same convention in 2008–this time Myers dismissed the claims of sexual assault because of no “corroboration.”

He even tweeted what seems like a dig at her for her “astrology & unrelated youtube videos.”

PZ Myers

Later on, he did mention her accusations briefly on his blog. But it was in an article called “Disgraceful Exploitation,” which focused less on her story and more about how anti-feminist skeptics were using her to try and catch him in a “gotcha!” moment that he wasn’t going to fall for:

Pharyngula

Of course, his comparison seems wishy-washy at best. Tyson clearly had years of opportunity, because they’d been to each other’s houses and had been at school together for multiple years. And Amet had more than just an independent account: she had a photo of Tyson, posted in the very article Myers says was just a “scattering of YouTube clips” (an unfair critique in any case, considering this was Amet’s personal diary blog, and not strictly a gathering of evidence).

She also had a police report, which Myers ignored in his essay, though he did say he took her story “seriously.” Yet in the months that followed, Pharyngula subsequently published multiple articles about Tyson with nary a mention of Amet’s accusations.

Now, I’m as pro-science, pro-vaccine, and anti-astrology as the next guy. I don’t believe in woo, I don’t believe that GMOs are the devil, and I don’t believe in God. I sympathize with those on the left who wish they could simply trust the word of an astrophysicist over the word of an astrology-loving reggae singer with New Age beliefs.

Sure, Tyson has a better understanding of the natural world than Amet. And he did a great job hosting Cosmos. And he’s funny. And he knows Bill Nye.

But none of that affects whether or not Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a rapist!

Skeptics claim to love the Socratic Method and rational discourse, so I’m surprised at all the logic fallacies in their doubts and insults. They’ve got an ad hominem attack, plus an appeal to hypocrisy (“how can she claim to know the truth about her personal experience when she still thinks vaccines cause disease?”), a non sequitur attack (“clearly he didn’t rape her if she believes in sacred healing?”), and a host of other rationales, not reasons, to distrust her.

They looked right past all the reporting on harassment in astrophysics, right past her corroborated evidence, and all they could see was the woo.

But there is no such thing as the perfect victim, especially when sexual assault often leaves people with PTSD, shame, and even broken lives. And Tyson clearly isn’t perfect either. Amet has a plausible story, and it should be researched and shared, for her sake and for any other victims that might be out there who could use the encouragement to come forward.

And even if Amet’s story does not get the widespread acknowledgment it deserves, at least one good thing has come of her testimony: her own release from the past, and healing for the future:

 I am not sure what will come of the #astroSH or my announcement about the rape incident. I can tell you that it felt good to look into the events, the past, to reconnect with people that knew me back then, it felt good to ask questions that I was too afraid to ask back then. It feels good to go forward with the steps and taking actions that I could not take back then. It feels good to examine the different direction that my life took after the incident. I can honestly say that this healing journey, through and beyond my trauma, will allow me to become an even greater healer in the areas of surviving sexual assault and also healing PTSS. I am looking forward to what comes next.

 

D. M. Collins

D. M. Collins is a journalist and writer based in Los Angeles.

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