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"You've held up very well" Sen. Tillman uses Question Time to Remark on Appearance of Woman Presenter in Education Committee Meeting

A brief yet fraught moment during the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee joined the ongoing drumbeat of instances of sexual harassment in the workplace.  

The committee meeting began with a presentation from “Schools that Lead,” a professional development opportunity for teachers. Three women presenters from the program offered their thoughts on student-centered approaches, data, and solving problems in the classroom. They then fielded an increasingly long list of questions and comments from legislators.

Yet despite the time constraints, one male legislator could not help but widen the scope of his question (more like an unsolicited comment) beyond programmatic details. Senator Tillman (R- Moore, Randolph) instead opted to use his question time to comment on the presenters’ appearance.

After the entire committee room entreated him to use the provided mic, Tillman began by reminiscing on his days as a middle school principal. Then, Tillman posed the seemingly inoffensive question to the presenters: “How many years have you done this?”

Nancy Carnevale, a principal of a Delaware middle school, answered with “a combined 40 years in education.” Sen Tillman, unabashed, responded “You’ve held up very well, you see what it did to me? It can ruin you, it didn’t hurt you at all.”

The room filled with laughter. Carnevale, a woman with four decades of experience in the field of education now reduced to her appearance by a senior legislator in a public forum, laughed and bowed her head. After a few awkward beats, Committee Chair Linda Johnson noted, albeit with a tinge of discomfort, “Always ready for your comments Senator Tillman.”

It may seem harmless to dismiss the comments of Sen Tillman of that of a “creepy old man,” out of touch with rapidly evolving cultural scripts around sexual harassment. Yet sexual harassment endures through the tacit approval of onlookers. Younger members of the General Assembly who witnessed the comment go unaddressed may have taken note. Yesterday’s committee meeting was supposed to empower students and educators. Instead, members of the General Assembly complacently endorsed misogyny.