Tchiya Amet, who attended graduate school with Tyson at the University of Texas in the early 1980s, has accused him of drugging her, while the two were alone in his apartment, and then raping her. “I came out of it for a moment and shook my head, and then I went out again,” she told BuzzFeed News of her memory of the experience. “The next thing I knew, I was at class the next day.”
Today, Amet talks about the ongoing effects the alleged rape has had on her body, on her mind, on her capacity to maintain relationships with other people. But her accusation extends beyond that: Amet also alleges that Tyson’s behavior led her to leave the graduate program she had worked so hard to be admitted to, and thus to stop nurturing aspirations of becoming an astrophysicist, and thus to give up her dream of becoming the first black woman astronaut. This is how Amet, addressing Tyson from the distance of diverged paths, put it in a blog post in 2014: “How does it feel to know that YOU are the reason there is one less black female galactic astronomer on this planet? Yes, YOU.”
Ashley Watson—who served as Tyson’s driver and later as his assistant when his TV show, Cosmos, was filming in New Mexico—similarly frames Tyson’s alleged sexual impropriety as a matter of professional harm. As the months-long shoot came to its close, she has said, Tyson invited her to join him in his apartment for a bottle of wine; Watson, thinking he might use the occasion to offer her a job on another Cosmos shoot, accepted. (A glass of wine, though, she said.) In his apartment, Watson says, Tyson removed his shirt, began quoting the Nina Simone songs he started playing (“Do I make you quiver?”), and began confessing to her about his need for “release.” Tyson told her as well, Watson says, “I want to hug you so bad right now, but I know that if I do, I’ll just want more.”
Over the course of these events—she stayed for two hours, Watson says, before she could take no more—no job was offered. No professional advancement was discussed. And when Watson confronted Tyson the next day about the discomfort she’d felt about the events of the night before, her boss replied, she says, that she was too “distracting” to succeed as a producer.
Realizing that she could not stay on as his assistant, Watson says, she told a line producer what had happened and proffered her resignation. The producer recommended that she explain the cause of her sudden departure as a “family emergency.” She did.
The pressures exerted on women’s professional ambitions are by now familiar to the point of cliché: Want success, but don’t want it too badly. Speak up, but not too loudly. Assert, but don’t be seen as assertive. Here is another, though, as women seek entrance to professional worlds that were previously dominated by men: Be appealing, but not distracting. The end of that sentence being, as Watson’s claims about Tyson suggest, to the men in power.