my boss uses a human skeleton as office decor, declining an awards dinner, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. My boss is using a human skeleton as office decor

I work in the administrative offices of a government research program. We moved into a new building recently, and I was started to discover that our director has brought in a real human skeleton to hang in his personal office. His grandfather was a doctor and apparently it is some sort of family medical curiosity that was passed down to him. I am pretty creeped out by this and find it super disrespectful — who knows how these remains were procured! But he seems to have no such feelings, and will occasionally pose the skeleton in humorous ways in his office to greet the people who come visit him. We do work in the biological sciences, but in a field that has nothing to do with human anatomy. Can I ask him to take this down?

I’m curious to hear other people’s opinions because I might be an outlier on this, but mine is that you should leave it alone. Human skeletons are displayed in classroom settings enough that it’s not going to be universally shocking in the way that, say, displaying a mummified corpse might be. His office isn’t a classroom, of course, but I think you’re likely to come across as oversensitive if you ask him to remove it. (That said, you might be fine with coming across as oversensitive, in which case you could say something like, “I’m pretty creeped out by that skeleton — any chance I can convince you not to keep it at work?”)

2. How do I politely decline an awards dinner?

I work for a small educational body as an editor, producing studytexts for our range of exams. In order to produce these texts we commission industry professionals to write the content.

In this case, one of my updaters is a very high up in a particular niche sector of the industry and has invited me to a summit he has organised. He posed it as a great opportunity to better understand the subject matter, and I agree that it would be very educational. Additionally he has invited me to the awards dinner that ends the summit.

I suffer from GAD and, while I don’t mind sitting in a dark lecture hall listening the presentations, the idea of going to the awards dinner (where I wouldn’t know anyone) is setting off my anxiety. My immediate thought would be the make up an excuse, but that isn’t professional and it would be too stressful to concoct some lie. I do not know this updater very well as I’m only 10 months into my role and this is the first time I have been assigned this particular studytext. How do I politely, but firmly, decline the invite without damaging a fledgling professional relationship?

I’m going to push back on your statement that it would be unprofessional to make up an excuse. You’re allowed to decline things you don’t want to do (assuming you don’t need to do them for work reasons, and it sounds like you don’t). It would be rude to say “I don’t want to go to your awards dinner,” but it’s perfectly polite and professional to say, “I’d love to attend the summit — thanks for inviting me! I have a conflict with the dinner afterwards, but I’ll be there for the lectures.” (And really, this isn’t even making up a lie. You do have a conflict with the dinner — you have plans to do something else, even if it’s just to sit on your couch. You’re allowed to be vague about what the conflict is.)

Also, even if you didn’t have anxiety, it’s utterly reasonable to skip this kind of dinner. An awards dinner where you don’t know anyone would bore the pants off many of us, and you can happily decline things like that. (And I promise you that unless your contact is highly unusual, he’s not going to be shocked that you’re skipping the dinner.)

3. Can I keep my office door closed to block out noise?

I am in the luxury position that I have an office, with a door. I share this office with a colleague. I work in a junior managerial position in a clinical setting and need to be both approachable and able to work with focus and concentration when at my desk. The easiest way to give the message of presence at my desk and approachability is to work with my door open.

There is one problem: my office is on the edge of our department and very close to the paediatric waiting room where a lot of sounds are produced. I can understand that the children waiting there aren’t the happiest children in the world and can be expected to make a lot of noise (crying and yelling, also loud musical toys). However, it is very very distracting and I am becoming increasingly annoyed. I have resorted to closing my office door (thick wood) and playing music. However, this seems to give off an unsocial message and people (both my bosses and admin employees) feel very uncomfortable to drop in, making easy questions or conversations immediately awkward.

My boss and other colleagues understand that the location is annoying, yet as there are big relocations and refurbishing plans in the next 18months anyway, no action is taken to change the situation. I tried to barter with the neighbours and get them to at least remove xylophone-like toys, but to no avail.

My roommate seems to think it highly entertaining that I get so worked up by all the sounds. She pretends like I can just not handle it because I am a 35 year-old woman who has experience with children. She does often wear headphones to shut out distraction. I think working with headphones on is an extra layer of unapproachability. Especially since there are phones to be answered, which she routinely fails to hear.

So question: is it indeed not done as a low manager to work with your door closed? Could I put up a non-passive-aggressive sign on my door inviting people in? What’s your policy on open/ closed doors? Are headphones accepted?

It’s true that a constantly closed door can seem like it’s signaling “go away,” but in your case you have a good reason for keeping it closed, and people will understand that. Put up a big, cheerful sign that says “I’m here! Please come in!” and reinforce that by explaining the situation to your coworkers and encouraging them to open the door whenever they need you. If you find people are still hesitant to come in, you might need to change course (or reiterate to them again that you want them to), but give this a shot for now. (If you think this will be totally counter to your office culture, ask your boss’s advice on whether this will fly, pointing out your unusual context.)

Headphones can be fine too, but you’re right that they can signal you don’t want to be interrupted (more than a door with a welcoming sign on it does). In this case, the door and sign seem like your best option.

4. Explaining time away from work when returning to a job hunt

My dad was elderly, frail, and lived in another state; he decided last spring to move to assisted living and the only way to get enough time to help him transition was to quit my job. He got sick and passed away unexpectedly, and I spent a couple of months taking care of him and then repairing and selling his house. I’ve taken the last few months as a sabbatical to grieve, take care of my health, travel, and re-fill my tank. In the last three years, I’ve done some heavy-duty caregiving, lost my dad, mom, and stepmom, changed jobs, worked continuous 50-hour weeks, and was completely exhausted. I’m really grateful I could have this time; I feel good now and am job-hunting.

How should I frame this sabbatical so that potential employers focus on my skills and knowledge, and not the time away from work? My LinkedIn profile shows it as “Time away for family caregiving” with an end date when I started job hunting in February. Cover letters say “I had to step away from work for several months for family caregiving; I’m returning to work now and looking forward to my next opportunity.” However, technically two of those months were for caregiving and the rest were for me. I don’t want to seem apologetic for needing time off, but I also want to be clear that I’m ready to dig in now. Should I change anything on my LinkedIn profile or the cover letter? And how would you recommend addressing this in an interview? Conversations with friends and colleagues have shown me that a lot of people don’t understand that caregiving is actual work, or what a big life change it is to lose your parents. And – I wouldn’t wish this understanding on them, because it usually means they’ve been through it too.

Nah, I think the way you’re doing it is fine. If anything, you could be even more vague — it doesn’t really need to go on your LinkedIn at all (just as it wouldn’t go on your resume). You definitely don’t need to get into the details of how much was taking care of your dad and how much was for you; it’s fine to just lump it all under one umbrella. You originally took the time off to care for your dad, and then you extended it a bit because you could. The finer details aren’t really relevant to an employer.

If you’re asked about it in an interview, you can simply say, “My father was ill and I took time off to care for him at the end of his life.” (And I’m sorry about your parents and your stepmom!)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 1,114 comments… read them below }

  1. Rogue*

    Regarding the skeleton in #1, I like it. Op, just leave it alone. I agree with AAM, you’re going to come off as overly sensitive if you complain about it.

    1. Sami*

      Agree. I doubt your boss will agree to remove it and you may risk coming across a a fuddy-duddy.

      1. LouiseM*

        If it’s really that creepy to her, the OP may be ok with coming across as a fuddy-duddy, though. A lot of scripts on this site are basically, “I know most reasonable people would never care about this, but I do, so how can we fix this?”

        1. Runner*

          I think this is too far. It’s a government research office in the biological sciences, it’s perfectly legal, and OP is a subordinate who finds this “super disrespectful — who knows how the remains were procured!” There is no way asking how to fix this is going to be in sync professionally, legally, common-sense wise, etc.

          1. Dahlia*

            Please leave common sense out of this.


            The assumption this is ok is your cultural POV. It’s not universal.

            I’m ok w it, but I’ve wokred with enough cultures to know that in many, “common sense” would be in her side.

            The US is increasingly multi-cultural. Let’s consider that before we issue edicts about what is and isn’t common sense. Particularly when it deals with the treatment of the dead.

            There are a significant amount of cultures where common sense and morality would dictate the respectful disposal of a real human skeleton. Particularly since we now have technology that makes the use of the completely unnecessary in most contexts.

            1. Say What, now?*

              I have to back Dahlia here. It’s not a “common sense” issue. Depending on your beliefs about what happens after you die you might feel saddened by this. For many cultures, posing the skeleton in humorous ways would be incredibly crude. Maybe that’s what’s upsetting her more than anything, not the presence of the skeleton but it being used as a punch line.

              1. Specialk9*

                The OP, waaaaay down thread, clarified that it is NOT a family member for their boss, it’s a curiosity.
                “it’s a random skeleton that was kept as a kind of scientific curio.”

            2. soon 2 be former fed*

              It’s a family relic. Sometimes we have to adapt to the culture we are in. I don’t know that this is a common sense problem, but working in biological research isn’t for the squeamish, I would think.

              There is an art exhibit of actual dead people with their preserved muscles exposed and posed in various positions. Not my thing, but the folks in it agreed to have their bodies exposed like that.

              1. Dahlia*

                That makes it ok?

                No skeleton should ever be a family relic.

                Assuming this was a willing donor who gave their skeleton to science, they dint give it in perpetuity To this family to be used for whatever purpose they deemed amusing to them.

                You seem to be forgetting this is it being used for a scientific purpose in a lab. It’s being used for personal amusement in an office that has a tenuous connection to the actual original scientific purpose of this donation.

                You seem to be really bending over backwards to justify someone who is using a skeleton as a prop for their own personal amusement. They aren’t using it for science.

                Also, it’s really offensive to say people need to been to a culture they are in rather than both the culture and the person need to come to agreement.

                Academic science is in the US used native American bones for years without any thought or consideration to what they were doing because that was culturally OK to them and they knew better than the tribes. In no way shape or form, should someone who’s a member of a Native American group be OK with that.

                That’s not a winnable argument my book when it comes to treatment of the dead, because it presumes that white American culture and its view is science is the be all and end all of the discussion. It’s not.

                1. C. m.*

                  I agree with you 100%. This is not a common sense issue. In my my culture this would be very disrespectful.

                2. aes_sidhe*

                  The dead absolutely do not care. It’s the living that weird hang ups about such things. The person probably donated their body to science. It happens all the time.

                3. Ciara Amberlie*

                  “No skeleton should ever be a family relic.”

                  Please stop presenting your opinions as fact.

                4. Politically incorrect*

                  How dare science be the be all and end all. We need more climate change denial, holocaust denial, etc.!

                5. Observer*

                  As someone from a culture (and religion) where this would be an absolute no-no, I have to disagree with your absolutist stance on this. Just as it is NOT “common sense” that the skeleton is OK, it’s not “common sense and decency” that it’s not ok.

                6. Tuxedo Cat*

                  I think the personal aspect is a good point. Whose skeleton was this? Some people might be bothered by it if the boss wasn’t related to the deceased. They might be bothered anyway, but the situation feels different if he didn’t have permission to have the skeleton in the first place or wasn’t related to them.

                  I also think it’s kind of foolish to keep a family relic in an area where people frequent, particularly at an office. Any family relic.

                7. kelly*

                  This is an assumption: “Assuming this was a willing donor who gave their skeleton to science, they dint give it in perpetuity To this family to be used for whatever purpose they deemed amusing to them.” Who knows, maybe they did.

                8. Skeleton OP*

                  OP here, I’m not religious and am a basic white American here, just aware of the culturally insensitive ways that human remains have been procured over the years and I find it a little weird and disrespectful to use them as decor that has nothing to do with the field we’re in. There’s also a larger ethical debate going on in the scientific and anthropological communities in academia about the ethics of displaying human remains for legitimate educational purposes, let alone as fun office decoations. Maybe that will come off as sensitive, but that’s just how I feel.

                9. else*

                  The skeleton’s previous owner is dead. It doesn’t care what happens to it. Nobody living has any personal attachment to it to be offended. I’m sorry that some people might find it alarming, but seriously, having these around is completely normal in those circumstances, and sometimes you have to defer to the cultural norms of where you are. I had responsibility to care for several dozen of these in a previous job (students used them to study anatomy), and believe me, we were careful with them and respected them for their great contribution to education. And – we also used them in historical displays where we posed them, and occasionally in events, and we did put hats or bowties on the ones that stayed outside of their boxes for holidays sometimes. They aren’t bothersome to have around, btw – they just smell like dry bone, not anything weird, and won’t make the room oppressive.

                10. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                  While I don’t agree with your absolutist standpoint (like Observer), I do want to thank you for giving me some great food for thought. You’ve brought up some excellent points, such as the exploitation of Native American bodies.

                  Thanks again. :)

                11. Chameleon*

                  Frankly, I’m incredibly bothered by the idea that treating dead bodies with “respect” is more important than science, because that idea has cost arguably millions of lives, from the *shockingly* poor understanding of medical science that stuck around for centuries because only a horrible ghoul would want to cut open a body to, you know, understand how it works, to even today the hundreds of people every year who die waiting on transplant lists because the relatives just can’t bear to think of poor Aunt Ethel being chopped up for body parts.

                  They are dead. The bodies are just bodies. People are alive.

                12. It Might Be Me*

                  My mother who gave her body for scientific research would think this was marvelous. She would have left props and suggestions if she knew it was a possibility. We don’t know that the donor would have objected. Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. The OP has to deal with the situation as it exists today.

                13. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Chameleon, I don’t think that’s an accurate description of Dahlia’s position. She’s not saying, “no use of human remains for research/scientific inquiry, ever!” It’s a bit of a red herring to attribute that argument to her.

                14. Chinook*

                  “OP here, I’m not religious and am a basic white American here, just aware of the culturally insensitive ways that human remains have been procured over the years and I find it a little weird and disrespectful to use them as decor that has nothing to do with the field we’re in. There’s also a larger ethical debate going on in the scientific and anthropological communities in academia about the ethics of displaying human remains for legitimate educational purposes, let alone as fun office decoations. Maybe that will come off as sensitive, but that’s just how I feel.”

                  I understand and agree with you because your boss doesn’t know/isn’t willing to share the source of these bones, it does mean that there is a chance that the person hanging there had no say in what happened to his remains. If I knew they were real (I always assume they are fake unless told otherwise) and that they a)aren’t being used for educational or research purposes and/or b) they may have been taken instead of donated, I would have a real spiritual and ethical issue with this. Doubly so because your boss sounds like he treats the remains as joke (which is disrespectful in its own way).

                  Add to that the fact that I am more sensitive to spirits than some (and you may be to, if the bones give you any type of “heeby-jeebies”), I would feel uncomfortable if the spirit of that person had any ill feeling about their bones being used that way. I have had it happen to me when I saw someone playing in cemetery in a disrespectful manner as well as walking through a museum display of Egyptian mummies. At the very least, I would be having a silent conversation with the spirit explaining that I don’t agree with their treatment but am powerlesss to fix it.

                  Ass for those saying “well, it is the owner’s culture so it is okay,” please note that he didn’t say it is the bones of a relative. There are still remains and holy relics taken from First Nations people that are used as decoration in various museums, colleges and personal homes that are not treated with the respect they would if they were still with their original people. The people that own them treat them the way they would treat any decoration (so culturally appropriate to them) but not the way they were meant to be.

                15. Chinook*

                  “The skeleton’s previous owner is dead. It doesn’t care what happens to it. Nobody living has any personal attachment to it to be offended”

                  Else, I respectfully disagree and must assume that you don’t believe in an afterlife or some other belief system that doesn’t care about how a body is disposed of. For those of us who do, disrespecting human remains is a huge deal. It would be one thing if the remains were from a member of the owner’s family, but we don’t know that.

                  Here are two reasons off the top of my it may not be right (and there are many more):
                  If they are Native American remains, it is a symbol not only of colonialism and disrespect, but they also believe in the sacred disposal of remains.

                  If they are Roman Catholic remains, they may have been donated for educational or research purposes (which is permitted under our belief system) but, since they are no longer being used for this reason AND are being treated with disrespect, they should be at the very least interned into holy ground. The human body in my belief is seen as a vessel that holds the sacred (your spirit/soul) and anything that holds something sacred becomes sacred in turn (i.e. most people wouldn’t store a valuable diamond in a rusty tin can) and should be treated with respect even after it has been emptied.

                  I do not doubt that there are many, many other cultures and religious beliefs that may have different reasons that end in the same action of treating the dead with respect. Just because you don’t hold that belief doesn’t make it less valid.

                16. Specialk9*

                  @PCBH “Chameleon, I don’t think that’s an accurate description of Dahlia’s position. She’s not saying, “no use of human remains for research/scientific inquiry, ever!” It’s a bit of a red herring to attribute that argument to her.”

                  Yeah, agreed, very not cool.

                  “He must be able to put a Santa hat on the human bones, or YOU HATE SCIENCE.”

                  Yeesh, guys. This is getting silly.

                17. Anonymoose*

                  “Also, it’s really offensive to say people need to been to a culture they are in rather than both the culture and the person need to come to agreement.”

                  I 100% agree with this. If we didn’t agree, as a country, we’d still be British. ;)

                18. Chameleon*

                  @PCHB and SpecialK9

                  The two of you are attributing to me an argument I’m not making. I don’t say that her position means no science, and I don’t necessarily agree that dressing up the bones is a good idea (though it personally would not at all matter to me). I was saying that the idea of human remains being somehow sacred and off-limits–which is in fact the argument made by many people–is in effect quite harmful to the living, and I don’t think pushing back on the idea is somehow cultural imperialism.

                19. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Chameleon, thank you so much for clarifying. Because your comment was nested under Dahlia’s, I read it as a response to Dahlia. It was very helpful to read your follow-up, which makes it clear that you’re raising a separate concern.

                  I suspect that there is a bit more nuance in whether people believe dead bodies/parts are inherently sacred such that there should be no scientific or medical use of those bodies. But I think because the conversation has proceeded as “this is a big deal!” v. “this is not a big deal,” the positions being staked out seem farther apart than they may actually be. For example, I support the use of remains for medical research, subject to prevailing ethical norms and current legal frameworks. But I’m a relatively sophisticated donee, and so I worry about consent and ethical use for less sophisticated or more vulnerable donees.

                  What bothers me about OP’s boss is that his use doesn’t seem to conform with ethical norms, and his use of the remains comes across as a bit dodgy, even if he means no ill will and lawfully owns the skeleton. I think it’s possible to dislike what he’s doing (or see it as problematic), to acknowledge that some religious beliefs require that remains are not used in this way, and to still have available specimens for scientific research.

                20. Specialk9*

                  @Chameleon, thanks for clarifying. But it sounds like you were replying hotly to Dahlia without reading, bc they in no way said what you’re saying they said.

                  Dahlia: “You seem to be forgetting this is it [Isn’t] being used for a scientific purpose in a lab. It’s being used for personal amusement in an office that has a tenuous connection to the actual original scientific purpose of this donation.
                  You seem to be really bending over backwards to justify someone who is using a skeleton as a prop for their own personal amusement. They aren’t using it for science.”

                  Chameleon: [in response] “Frankly, I’m incredibly bothered by the idea that treating dead bodies with “respect” is more important than science, because that idea has cost arguably millions of lives, from the *shockingly* poor understanding of medical science that stuck around for centuries because only a horrible ghoul would want to cut open a body to, you know, understand how it works, to even today the hundreds of people every year who die waiting on transplant lists because the relatives just can’t bear to think of poor Aunt Ethel being chopped up for body parts. They are dead. The bodies are just bodies. People are alive.”

                  Science can science just fine without frat-house shenanigans with human remains. We know that bc scientists who DO work with human remains HAVE strict respect-based ethics.

                  I’m not clear where you’re going with this. Are you thinking Dahlia is a Victorian era moralist ported in time, who is impeding science and forcing anatomists to rob graves to learn anatomy? Because I’m fairly certain they are not actually a time traveler who deserves your historical ire.

                21. Look Back In Ingres*

                  Yup. Incredibly offensive in my country’s culture. I personally wouldn’t be that bothered, but some people would refuse to enter the room, human remains are considered that sacred. Put whatever wacky shit you want in your living room but leave the dead bodies out of the workplace, yes?

                22. Amber Duncan*

                  To be frank, my own family owned a skeleton that was presented to my doctor grandfather for twenty-some odd years of volunteering as a practical teacher in his original home state. Basically, he taught medical school classes and never took a dime for them, as well as allowing students to shadow him in his practice out of school. So, the school gave him one of their skeleton specimens as a sign of gratitude. He and my dad even named him: Yorick, from Shakespeare. My father inherited him and set him up in his workshop, and would talk to him while building random things.

                  I personally think that the only problem with having such a relic is the climate of distaste that “modern” society has surrounding death and one’s remains. It’s almost a taboo in America to get details about how one’s remains will be handled, and talking about or speculating about death outside of a religious setting practically marks a person as being “morbid” or “unbalanced”.

                  As such, I also believe that so long as the remains are kept in good repair, treated well and cared for, it’s perfectly respectful to have such an item as a family heirloom.

                  That said, I realize that I’m in the minority on that issue, and don’t expect anyone to be convinced just because of the experience I grew up with.

                23. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  I am and always have been utterly puzzled by any mindset or belief system that insists that human remains are “somehow” more special or sacred or in need of respect than the remains of any other animal. They aren’t, and this bizarre way of thinking has caused inestimable damage to the world. Like one poster mentioned, it consigns those waiting for transplants they death, and it set medical science back for centuries, and also was entirely responsible for the profession of graverobbing to provide cadavers for those who dared to expand human knowledge, and some of those graverobbers murdered to provide those corpses. The highly lucrative funeral industry takes advantage of those stunned by grief and rips them off to the tune of thousands-tens of thousands of dollars, pollutes the environment with needless toxic chemicals from embalming and smoke from cremation, renders thousands of acres of land useless as they are set aside as shrines to dead meat.
                  Meanwhile, the ACTUALLY LIVING are subjected to want, hunger, homelessness, abuse, poverty, and every other atrocity imaginable, as we give far more respect to a rotting corpse or dry skeleton than living, breathing, feeling humans, non-human animals, and the environment that sustains us all.

                  I’m an organ donator, and am also donating my body to science, or the body farm, so I can be useful and my death can have some meaning rather than being a waste of money and space in a cemetery. I would rather be taxidermied, pickled in a jar, or a skeleton posed in silly ways giving someone a good laugh, and therefore being useful as entertainment for someone, than contribute one penny to the funeral industrial complex. Hell, I’d rather decay into earth nourishing fertilizer, or be dumped in a remote area as food for wild animals, insects, and worms, than let my body go to waste in a cemetery or crematorium. Let plastic surgeons use me for practice, or auto companies in tests to make cars safer, or a prankster display me in their office, just don’t let me go to waste.
                  I don’t care now, and sure as hell won’t care when I’m dead- consciousness doesn’t exist without the brain and neurons that actually create it. On the infitisimal chance that some part of me actually could survive past death without the physical body (which I don’t believe is even possible, but I’ll play along), it’s guaranteed to be so different and far removed the “me” that I am now, that it couldn’t possibly care what happened to the shell it came out of, no more than a butterfly cares what happens to the chrysalis it emerges from.

              2. LilyP*

                It’s funny you should mention that because if you’re talking about either of the “bodies” exhibits, it’s actually very much in question whether people did in fact consent to their bodies being displayed like that and therefore both have been quite controversial.

                I think this is one where the op is in the right but cultural norms are against her. Maybe a good compromise would be to ask him about the skeleton and its history — who knows, maybe it was donated to science by his great-grand-uncle, or maybe talking about it’s less consensual human origins will help him understand why you feel uncomfortable with it.

                1. J.*

                  I came to the comments to post something similar. There was a more recent story about the providence of classroom skeletons, and the ethics are disconcerting.


                  That said, I do agree you probably can’t ask your boss to get rid of it entirely, especially if you’re in a science-adjacent field, but as a middle ground it might be worth a conversation on the topic of the history of these types of skeletons and asking to stop with the funny poses.

              3. Rusty Shackelford*

                There is an art exhibit of actual dead people with their preserved muscles exposed and posed in various positions. Not my thing, but the folks in it agreed to have their bodies exposed like that.

                Not necessarily. There’s actually a lot of questions and accusations about where these bodies come from. And in an NPR story in 2006, a spokesman for one of these exhibits comes right out and says they are “unclaimed” bodies, not people who agreed to donate their bodies. And that’s the *least* disturbing accusation.

              4. Pleather*

                Those bodies come from political prisoners executed by the Chinese government. The folks agreed to no such thing.

                1. Clorinda*

                  Me too, gold digger. It came to a big city near my town and I could not. It’s horrifying.

                2. JKP*

                  Actually, the original brand exhibits people who agreed to have their bodies used for those displays. The final portion of the exhibit is actually filled with video consents and written consents from the donors.

                  When the exhibit became popular (and profitable), knock-offs popped up that use non-donated bodies and executed prisoners.

                  Please don’t boycott the authentic exhibits, just do the research to support the ethical displays.

                3. Chinook*

                  The one I attended went as far as exhibiting the forms signed by those who donated their bodies, explained in detail how they weren’t the exhibit that used Chinese political producers and gave out information on how you can do the same. Provenance is hugely important when it comes to this types of exhibitions which are hugely valuable for educational and artistic reasons (artistic because the best way to learn how to draw/sculpt the human body is to see how it is built).

                4. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  Any time someone is murdered for their political beliefs it is an abomination, and it is incredibly sad that the exhibits who obtained bodies this way did not acknowledge that this was where the bodies came from. THAT is what I find unethical about it.
                  That the bodies of those whose DEATHS were unethical were used is NOT something I find wrong, however.
                  They are now being honored in death, as they will forever contribute to the furthering of knowledge, the destigmatazation of death and the human body, the furthering of scientific knowledge to every “average person” who attends these exhibits and views their forms.
                  The government that killed them intended for them to die in shame, anonymity, and dishonor, and now they are immortalized, known, and admired by thousands all over the world. The exhibitors shouldn’t be hiding this, but letting it be known. These exhibits are a far more fitting shrine and memorial to the memories of these courageous people than any cemetary or statue or monument could ever be. I am LOLing at the irony that the Chinese government thought this would be a great way to quietly and secretly dispose of these people they found so troublesome and it is exactly the opposite- they have made them *World Famous*- and for centuries to come. That is PRICELESS!
                  And so much better than being forgotten in a remote mass grave.

              5. Katie the Fed*

                “There is an art exhibit of actual dead people with their preserved muscles exposed and posed in various positions. Not my thing, but the folks in it agreed to have their bodies exposed like that.”

                No this isn’t true at all. A lot of them are Chinese prisoners.

              6. Moonbeam Malone*

                Worth mentioning, there are (or were, it’s been several years since I heard about them) at least two major exhibits featuring plastinated corpses. I believe one of them provided documentation and assurances that the bodies were donated by the deceased to be used in this way. The other, as other commenters have mentioned, was an exhibit where the bodies came from China, with no such assurances. That they were the bodies of prisoners wasn’t exactly provable, but it seemed…likely. (Full disclosure: I did attend the really ethically questionable one. I didn’t pay admittance but I still questioned whether I should go. The exhibit itself was pretty cool, if you’re into that kind of thing.) Generally I think it’s pretty understandable to have concerns about how human remains are procured, regardless of their intended use, because the history is pretty questionable.

              7. Observer*

                That’s actually a very bad example. As noted, there are a LOT of accusations about that show. I mean reasonably credible ones that have never been cleared not UFO conspiracies.

              8. Anonymousaurus Rex*

                Yeah I don’t think the fact that this is a family relic gives it a pass here, unless the provenance can be 1) documented and 2) is actually the remains of a family *member*. There’s a huge problem with human remains being mistreated historically–especially the kind here where there’s a nebulous tale of how the remains were passed down. These really shouldn’t be on public display, especially when they are making coworkers uneasy.

                1. Specialk9*

                  The OP, waaaaay down thread, clarified that it is NOT a family member for their boss, it’s a curiosity.
                  “it’s a random skeleton that was kept as a kind of scientific curio.”

            3. Politically incorrect*

              It’s his personal office. He’s under no obligation to accommodate any and all cultures that may enter the inner sanctum.

              1. Ann Perkins*

                Disagree. As a professional, he does have the obligation to not have “decor” that’s offensive to many religions and cultures.

                1. Kyubey*

                  He shouldn’t have to change his decor to suit everyone, maybe if he were in a public facing position. Its not always reasonable to demand we adhere to every religion or culture. Some christians are offended by displays promoting evolution or climate change, one religion may be offended by the symbol of another. The skeleton may not have religious significance but it is an heirloom, which he can do what he pleases with.

                2. Kate 2*

                  Does that mean he shouldn’t put up a poster about evolution? You CAN”T use “offense” as the be-all end-all of decision making. It’s his personal office in a science building. If he were a world theology professor I might agree with you, but he’s not. Some religions find organ donation offensive. We still let people do it if they want to. Someone working in a science setting is going to have to understand that things will be done, and discussions and teaching that their religion might be against. They will have to quit or find a workaround. Facts exist outside of the realm of feelings.

                3. Politically incorrect*

                  He’d better not have books about organ transplantation, then. Or evolution. Or God forbid he wear a crucifix at work, or his female colleague wears a hijab. All of these are offensive in some contexts.

                4. Ann Perkins*

                  I actually have a crucifix in my office, on my desk and facing me. Having an item that reminds me of my faith is vastly different than posing a skeleton to greet visitors. I’m not aware of a religion that includes using human remains as props as a devotion.

                5. chomps84*

                  All the replies to Ann Perkins are missing the point. Other commenters have explained why better than I could.

                6. DeathHistorian*

                  Ann- this is not arguing against your point, just more of a ‘fun fact’- there are actually quite a few religions and cultures that use human remains as devotional items. For example, various branches of Christianity, with saints’ relics, which have been used for centuries and have Biblical backup. Another culture is the Toraja people in Indonesia, who remove the mummified bodies of their relatives from the grave every few years to groom them and celebrate them. (PS: This is a super fascinating practice but not one to google if you are not keen on looking at mummies.)

                7. Ask a Mexican*

                  @Ann Perkins, are you completely unaware of the importance of skeletons in Mexican culture (and to the Dia de los Muertos specifically)?

                8. Anonymoose*

                  Actually Kyubey, that happens every day – reducing instances that offend others at its lowest common denominator. It’s what we do to keep others distracted from their work, which is why they’re all there in the first place. Doesn’t mean it’s true for all offices/labs, but if the manager is worth his salt, he’ll take OP’s feelings into consideration. Because that’s what good managers do – calculate the risk of lowered productivity/morale vs the reward of keeping his human Skelator pet.

                9. Ann Perkins*

                  DeathHistorian – right, I’m Catholic so I’m aware of relics. They’re treated with a huge amount of respect though. I used the phrase “as props” to indicate something a bit less devout, like having the skeleton sit in a chair in the corner of the office. I’ve read a bit about the Toraja people as well and their practice seems very loving and to honor the dead. I was trying to convey that the boss’ practice isn’t grounded in anything like that.
                  Ask A Mexican – I have seen some Dia de Los Muertos celebrations but I’ve never seen real remains used, does that happen? I’m genuinely curious.

                10. DeathHistorian*

                  Ann- Ahh, got it! Sorry, there are many comments with people firmly stating that no culture/religion uses bodies or body parts as devotional objects, and shooting down people who say there is. I misread your comment as being similar to those. For what it’s worth I do agree that we need to be aware of and sensitive to the history of illicit remains, and what other cultures deem acceptable and respectful.

                11. Wicked Odd*

                  But Kyubey, what if changing his office decor postponed the heat death of the universe?

                  (Pop culture reference, don’t mind me.)

                12. Kyubey*

                  Wicked Odd, theoretically the odds of that being the case are slim to none. I suppose if it did help the universe it would be rational to do so. People arguing here are just adhering to their emotions and culture, which is not logical.

                  Then again, humans are not rational creatures by nature; which is why there is so much conflict over this.

                13. JM60*

                  @Ann Perkins

                  “I actually have a crucifix in my office, on my desk and facing me. Having an item that reminds me of my faith is vastly different than posing a skeleton to greet visitors. I’m not aware of a religion that includes using human remains as props as a devotion.”

                  Catholicism is one. Look up “first class relics”. I’m surprised that you’d have a crucifix in your office (something disproportionately done by Catholics) and be unaware of that.

                14. Van Halen A Cab*

                  “I actually have a crucifix in my office. . . I’m not aware of a religion that includes using human remains as props as a devotion”

                  Just symbolic ones are OK, I guess.

              2. BethRA*

                It’s not his “personal office” in the sense of private property – this isn’t in his home, it’s the office he’s been assigned in a professional setting. And as a manger/supervisor/person in a work environment rather than his own house, he very much IS under an obligation to take colleague’s into consideration.

                Personally, I would have no issue with my boss keeping a skeleton in her office, and I would have no issue with my own bones being displayed like that. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable for OP to feel differently or to want ask him if he’d consider not keeping it in his office, or at least not “surprising people” with it.

              3. Seriously?*

                If it were his office at home, I would agree with you. But this is at work, so some sensitivity to other cultures is required.

              4. LBK*

                It is not his personal office, it’s the office he uses in his employer’s building. I mean, I assume you wouldn’t be cool with him hanging nude photos all around his office or racist paraphernalia? “Personal office” is a real weak defense.

              5. Anion*

                Yes. I am honestly stunned that the OP even thinks she *could* say something about this or that it *might* be appropriate for her to do so, and my reaction is, frankly, “Who, exactly, do you think you are?” You don’t get to ask people to take down decorations because said decorations do not suit your personal tastes, especially when that person is your superior. He’s not displaying pornography or KKK posters, it’s a skeleton in a biology department; whether his work or the sub-department he’s in specifically has anything to do with human biology or not is irrelevant. If the OP is so disturbed by the sight of human bones, perhaps the biology department is not the place for her.

                Get over yourself, OP. It’s not your office. It’s not your department to run or decorate. Not everything is your business, and not everything needs to be, or should be, altered to accommodate your personal quirks and/or desires.

                1. Lunita*

                  Anion your response to OP is harsh-OP wasn’t disturbed by the fact that they are bones per se but more due to the disrespect I think. And after reading Dahlia’s comments above, there’s some valid points to be made particularly when considering this country’s racist history and disrespect for Native Americans and others.

                2. sigh*

                  I hope whatever is causing you to respond so harshly to someone on the internet with a different and reasonable view clears up soon.

                3. Atom*

                  So you would have a problem with KKK item’s on display? Why? They’really not illegal. They’re very offensive to many people, but not illegal. Most private workplaces would likely ban KKK items as discriminatory items to protected classes of people (religion).

                  Human remains on display are also offensive to protected classes of people (religious).

                  So are you saying that as long as no protected class of people come into contact with either KKK materials, or with human remains, that’s OK in a government office?

            4. Kate 2*

              Multi-cultural doesn’t mean that a person from one culture gets to tell another person how to act in an issue that has *absolutely* nothing to do with them. OP is not a member of the boss’s family, of the donor’s family, or the boss of the OP’s boss.

              1. Bleeborp*

                I am also confused how someone of a culture that handles dead bodies differently would be offended by how the corpse of someone who is of a different culture and with whom they had no relationship was handled. They may conflate the way they’d like bodies to be handled with how others should handle bodies but that’s not really reasonable. If he took their relative’s skeleton and posed it funny then that’s a problem; it seems the owner of the skeleton feels differently about human remains and is highly amused with his display (I would be, too.)

                1. Anion*

                  Yes. “Hey, work superior, my culture does X, therefore you must,” is not the way it works. Whatever culture a person might be from that handles bodies differently, they are not in that culture now. It’s not right for Americans to go to other countries and demand they do things our way, so why in the world would it be okay to come to America and demand we do things their way? (Or whatever two cultures, this isn’t about America vs. Other Culture, I just used that as an example.)

              2. Specialk9*

                Kate 2, this blog is about how to handle conflicts at work. There are a thousand comments in a matter of hours about how this is highly controversial. Clearly this is a conflict.

                OP would be acting reasonably to object about having to 1) encounter human remains at work, 2) watch someone turn human remains into a joke. (And that’s without legit concerns that it’s a murdered kid* or such.)

                It’s not oppression to give this guy a heads up that he’s making people uncomfortable at work. You keep wanting to turn this into his rights being violated, but that’s not what this is. He can take his human remains home and not force it on uncomfortable subordinates. It’s just not work appropriate.

                *Search for my posts, I put a link about how it often was kids murdered to spec.

                1. aebhel*

                  This. I’m actually kind of shocked at how vociferous some of these comments are getting, and I probably wouldn’t even be that bothered by the skeleton or by the irreverent humor involving it; I’m an atheist and I’m not particularly squeamish.

                  But there are potentially some really messed up origins for a lot of ‘anatomy’ skeletons, particularly older ones, and a good boss should want to know if an ongoing joke that has no basis in work is upsetting his reports, and OP is not really that weird for being uncomfortable with human remains being displayed and treated as a joke in an office setting that doesn’t deal with human remains in any professional context. And I’m a little annoyed at the dismissive and frankly contemptuous attitude some posters are taking toward them.

                2. Anion*

                  Except this isn’t a conflict, at least I (and others) don’t see it that way. This is an employee deciding they don’t like an aspect of a superior’s decor, and thinking that A) their superior’s decor is their business; and B) their superior should be so affected by their opinion that they will change that decor and remove a family heirloom that has meaning to them.

                  A conflict is when both people have a real stake in something. The OP in this case has no stake in it. if she doesn’t like the skeleton, she can avoid looking at it. Her superior’s decorating taste is not her concern, and it’s certainly not her place to “correct” him. OP ought to keep her opinions to herself. We all have to see things we don’t like sometimes, and only busybodies think their input on such things is needed or cared about.

            5. Politically incorrect*

              I am sick and tired of the idea that we must never do anything, anywhere that some culture might find offensive in a different context.

              Lots of cultures find the idea of organ transplants highly offensive. (I myself saw a box of corneas being surreptitiously loaded into an ophthalmological hospital in Egypt, because it could not be publicly known they offered cornea transplants.)

              Do you say that the medical establishment ought to cut off all public discussion of transplants?

              There is no evidence that this skeleton is on display for anything other than scientific purposes (“here is an example of human anatomy”).

              Of course, you dislike the whole idea of science and the scientific method, which is what gave the world penicillin, the polio vaccine, pasteurization of milk, and other things that benefit only cis white males.

              1. ket*

                As a fellow defender of science, I’d appreciate it if you stuck closer to the facts presented. Taking an example of a person’s discomfort and bringing it, ad absurdum, to being anti-pasteurization really delegitimizes the pro-science argument. Being concerned with the ethics of dealing with human remains is not related on any logical level to the scientific method. I don’t want to have my pro-science viewpoint be associated with these appeals to illogic and emotion.

                1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

                  If this were a fake skeleton, no problem The issue is that it is actual human remains.

                2. Ann Perkins*

                  This. Throwing out “but science!” doesn’t mean we cast aside ethical issues. And nobody is saying that he can’t have the skeleton at all – but rather, that he should be more empathetic to issues that may arise with bringing it to work.

                  Also the OP specifically said their study doesn’t relate to human anatomy.

                3. cattle kate*

                  Thanks, ket, took the words right out of my mouth. One of the most damaging things that we as scientists or pro-science folks can do is expand the definitions of what science is, does, and means to frame it like a trump card over other ways of knowing or thinking. Science tells us what *is*, not what *should be* – science can’t determine aesthetics, morality, etc. It’s a tool, a process.

                  Add to that that science as an institution and scientists have perpetuated some pretty horrifying human rights abuses in the past. All that considered, it’s pretty disturbing that folks might wave off OP’s legitimate discomfort (which is equally valid if it’s an emotional response to an unusual way of encountering human remains OR if it’s based on evidence – and it seems like it’s actually both) as anti-science.

              2. professor*

                which is why you have to have consent to take someone’s organs after they are dead.

                Also, the OP said that the skeleton was posed humorously, so yes, we do have evidence this is not scientific.

                Oh, and I am a scientist. This has to do with scientific ethics not being anti-science. This kind of behavior has no place in science.

              3. Anion*

                +1. It’s a science building. As I said above, if OP is so offended by the sight of a skeleton, perhaps a science building isn’t the right place for her.

                1. Rudy*

                  Please, Mr. Scientist, explain for us unenlightened peasants exactly how the cause of Science is being advanced by posing a skeleton in funny ways or by putting bowties and party hats on it.

                2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  @Rudy Well for one, anyone who views it can see the marvel that is the framework of human life, in all it’s glory, and that’s true whether it’s hung soberly in a corner, or posed with a bow tie and a party hat. The less squeamish can examine it up close, and learn things about the textures, shapes and so on that are far less vivid in a plastic replica.

                  For another, it helps destigmatize death, and teaches people that it is a natural part of life, and that the dead are nothing to be afraid of- something else you just can’t do with a plastic replica. Most Americans are so far removed from the death process these days that they are needlessly frightened by it, or any reminder of it, as if death is something unnatural that can be avoided if we keep our distance. Mr. or Ms. Friendly Skeleton can help those people develop a more reasonable outlook on the inevitable end of life.

                  That’s two things just off the top of my head, and I have no doubt others can come up with more.

            6. Sarah*

              Here’s the thing: as somebody who would actually legitimately LOVE to have a skeleton I could pose in funny ways and specifically took a seat in high school health class that was right next to the skeleton, I totally get where OP’s boss is coming from. But yeah, there are definitely places and cultures where that would not be okay. It’s a fine line, being respectful of other cultures while still embracing your own traditions.

              But ultimately, maybe the workplace isn’t the place to show off the things that might really upset people. Which…man, if I had a skeleton, I’d want it in my office. I’d want to see that thing all the time. I’m weird that way. But if my coworker came up and said, “Hey, I know everybody thinks it’s hilarious that you put their team award’s in Skelly’s hands for them to take, but it actually super creeps me out,” I’d be a little upset that my joke wasn’t funny to everybody and then I’d stop doing that thing. Because it’s only funny if people aren’t creeped or disturbed by it.

              1. Sarah*

                “Traditions” is definitely the wrong word here – sorry, jetlag is not kind to my cognition. Personality/sense of humour is probably closer to what I’m getting at.

                Also, given how unethical a lot of the gathering of these types of remains has been, I’ve obviously never actually taken steps to OWN human remains (and wouldn’t) but that doesn’t stop the weird dark hilarious side of playing with death like that. (Like, I would totally give my skeleton to somebody to do this with, but since I can’t be sure anybody else did, I wouldn’t actually do it no matter how funny I thought it’d be.)

                1. Chinook*

                  Sarah, please note that no one has an issue with a fake skeleton made of plastic or similar, just with the use if human remains. Feel free to purchase Skelly from a reputable place and hand it all the awards, fedoras and tutus it can manage!

                2. Specialk9*

                  Yeah, we’re not objecting to gallows or dark humor.

                  It’s just the murder, grave robbing, and disrespect we mind. (Which you seem to understand.)

            7. Safetykats*

              I do think it’s inappropriate that OP seems to be suggesting that her manager’s grandfather was some kind of grave-robber. “Who knows how it was procured?” I would assume that if it was originally procured by a medical professional, you should assume it was procured properly.

              1. Anion*

                YES. Why the assumption that the boss’s grandfather was some sort of Burke-and-Hare-esque criminal, and why is that assumption being taken as given in the comments? Sheesh. Everyone here is so desperate to assign guilt and nefarious motives/actions to others. It’s very unpleasant.

                1. Lunita*

                  Because “medical professionals” have done all kinds of terrible things to people in the name of science. Tuskegee experiments come to mind, or the “father of gynecology” J Marion Sims who experimented without anesthesia on slave women.

              2. Anion*

                @Lunita Yes, and medical professionals have also saved millions of lives. A handful of them who did bad, unethical things hardly cancels out the millions who didn’t, and it’s much more likely that OP’s boss’s grandfather was one of the good ones than it is that he was one of the nefarious ones.

                I realize that playing the “He was a white man so he must have been an evil scumbag” game is a lot of fun for some people, but it’s not very nice and it’s not very productive. And frankly, ascribing only negative traits to a group based solely on their physical traits, or assuming only negative behaviors and motives from a group because of their physical traits, is kind of what bigots do, and I don’t think you’d like to be seen as one of those.

                The sheer malice and hatred seen in the comments here so often honestly makes me want to cry sometimes.

                1. Anon The Fourth*

                  Anion, thank you for proving that racism only affects white men and no other group or people are or have been maltreated because of who they are.

                2. Indoor Cat*

                  It’s neither malicious nor hateful to encourage respect for the dead and the human body, given an understanding of historical facts that disrespect for the dead and for the bodies of prisoners, slaves, and other kinds of people considered inferior and inhuman by those in power have been used to perpetuate dehumanization.

                  Nobody ever said OP’s boss was white. It’d be a problem even if he were black or Asian or some other race or ethnicity. The critique is based on the boss’s action, not the boss’s race or ethnicity.

                  Medical professionals have saved my life. That still doesn’t mean it’d be okay if a doctor whom I trusted turned out to have 100-year-old human remains in his or her office.

                  Also, medical professionals almost killed me. If I had continued to follow a specific doctor’s order to stay on a specific medication even after experiencing awful side-effects (which the doctor insisted weren’t related to the prescription) I literally would’ve died. Fortunately, I sought out a second doctor, who immediately realized I was on two meds I shouldn’t be on simultaneously, and that co-mingling them could cause seizures and respiratory problems. Second doctor removed one prescription and I was fine.

                  So, to your “millions versus a few” point, it’s much closer to 50-50. About half of medical professionals are arrogant and incompetent; half know what they’re doing and do it well.

          2. soon 2 be former fed*

            The context for using a skeleton as decor in a biological sciences office is appropriate. I would never have thought about how the remains were procured, that seems a bit odd to me. I don’t understand what is so disrespectful.

            1. Dahlia*

              it’s not being used as a teaching tool or even is scientifically appropriate decoration. It’s being dressed up and posed and used as a prop like one would use it in a frat house. That substantially different and disrespectful.

              You’ve never thought about how the remains were procured because you’ve never had to deal with the reality of grave robbing, theft of Native bodies, etc. But that’s historical reality in the United States. I’m glad you’ve never had to think about it, but you should think about it now

              1. Lily in NYC*

                I’m not enjoying your hectoring tone. You are treating your opinion as fact.

                1. Rachel*

                  Thank you. I totally agree. She’s coming in here lecturing everyone about how what they think might not be what someone else thinks, and seems to be completely missing the point that that applies to her, too.

                  This is not disrespectful just because you say so, Dahlia. Just like it’s not automatically fine just because others say so. Please stop this.

                2. LBK*

                  But those are facts…which part of what she’s saying isn’t a fact? People are getting real defensive about being called out on something they’ve seemingly never bothered to think about before, which is that a lot of those skeletons weren’t procured from willing donors but from pillaged graves of people whose remains were deemed less important.

                3. Specialk9*

                  A “hectoring” tone? That sounds like that sexist kind of thing used to shut up women, like being “strident”, or “bitchy”?

                  There was nothing rude or inappropriate about Dahlia’s tone.

                  Every single thing they said is both appropriate, relevant, and adds to this discussion.

                  You may not agree, but you going off on them this way is really out of line.

              2. Narise*

                Grave robbers in America during American Revolution stole all bodies including those of white people to sell. I’m not sure why you are turning this into a race issue.

                1. Wicked Odd*

                  Answering this as a question asked in good faith: a lot of it is because of “grave robbing” that happened much more recently, and had more perceived legitimacy in academic contexts. I’m anything but an expert, but if you’re curious about the ethical questions surrounding academic skeletons, etc., there are some great links elsewhere in the thread.

                2. ket*

                  Another example of someone saying, “Well, there exists vanilla ice cream, so how can you be talking about cookies and cream?” Dahlia mentioned a specific issue. You turned it into “a race issue.”

                  Come on, people, logic!! Mentioning the existence of the number 1 does not mean all the rest of integers don’t exist!

              3. Politically incorrect*

                It’s being dressed up and posed and used as a prop like one would use it in a frat house.

                Which is none of your business

                1. Specialk9*


                  You’re really weirdly upset about this. Are you OP’s boss? Do you have a human skeleton of dubious origin that you like to pose in public?

                2. aebhel*

                  …no, but it is the business of the people who have to work with this person and deal with human remains as decorations. Like the OP, for example.

              4. Observer*

                That’s actually not true. Grave robbing is absolutely NOT something that’s specific or particular to the US, or the bodies of POC stolen by white people.

                1. a1*

                  Exactly! Grave robbing has been around for as long as there have been dead bodies around, and in all regions of the world where humans have existed.

                  That said, I’m not sure how hundreds of comments about the sordid history of cadaver/body/bone procurement helps the OP. So this is will be my first and last post about it.

                2. ket*

                  To be pedantic, Dahlia didn’t say that grave robbing was exclusive or particular to the US or to PoC, she just notes that she has thought of grave robbing and the skeleton because it occurred in the context of exploitation of Native Americans in the US, which is clearly important to her.

                3. Anion*

                  I also thank you! Sheesh, from some of the comments here you’d think the US invented grave-robbing or something, and invented it as a specific “tool of oppression,” to boot.

              5. Politically incorrect*

                You’ve never thought about how the remains were procured because you’ve never had to deal with the reality of grave robbing, theft of Native bodies, etc

                And you have no evidence that has been involved with this particular skeleton, and indeed we might infer from LW’s language that this particularly skeleton was an ancestor of the professor in question.

                1. Specialk9*

                  I’m just not willing to believe that a random stranger’s skeleton* handed down as a curiosity was ethically sourced. It strains credulity.

                  *OP down thread clarified

              6. Kate 2*

                Um, you do realize he can do both with it right? Use it as a teaching tool and decorate it when not in use. Also some cultures would find your abhorrence of having a skeleton around offensive. Death is a part of life, and we should respect and remember the dead. You seem to be assuming that the body was stolen, but there’s no reason for it. Bodies were stolen but MANY people also donated them. This person has “lived” in a way long past the time many people’s names on their gravestones are getting worn away.

                BTW your comments about how awful this person is for keeping a willingly donated skeleton around are becoming offensive to MY religion and culture. How about dialing it down and respecting other cultures, rather than just demanding people respect yours? It’s supposed to go both ways you know.

                1. Tri-State*

                  But you don’t know if it was “willingly donated” you are assuming that. It could easily be a stolen body that loved ones believe is somewhere else. I remember the Tri-State Crematory scandal and how much hurt that brought to hundreds of families to learn that their loved one wasn’t in their urn or scattered by them at whatever location. Without the exact history of the skeleton this entire thing is questionable and iffy at best.

                2. Bleeborp*

                  I truly think that it’s coming down to people who care about remains and people who don’t. Culturally, religiously, just what sounds right to them, it all paints how someone is going to feel about this. I’ve never thought bodies have anything to do with the person who inhabited them once that person dies- the body, to me, is literally inconsequential unless it can help someone else medically. I never considered it until now but I guess I also see value in remains being used as a decorative or comedic tool. I don’t think there’s anything sacred there but lots of people do. I also don’t care if the body was stolen (which if it was a medical skeleton from many generations ago, odds are it was) again, because I don’t consider it to have any particular value. But it does hold value for others. My conclusion is that I would like to personally have a real skeleton to pose in my office but I ultimately agree that it’s in bad taste to a lot of people so it’s not the best idea.

                3. Emily K*

                  @Bleeborp Yes, I’m an extraordinarily unsentimental person when it comes to objects of all kinds – souvenirs, corpses, it doesn’t matter – I don’t really attach sentiment to objects. Perhaps it’s because I’m also extraordinarily emotional and prone to losing things, so at some point in my childhood I learned to stop assigning so much emotional value to stuff I was probably going to lose anyway.

                  When it comes to my own corpse, I’ve put in my will that my only requirement is that my remains are used for the benefit of the living. I’m an organ donor, and beyond what useful organs can be harvested from my corpse, I don’t care if they bury it, burn it, or turn it into a scientific display. The one thing I don’t want them to do is pump it full of preservatives and encase it in a concrete box where it will never decompose. The carbons and oxygens and hydrogens that make up my body were part of the Earth and other living things before they were part of me, and when I’m dead, I don’t need them anymore. They should go back to the earth where they can become part of future living things who will need them. It just seems selfish to tie up valuable life-sustaining resources in a stupid dead body that isn’t doing anyone any good.

                  But just as much as I’m unsentimental about objects, I’ve learned that it’s not wise to argue with people who are. Sentimentality is a strong emotion, and it may not be rational, but it’s part of being human, and I don’t ask anyone to defend which things they’re sentimental about and which they aren’t. (Just don’t embalm my corpse plz and thanks.)

                4. Specialk9*

                  Um, you do realize that OP specifically said he’s not using it as a teaching tool?

              7. Anonymousaurus Rex*

                I’m in complete agreement here. There’s a real and significant history of skeletal remains being appropriated and displayed inappropriately. There are codes of ethics for handling all human remains used as teaching tools. And this isn’t close to being used as a teaching tool.

              8. Anion*

                It’s historical reality in every country, Dahlia. And if this skeleton came from OP’s boss’s grandfather, it’s likely it dates to about the 1930s or so at the oldest; odds are extremely high that it was NOT stolen from a Native American burial ground at that point.

                The assumption that OP works for the grandson of a graverobber is pretty gross, actually, and far more offensive to me than the display of a skeleton in a *science building.*

                1. Lunita*

                  Where would you get the 1930s from? You have no idea how old OP is or her boss. It definitely seems like it could have been farther back than that.

                2. Anion*

                  @Lunita Um, I did math? Admittedly, I assumed the boss was about in his 50s, which would make his parents children of the 30s/40s, which given how people tended to marry earlier and have kids not long after marriage, and for men to marry once they’d become a bit more established in their careers, would mean the boss’s grandfather was probably in a position to acquire the skeleton around the time of his marriage, give or take. It is unlikely that someone marrying and having kids in the 30s was in a position to acquire a skeleton much before that, and is in fact much more likely that they acquired it *after* that, later in their career (possibly even as late as the 50s or 60s; I doubt it, which was why I said 30s, but still). Or, for a slightly different set of figures, a generation is usually defined as about 30 years; 3 generations would be 90 years, which would be the 1920s/30s.

                  I probably should have said “1920s at the earliest,” but I don’t think five or ten years one way or the other makes that big a difference, especially not when my *point* was that grave-robbing was something that ended (in most Western nations) by about the mid-nineteenth century (if not before).

                  You can quibble about this decade or that decade if you like, but the fact is that medical students and doctors were not robbing graves in 1900, much less 1920 or ’30. Unless this skeleton came from the eighteenth/early nineteenth century, it was almost definitely acquired legally. And unless the grandfather lived out west, maybe on land that the US bought from the Spanish or French, it is highly unlikely that the skeleton is the stolen remains of a Native American.

                  This whole argument honestly reminds me of how everyone who talks about their “past lives” was a Celtic princess or a Native American warrior or a sea captain; nobody was Bob the gardener who just got up every morning, did stuff with plants, and went to sleep, and whodied peacefully at the age of 80 surrounded by grandkids. But that’s nonsense, because the vast majority of people *were* Bob the gardener (or Ann the wife and mother, etc.).

                  So just as not everyone was once Cleopatra, not every skeleton was once a Native American slaughtered by the white man. Odds are highly against it, actually. The skeleton was probably once a pauper or someone in an asylum or something; be outraged about that, if you are desperate for something to be outraged over, but the idea that any random skeleton *must* have been a poor beleaguered person of color–especially a Native American, given how (comparatively) small their numbers were even at their height–is just rather silly, IMO.

                3. ket*

                  Anion, it seems like you didn’t read the other comments here. There’s a lot of great history discussed about the acquisition of skeletons from France, the Sudan (particular after battles with the British), the country of India, workhouses, poorhouses, asylums, etc! You seem interested in history and in logic. There are a wealth of resources you can find below. I feel like your discussion above is beating a straw horse, if you know what I mean.

            2. Erin*

              A Plastic skeleton for jokes wouldn’t bother me at all. I’d even join in on the fun. But A real skeleton grown from a living breathing human would disturb me. That was a human who once lived and breathed and had a mother and had thoughts in its skull a heart in its ribs.
              I’m a painter that frequently paints skulls and skeletons and uses animal bones. I think it’s distasteful.

              1. SophieK*

                I’m an artist and if my skeleton were used to amuse people after my death I’d be overjoyed.

                If it were before my death, well, that would be impossible.

                We don’t know who the person was and how they would have felt about it. And if you want to talk about respect, ALL remains not disposed of properly are inherently disrespectful. You don’t get a special pass because of the spiritual thoughts you are having while owning them. It’s the ownership that is the issue. Not procurement, not how they are displayed or talked about.

            3. Seriously?*

              It really isn’t (and I am in the biological sciences). We are taught to treat anything that came from an actual human with respect. Posing a plastic skeleton would be totally the norm, but a real one? Not at all. Also, the idea of actually obtaining consent to keep a skeleton is relatively new. If the remains are old enough to have been passed down, it is almost guaranteed that consent was not obtained. It isn’t illegal because there were no laws that required consent, but the ethics of using it as an ornament are questionable at best.

              1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                I really have to agree with this comment in full! I was an aspiring bioarchaeologist before entering my current field and the incredulity that anyone might be bothered by the situation described by OP is so bizarre to me.

              2. Skeleton OP*

                Yeah thanks. OP here. We work in animal biology and think a lot about the ethics of the animals we use in our sampling and experiments , so I guess I find it kind of weird and offputting that my boss has a random human skeleton on display, especially since we’re not teaching anatomy here.

                1. myswtghst*

                  My guess is that if it’s been in his family for generations, he’s probably not thinking about the skeleton’s history outside of it’s time as a family heirloom, or the potential for it to cause concern or discomfort for others – he likely sees it as he’s likely always seen it, as a family relic. Depending on your relationship with him, it might be worthwhile to bring up, in a broad sense, how some people may be concerned about it’s origins or made uncomfortable when it’s used in a joking manner – but as the comments here show, that won’t be the case for everyone, and it’s possible he’ll have a knee-jerk defensive reaction, so it’s worth factoring that into both your decision about whether to speak up, and your plans if you do.

                2. Seespotbitejane*

                  Maybe a silly question, but have you asked about where it came from? Outside the “family relic” part. Because maybe he knows. There was a human skeleton (or most of one) in the art department where I went to college and it was multiple decades old but the department head knew the provenance of it, that she was a woman who willed her remains to the college (not weird, we had a big bio program and a cadaver lab). If your discomfort is just about the ethics of where it came from that might ease your mind.

                  Otherwise, even the funny poses don’t seem inherently disrespectful to me. I’m not saying you’re wrong if it does to you, just death practices around the world are so incredibly varied. I’ve seen a lot in the comments about cultures where this would be considered ghastly, but nothing about cultures (even Western European ones) where it wouldn’t be. But there are places where people collect and decorate skulls and help them smoke cigarettes and ask them for blessings. Places where people keep the mummified corpses of their family members in their houses, let them “sleep” with them in bed.

                  You know your boss better than us but I feel like if he’s a reasonable person you could approach it as something that makes you uncomfortable from an ethics perspective (especially since that’s part of your actual work). That seems like a stronger argument in a bio lab than “it’s creepy.” By which I mean it’s less likely to evoke teasing or statements that you should “get over it” somehow. If your boss isn’t reasonable than there’s probably nothing you can do regardless.

              3. Anonymousaurus Rex*

                Yes! Exactly this. If he want’s a skeleton on display he should use a replica. The issues of consent and ethics are not immaterial here.

            4. yet another Kat*

              At least in the US, we definitely know that many bodies/body parts/cells etc were not obtained or used with consent. There is sadly a history of experimenting on, or using the remains of people of color and indigent people, without consent. Depending on the generation that the director’s grandfather belonged to, it’s not entirely unlikely that this could be the case for this skeleton, and that would make me uncomfortable.

                1. Anion*

                  It’s still highly likely that the skeleton was obtained from a donor, and extremely unlikely that somebody went grave-robbing.

                  Honestly, IMO where it came from is none of your business, just like if he displayed some antique jewelry or something, the provenance of *that* would be none of your business. This speculation is what I find gross and distasteful; why are you so eager to declare your boss’s family guilty of some awful crime? What joy are you getting out of judging them so harshly, and from sitting around thinking of possible sins you can assume they committed? Why not assume they acquired the skeleton through appropriate and legal means–as odds are, they did–and let it go? Why dream up mud to sling at them, just because you don’t like their taste? What do you gain from this?

                  It’s nasty and it’s unpleasant, and it says more to me about you than it does about your boss.

            5. Observer*

              Given the history around the procurement of human remains, it’s a very reasonable question. And this is not ancient history.

            6. Ann Perkins*

              Some religions (orthodox Judaism and Catholicism, for example) have certain standards for how the bodies of the deceased are to be treated. This wouldn’t even come remotely close to respectful behavior for the dead for large groups of people.

              Additionally, the OP said that their particular field has nothing to do with human anatomy. Biology is a wide field – if they’re studying mating habits of pigeons, I wouldn’t expect to see a human skeleton in their office.

          3. Catelyn*

            Also, it’s important to remember some individuals probably (heck, I do) have extreme PTSD around skeletons and dead bodies due to traumatic events in their past! It’s not kind to ask people to be forced to disclose this in order to go to work, and having a pretty big and obvious trigger (hey, here’s a dead person!) is not cute.

        2. soon 2 be former fed*

          It is his office though, not hers to fix. Could be an artificial skeleton or someone who donated their body to science.

          1. Dahlia*

            Donated to science is expressly not “donated to be used as decoration and dressed up and posed”

            It’s not being used for science!

              1. Specialk9*

                And OP says it was a random stranger’s skeleton they’ve handed down over generations. So definitely no consent or science.

            1. Nea*

              My grandfather was a doctor. According to his med school stories, body parts and bodies were both studied and dressed up and posed/used as decorations.

              I’ve donated my body to science. There are questions to fill out like: do you want the body back for burial eventually, do you want the body in a fit state for an open casket, etc. There’s nowhere to check for “don’t put a party hat on me, shove a stein in my hands and take selfies with me” – all of which would be the least of my grandfather’s stories.

              1. GRA*

                I personally would love to know that my remains lived on with a party hat and a drink in my hand!! (But I also understand that not everyone feels the same.)

                1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

                  Same here. My first thought was: How can I designate my skeleton to end up in a science lab or as a prop in someone’s office? I’d love to know what they make of the weird flat spot on the top of my head.

                2. Aeryn Sun*

                  Same here – I understand that not everyone feels the same way, but I would absolutely love it if my skeleton ended up as a prop for jokes. I feel like the best way to honor me would be to joke around with my bones.

                3. Rebecca in Dallas*

                  My friend and I have an ongoing joke that whichever of us dies first will get taxidermied and used as decoration in the other’s house, preferably propped up on the sofa. So yeah, a skeleton doesn’t creep me out to be honest. BUT I understand that for some people that might just be too much. I don’t think it’s out of line for someone to say, “Hey the skeleton creeps me out, can you remove it or put it somewhere not visible?”

                4. whingedrinking*

                  I majored in philosophy with a specialization in ethics and ethical theory. The chair of the department at my uni was an ardent utilitarian and very much enjoyed telling undergrads about his trip to University College London for a conference, where he got his picture taken with Bentham.

              2. Bea*

                Med school and cadaver labs are full of disrespectful chillingly vile things. It’s part of detracting when you’re now going to be dealing with death and sickness your entire career.

                That doesn’t make it okay or something everyone needs to learn to accept and see in their office.

                They do now have conduct rules and you don’t just drag bodies around, let alone take pictures. There’s laws about human remains and that evidence will get you into deep trouble.

              3. Seriously?*

                Actually, the rules (and laws) have changed significantly in the last 50 years. I would not use your grandfathers stories from med school as a shining example of ethical conduct.

                1. ket*

                  I think the point is that rules have changed and these stories are an illustration of that.

              4. Live and Learn*

                If you read the book “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers” the author discusses donating your body to science and clarifies that you can specify what your body CAN’T be used for, but not specifically what it can be used for. So you can say it can’t be used to test the effectiveness of body armour against explosives but unless you specify that it can’t be set on fire, blowing it up to test safety in automobile crash tests involving exploding gas tanks would be fair game.

                1. Salamander*

                  That sounds like a super-interesting book! Adding it to the list of stuff I want to read soon.

                2. else*

                  I LOVE that author (Mary Roach) – she’s written several books in the same style on different topics, from death to food to sex to space. They make awesome weekend afternoon-beach-airplane-etc books.

                3. Harper the Other One*

                  Second the recommendation for this book! It’s fascinating and funny and explores very interesting questions.

                4. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  I love that book! I’d recommend it to everyone, *especially* those who are squeamish or uptight about the treatment of human dead meat so they can get a good dose of realistic common sense.

              5. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                I’ve heard similar stories from people I’ve known in various forms of medical & mortuary sciences, including one where they would have an annual ‘birthday party’ for all the unclaimed Jon/Jane Doe bodies that sat there preserved in an enormous vat, year after year. It was actually pretty touching, and not done in mockery at all.

                I also have a dear friend who was a highly skilled manicurist for 30+ years, whose husband once bought her a gorgeous necklace of garnets and human finger bones. It’s something she treasures, and when it broke, it bothered me not one bit to restring it for her. I have the feeling it would give some people here the vapors.

            2. Jennifer in GA*

              Isn’t one of the first steps in the scientific method to observe? Just looking at a skeleton is science.

              1. Lindsay Gee*

                no. looking at a skeleton is NOT science. that’s ludicrous. looking at a car is not learning how to be a mechanic

                1. Mike C.*

                  I guess all that observation I did as part of my science degree was wasted then.

                2. Roscoe*

                  But it is part of learning to be a mechanic. If you can’t identify an engine from a caroburator, than you can’t fix it. You know how you learn the difference? By looking at it.

                3. Lindsay Gee*

                  noone is observing this skeleton for studious, scientific purposes. maybe my analogy was off but the point isn’t. nobody is learning from this skeleton in this dudes office

              2. LBK*

                Am I on crazy pills here? Are people actually suggesting and defending the idea that hanging a skeleton in your office and dressing it up in outfits is somehow a scientific experiment? What is happening on this site today?

                1. Specialk9*

                  It’s bizarre. Beyond bizarre. Maybe we got posted on one of those alt right sites, and they all came over.

                2. Chameleon*

                  “Maybe we got posted on one of those alt right sites, and they all came over.”

                  What else does this imply?

                3. Specialk9*

                  @Chameleon – well yes, alt righters ARE Nazis, but they are ALSO misogynists / mens righters, as well as racists, and big whiners about white males not owning ALL the things. Those are all, unusually, things that are popping up in this thread in a way unusual for the normally respectful AAM commentariat.

                  But you knew that, since you put ridiculous words in my mouth that I didn’t say.

                  Thanks for illustrating my point.

                4. Lehigh*

                  Specialk9, that seems especially unkind and inflammatory, since several of the people commenting in ways you don’t like are known handles. Talk about death and bodies is divisive and obviously something the commentariat feels variously strongly about, but that doesn’t have to mean all those people who disagree with you came from some other site or are all part of one (fairly extreme) political group.

                5. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  Specialk9, I am a queer female lifelong feminist who grew up under Depression era parents that were more open minded and progressive than my peers hippie era parents, and I think the people getting the vapors over a lifeless pile of skeletal remains are utterly ridiculous.
                  But perhaps that’s because my parents were also not religious, and I didn’t grow up with the mind warping scourge of that influence brainwashing me into thinking that human dead meat is somehow more special than the dead meat of any other non-human animal.
                  The time to give respect to people is when they are ALIVE. Putting on a show about respecting a rotting corpse or centuries old bones- which absolutely do not care whether you respect them or not- is absolutely ludicrous IMO, and an utter waste of mental, emotional, and other resources.

            3. Avacado*

              Dahlia – you obviously are WAY too emotional over this.

              People can disagree with you.

              1. spock*

                Let’s not accuse people of being “too emotional”. There’s no standard for how strongly one is allowed to feel, and this is obviously a very big deal to some people here.

                1. Anonymous Poster*

                  That’s ridiculous. People can feel what they feel, but the point is the reaction is over the top. Here the reaction is over the top.

                2. Max from St. Mary's*

                  No, but there’s also no standard saying that one person’s emotions trump another in a situation that doesn’t involve either person. And yes, my emotional read is that Dalia’s response is out of proportion and it’s just as valid as her reaction.

              2. BethRA*

                And Dahlia can disagree with you, as well.

                Considering how some posters are pretzeling themselves, OP’s letter and/or Dahlia’s actual arguments, suggesting she is “way to emotional” isn’t just contrary to the site’s commenting guidelines, it’s pretty misdirected.

              3. logicbutton*

                Dahlia is providing everyone with an excellent opportunity to learn some things and we should all be taking it.

                1. ket*

                  Agreed! I think that this has been an eye-opening discussion for a lot of people, and Dahlia has contributed important points. Trillion, for instance, has commented that (s)he has learned some things that have led to some re-thinking — and I think it’s really great that we can learn from each other in an overall respectful way on this site.

              4. Specialk9*

                What the heck. Guys, stop tone policing Dahlia. I get that she’s apparently a woman with a strong opinion, but dude. Not cool.

            4. Robin Sparkles*

              I wanted to just add my agreement with Dahlia here- it doesn’t matter if some people are not offended or don’t care. There are many cultures that do and so the OP should feel comfortable asking his to remove it. It’s one thing to use plastic bones -which I would find funny. But a real skeleton? Come on…no. Save that for your own home.

          2. Say What, now?*

            Since it was a family heirloom it’s likely to have been real. And as Specialk9 points out below, grave-robbing and other abhorrent methods have been used to procure skeletons in the past. It’s pretty uncomfortable and ethically difficult to sit with.

            And as a boss, your office isn’t really your own. You use it for check-ins and disciplinary talks. Imagine someone having to come in and ask for time off for a death in the family and have to do it under the gaze of a dead body. It’s not empathetic.

            1. Dahlia*

              It’s also not being used for science. It’s being used as a prop and a plaything.

              The argument would be very different if this were in a medical science building and people were studying human anatomy. But that’s not what’s going on here

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              I think this is where I fall on it. This isn’t a deeply abhorrent thing for the boss to have done but it also seems pretty unnecessary and as you say, not empathetic.

              I think bosses do have a duty to consider what they put in their office from the perspective of “how is a direct report going to feel about having serious discussions with this thing here?” and human remains are understandably disconcerting for a lot of people.

          3. Katie the Fed*

            No. Donated their body to science =/= donated to be displayed for entertainment. And just because it’s a family relic (as per your earlier comment) or in his office doesn’t matter. Some families have Nazi war memorabilia as relics – doesn’t mean it belongs in your office.

          1. Princess Loopy*

            Or OP could seek out a way to address her discomfort with her boss and see if they can come to a resolution. Who knows, boss might even have a change of mind/heart. If boss says, “Nope! Keeping it!,” then OP can decide where to go from there.

            Plenty of viable options that aren’t just learning to live with it.

            1. Cal*

              How is it the opposite? A lot of the advice on the issues on this site is to ignore things. Thats totally a viable option. Just because youre oversensitive and offended doesnt mean you have the right to tell people what to do.

      2. Specialk9*

        The book “Stiff” by Mary Roach is fascinating. But she talks about how human skeletons today are synthetic because they discovered that most skeletons were from Indian robbed graves, or from street children who were killed to spec. I used to think my dad’s medical school human skull was cool! but not after reading that.

        I can’t link to the part in the book, but I’ll link another article.

        1. soon 2 be former fed*

          It is sad, but some people die indigent and unidentified. Some also will their bodies to medical research. Not as dramatic and exciting, but I doubt that grave robbing has been a thing since Dickens era England.

          1. Dahlia*

            Well, you should talk to some of my friends in the Native American community who are trying to get bones of the grandparents back. Yes, grandparents.

            I recently saw a special on TV where they were talking about how this went on in both the US and the United Kingdom up until the 1920s.

            A lot of people want to believe that this occurred only several hundred years ago. But it occurred fairly late in our histories.

            Why is everyone so desperate to believe that this came from a legitimate source instead of conceding that we have absolutely no idea? Why would a donation of a body to science in a legitimate and willing fashion make the treatment of this particular skeleton OK?

            Hint:It doesn’t because the skeleton is not being used for science.

            We don’t have any idea, based on the letter, If the skeleton was legitimately donated or not.

            Here’s what we do know

            (1) in the history of skeletons in the USA, a formal system of donating bodies to science was a fairly late invention.
            (2)for most of our history, most skeletons were acquired without the consent of the person or their family.

            Also, if it is the US, a lot of native bones were taken and so used against the express wishes of the tribes.

            (3) if this body was donated to science, it was donated to SCIENCE
            (4) it’s not being used for science, it’s being used for a prop and a joke
            (5) OP has an issue with it.
            (6) a lot of individuals on this site are having issues with it
            (7) a lot of cultures would have issues with it
            (8) it’s in an office, but one that people other than the occupant visit.
            (9) the owner didn’t get it directly, but inherited it
            (10) he views if as a family heirloom, not a person
            (11) he ha no reason related to his profession to have it there. It’s optional.

            It skeeves me out that people think it’s ok to pass this skeleton down a family line. Even if it were donated to the grandfather personally for scientific purposes, that doesn’t give the grandson Carte Blanche morally. It should have been given to a scientific institution or med school.

            1. Kyubey*

              Just because it skeeves you out that doesn’t mean its inherently wrong. It’s not your skeleton and I don’t think you can dictate what’s right and wrong for him to do. Not everyone has the same beliefs or morals and who is the skeleton harming? Making you uncomfortable is not harm.

              1. Student*

                It’s not “his” skeleton either. It’s the skeleton of someone dead, who almost certainly wouldn’t want their remains used in this way. If the skeleton was your own grandfather’s skeleton, how would you feel about it being posed in silly manners in an office?

                The boss can easily buy a fake skeleton if he wants a skeleton in his office for humor purposes. These are a real person’s real remains. They should be treated with respect and decorum. Respect and decorum can include using them for educational purposes or scientific purposes, or even on display in some circumstances (thinking of religious displays, graveyard displays, historic displays, as examples) – but the OP made it clear the displays are for humor and shock value, which is decidedly not respectful.

                It’s not about “skeeves”. It’s about respect for a deceased fellow human being. The boss can have as much skeevy decor in his office as he wants – but he should get them from a Halloween store. Not a human being.

                1. ST*

                  “If the skeleton was your own grandfather’s skeleton, how would you feel about it being posed in silly manners in an office?”

                  I know exactly what poses (and props, especially his hats) that he would prefer.

                2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  If it was my grandfather’s skeleton, I’d want it displayed in *my own* office.

              2. Specialk9*

                @soon 2 be former fed – the article I linked to, that you were responding to without reading apparently, said it was happening in 2007 on a massive scale.

            2. Lindsay Gee*

              THANK YOU. people are not getting this isn’t an issue of someone’s feelings or personal preferences. There are very specific laws (dependent on country, state, province etc. ) on how remains are to be handled, dealt with, stored, given back to the community they belong to etc etc etc. This is not about anyone’s feelings! This is about basic respect for humans and their remains.

                1. J*

                  Reverence for human remains =/= a universal desire that every human has for how their remains are treated so how dare you intimate that all humans desire their remains to be held sacred on earth.

              1. vanessa*

                Respect is completely subjective in this case. I, for example, would find it very respectful to use my bones as a joke in an office.

                1. ST*

                  As long as on my birthday there was always a party hat, and perhaps a cupcake in my bony hand.

                  And DEATH as the Hogfather, date appropriate.

            3. Avacado*

              “Why is everyone so desperate to believe that this came from a legitimate source instead of conceding that we have absolutely no idea? ”

              And why are you Adamant it came from a nefarious source Dahlia? You can’t scream your presumption is truth, no matter how loud or many times you comment, its YOUR PRESUMPTION and OPINION.


              1. Kathryn T.*

                Given the skeleton’s age, it’s highly likely that it was procured via methods we would now find unethical. Like *really* highly likely.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Yeah, what is up with commenters today? Read the evidence, we’re linking it so over this page. STATICAL PROBABILITY and a KNOWLEDGE OF HISTORY is why we think it’s likely unethically sourced.

              2. Student*

                Irrelevant! Irrelevant! Red herring! In a very important way, it doesn’t matter if this was a voluntary donation skeleton or a grave-robbed skeleton or a child murdered for a skeleton.

                These are human remains and they are to be handled respectfully. Not as props. Even if they were a voluntary donation, you know damn well they weren’t donated to be used in office jokes.

                The boss can buy a plastic prop skeleton if he wants and display it in his office if he wants, in silly shock poses or whatever he wants. Then we’ll think he’s a weirdo, but within his boss rights to be a weirdo. That’s not what is happening, He’s making jokes with someone’s real dead corpse.

                Being respectful of someone’s dead body is something that unites humanity. We show that respect in different ways in different cultures and traditions and religions, but we all agree that human remains are something somber, a way to pay respect to the dead. Desecrating remains is not just sacrilegious, it’s sociopathic. No culture, no tradition, no religion, no one believes that using a skeleton to play office jokes is a respectful way to remember those that have passed on. Desecrating these remains shows that he cannot identify with the donor as a fellow human being. It is wrong. You are wrong to defend it.

                I hope that, one day in the distant future, your remains are treated with far more respect and dignity than this.

                1. J*

                  Eh, I don’t care what happens to my body. It’s what I produce in life that should be valuable. So no, it’s not a universal component of humanity to hold a skeleton sacred.

                2. myswtghst*

                  “but we all agree that human remains are something somber, a way to pay respect to the dead.”

                  Even beyond the many people in this thread who’ve clearly stated that they don’t feel that way about their own remains, this is just demonstrably not a universal truth. If you’re curious, “From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death” by Caitlin Doughty is a quick read, and it not only covers non-US/non-European treatment of death and dead bodies, but also looks at how the culture around death in the US today has led to laws and regulations that prevent people from following their cultural norms because we’re so hung up on our way of respecting the dead being the right way.

                3. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  I am not a sociopath because I identify with LIVING people as fellow human beings. Dead remains, whether new or ancient, have no consciousness or ability to feel *anything* and absolutely do not care whether or not they are treated with respect, but living people sure do.
                  Funerals, graves, memorials and so on are NOT for the dead, they are for the LIVING, the people who are mourning the loss of friends, relatives, and loved ones. Which is fine as far as that goes, but I think it’s a rather sick idea to dedicate thousands of acres of otherwise usuable land exclusively to the use as shrines for thousands of extremely expensive boxes of rotting dead meat, pumped full of toxic chemicals that destroy the environment, simply because humans cannot seem to handle loss & bereavement in a sensible way.

              3. Ann Perkins*

                Dahlia explicitly said we don’t know the source of the skeleton. Accusing her of presumption is unfair. It’s more presumptuous of the commenters who keep insisting it was donated for science when we have no way of knowing whether that’s true, and is the more unlikely scenario given the time period.

              4. aebhel*

                ….she literally said that we don’t know where the skeleton came from, and therefore it’s POSSIBLE that it came from nefarious sources. Just the possibility is enough to make a lot of people uncomfortable. Jesus Christ.

            4. Kate 2*

              So what your saying is that even if it was donated to the grandfather for scientific purposes, grandson using it for scientific purposes and occasionally dressing it up is immoral, so it should be donated to a scientific institution or med school so the staff or students can use it for scientific purposes and occasionally dress it up??? You can’t watch over every single person in every skeleton involving situation in the world.

              You have absolutely no guarantee they won’t treat this skeleton exactly the same.

              It’s starting to sound like you hate the very idea of bodies being donated to and used for science.

              1. LBK*

                This is such a weird defense. “Some other hypothetical person might also do something inappropriate with it, so it’s fine to keep it where it is, where you’re guaranteed that it will only be used for inappropriate purposes”?

                1. ket*

                  Pro-science is really not looking good today! As a math prof who spends a lot of time teaching logical argument, I’m feeling sad :(

                2. Specialk9*

                  It’s so far outside the norm for this site, and I don’t recognize many of the names, that I’m thinking we got posted on Breitbart or something.

              2. aebhel*

                Someone posts information about grave robbing and you interpret that to mean that they hate the idea of bodies being donated to science. Nice red herring, try harder.

            5. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              I’m with you on this. So is NAGPRA. I’m really surprised that so many people here think this isn’t a problem, Alison included.

              We know nothing of this skeleton’s provenance; it’s not likely that it was willingly donated, given the time frame in question. Even if we did know the provenience and the donor was cool with this (which seems highly unlikely) it’s a terribly callous thing to have on display in your office as a manager. It does not belong at work.

              1. myswtghst*

                So, I think this is one of those times where the real world and the ideal world are not one and the same, and as Alison has pointed out many times, we have to be conscious of the consequences a LW may face, even if they do what they believe is the right thing. This is also a multi-faceted issue that different people are going to have different assumptions and opinions about, based on their background and culture.

                While many valid concerns have been raised about the origin, acquisition, and treatment of the skeleton, and the LW can absolutely raise those concerns with their boss, I think this comment thread alone has aptly demonstrated the wide variety of opinions people have on the subject. Even if he is generally a reasonable guy, if the LW comes in full of righteous outrage about how his family heirloom is “obviously” ill-gotten and offensive, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’ll have a knee-jerk, defensive reaction (especially if it turns out that the skeleton is that of his ancestor or something).

                In this situation, I think the best thing the LW could do would be to approach the boss with an open mind, both to ask about the origin of the skeleton, and to mention that it has the potential to make some people uncomfortable. Then it’s up to the LW to decide how far to push this based on the boss’s response.

                1. Anon The Fourth*

                  This is probably the most useful comment yet in this thread, and I hope OP #1 can find it and read your good advice.

            6. Chinook*

              Add to that various tribes in Canada are actively petitioning museums for the return of their families’ remains from every museum, collector, university, etc., that took them without permission. The problem is that they have no clue where they ended up, so these requests are going to be happening for years as more remains are reported as existing.

            7. Safetykats*

              I’m not sure why you keep insisting the skeleton is being used as a joke. I don’t get that vibe from OP’s letter at all. The boss’s grandfather was a doctor. He owned (as many doctors have) a skeleton. It was passed down in the family, presumably upon his death. For all we know it’s a beloved family heirloom.

              I’m also not clear why people keep insisting that OP has some de facto cultural or religious objection to this skeleton. I didn’t get that from the letter either. It sounds like she’s just creeped out by it. I’m creeped out by a lot of stuff my coworkers have in their offices. There’s this one guy who has the carcass of every highlighter he’s ever used. It’s seriously pathological.

              If OP is the only one bothered much by the skeleton, she should simply tell her boss she would rather not sit in the room with it, and request that they meet elsewhere when required to meet. If a substantial portion of the staff is creeped out, the boss should take it home. I think it’s clear from this thread that a whole lot of people would have no problem at all with a skeleton in their boss’s office, and a few would be absolutely against it. Whether it’s reasonable for the boss to keep the skeleton in his office has absolutely nothing to do with how a bunch of random people on the internet feel about it, and everything to do with how his actual staff feel about it.

            8. Trust Your Instincts*

              Dahlia, do not speak for all Aboriginal people. I’m Aboriginal, so is my husband, and neither of us is offended by the thought of our remains being used in this manner. It’s actually pretty darn offensive that you act as if we all share the same view on that.

              On another note, we need to stop assuming on either side. Stop assuming it was stolen, stop insisting it’s legit. The answer is, we don’t know. OP, if it bothers you that much, and you think it’s worth spending some capital, then by all means, bring it up once. And learn from this fiasco in the comments section: do not make it emotional. If your boss refuses to take it down, then you can comfort yourself knowing you did what you could, and leave it alone at that point.

              1. Specialk9*

                Dahlia specifically said she was repeating what her native American friends said.

                I’m not sure why you took that to the extreme of saying that she’s offensively making universal pronouncements for all native people who have ever breathed, in any corner of space and time. (Personally I’ve only heard aboriginal used re Australia, so I’m especially not sure why you would be so offended by someone reporting on an American tribal custom.)

                She’s saying ‘hey, I listen to my native American friends on what is offensive to them, this is what they said, so what you’re doing would offend them, so maybe don’t do it at work.” It’s really not what people keep trying to make it, no matter how often I review what she’s said.

                1. Trust Your Instincts*

                  Actually, I’m Canadian, but North America is Turtle Island. USA and Canada were one and the same before settlers came. In my region, we call ourselves Aboriginal, native, or
                  Indigenous people.

                  I’m not the only one in my family that read this thread and felt she was overstepping boundaries. Our voices are often drowned out by other attempting to “protect” us as though we were an endangered species, so yes, I bristled at her tone, and the frequency of this thread in which she uses the beliefs of some of our culture to bolster her argument. Once or twice might be appropriate.

                  Perhaps it is just me, but if you wish to be respectful of people in my culture, you can also be mindful when I tell you how you are appearing. I never said Dahlia was a bad person, or racist, but our culture is often spoken for without our actual input. That’s offensive.

                  And maybe it’s the bee in my bonnet, but telling me how I should interpret Dahlia (and questioning my right to even comment on it by assuming I was Australian) is no different than people telling the LW she shouldn’t get upset by it because of course boss meant well. You can’t argue respecting people’s views and then imply someone else doesn’t have a right to theirs.

                2. Hologram Judge*

                  TYI- THANK YOU. I’m also Native and was feeling the same way.

                  Specialk9- earlier upthread Dahlia said something to the extent of “no Native American should be okay with this.” The Native/Indigenous/Aboriginal community is massive, but comments like Dahlia’s reduce it to some sort of a monolith. My particular tribe does do some repatriation, but it would depend on the circumstances because we also feel as though there’s honor in being useful after death. That doesn’t diminish the experiences of Dahlia’s friends but just goes to show that it’s counterproductive when the anthropology cavalry rides in trying to defend “the Native American community.” I mean obviously there are certain things that everyone in the whole worldwide community should be against- the Trail of Tears, for example. But when it comes to something as culturally charged and specific as death and burial traditions… no cigar.

            9. Mad Baggins*

              Thank you. In addition to the questions you’ve raised about how the skeleton was procured and how ethical it was, every culture ever has guidelines on how to treat death and the dead. This can range from cannibalism to “avoid numbers that are homonyms for the word ‘death'”. Why would you venture into that minefield at work without a good reason?

              If they were studying bodies for science, cool. If they were doing an exhibit on mummies, cool. But why would you risk offending/weirding out your coworkers if your work has nothing to do with it? Why not just do it to your friends at home? (I say this as someone planning to donate my remains to science)

            10. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

              A skeleton is not a person. It is a relic of a person. It used to be part of a person, but it’s not any longer. It has no feelings, no thoughts, no opinions. It is no more a person than the tracks of human hair you can buy at a beauty supply store are a person, or an amputated limb is a person, or an excised tumor or toenail clipping or surgically removed appendix. If anything, it’s biological waste.
              And if fo some reason any of those other things had been preserved and passed down from generation to generation, they’d be family heirlooms too, just like the OPs bosses skeleton is, or a rock or acorn or anything else any particular family decides is worth saving and sharing. The value of a family heirloom is what the family gives to it, not anyone outside of it, or it’s monetary value.

          2. Erin*

            I’ve read police blotter about people grave robbing to steal caskets to sell back to funeral homes. This was about 10 years ago in Michigan.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              Yup, google Alistair Cooke journalist, and you’ll see a famous case of only just over ten years ago.

          3. Emi.*

            I also think it’s creepy as hell to use anonymous poor people’s bones as office decor!

            1. Kate 2*

              Who the heck says this person was poor???? Why all the weird assumptions? Rich people donate their bodies to science too, and middle class people.

                1. Emi.*

                  Specifically the implication that “some people die indigent and unidentified” is a justification for using their skeletons the way “Some also will their bodies to medical research” is (and this isn’t research anyway).

          4. epi*

            Well, you’re mistaken. Grave robbing was also done systematically to African Americans for research and teaching purposes, and continued into the 20th century. Secure burial was one of the (coercively valuable even if it had been real, which it wasn’t) services offered to trick men into joining the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Stolen human remains have been found in US medical schools when they underwent renovation in the last 20 years.

            This is actually a pretty well known feature of the history of science, and discoveries of remains in hospitals and medical schools have made the national news.

          5. puzzld (I see there's a Puzzled here, I am not that Puzzled)*

            Yeah. You’d be really wrong about that…
            Hundreds, perhaps thousands of graves were robbed, just in the Dakota’s in the twentieth century. One of the more recent is described in: “Excavation of Protohistoric Arikara Indian Cemetery Near Mobridge, South Dakota, 1971” I don’t have an citation to the electronic version of that document, but I’ve linked to another document above.

            Suffice to say yeah. Grave robbing is a very recent thing, and still a very sore point to many people.

          6. else*

            Oh, no, it happened well after that – medical schools had a terrible time getting bodies to practice with, and doctor/teachers used to get arrested regularly for stealing or buying them. And people rob all kinds of Native American and other burial sites right into the present day to steal artifacts and sell them, including the bones, which is grotesque. I do not think that having a skeleton that has stayed in your family so long is immoral (nor do I think it’s especially bad to put hats on it or pose it), but there is no benefit in denying that those things happen. It’s likely that it DID come from someone who died indigent, or was executed, at that age.

          7. Specialk9*

            @soon 2 be former Fed, check out my link (I suspect it got approved after your comment). It’s happening now. The article was talking about present day (2007), robbing graves for the skeleton trade.

            “A third-generation bone trader, Biswas had no problem finding dead bodies. As caretaker of the village’s cremation ground, he claimed to have a license to dispose of the dead. But police told reporters he was robbing graves. Biswas pilfered corpses from cemeteries, morgues, and funeral pyres; he would drag the deceased from the flames as soon as the families left. He employed almost a dozen people to shepherd the bones through the various stages of de-fleshing and curing. For this work, Pal says he earned $1.25 a day. He also received a bonus for keeping the bones from a given body together so they represented a biological individual rather than a mishmash of parts — a feature prized by doctors.

            Biswas sold complete skeletons wholesale for $45 to a medical supply company called Young Brothers, which wired the pieces together, painted on medical diagrams, and sawed away sections of the skulls to reveal internal structures. Then Young Brothers sold the bones to dealers around the world.”

        2. Kelly L.*

          I remember it came up in The Devil in the White City that the serial killer H.H. Holmes donated his victims’ bones to science. Somehow no one thought to ask him how he kept randomly having skeletons of young women to donate.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Hard disagree on #1. The skeletons used in (most) classrooms are no longer made out of a former living person’s bones. If he were using one of those, I wouldn’t care.

      But I agree with OP that most cultures have norms about the treatment of the remains of the dead (see: every anthro ethics argument about displaying mummies, or Native American remains, or the Chinese exposition of bodies that may or may not belong to political dissidents) that the boss’s real-human-bone skeleton is problematic. I think OP can mention her discomfort without asking him outright to take it home.

      1. Julia*

        I agree. Having it there wouldn’t bother me, but posing it seems a little disrespectful.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          And I had a different view. Posing the skeleton reminds us of its humanity.

          1. soon 2 be former fed*

            Yes! A type of gallows humor found among those who work with the dead. I appreciate those who at death helped advance medical training and research. Then again, I have my mothers cremains in my living room, I fully accept death as part of life.

            1. SophieK*


              I used to work for an answering service that had 7 funeral homes. Most of my funeral directors had outrageous senses of humor and oh, man, do they have stories! But they were in no way callous about death in general. Just had a sense of humor about the empty vessel that is left behind after life is gone.

            2. Specialk9*

              Lois McMaster Bujold has a beautiful novella “Aftermaths” that explored a lot of these ideas, with the story about a crew responsible for collecting human remains after a space ship battle. It makes me bawl, but feel uplifted and like a better human, every time.

        2. DArcy*

          Unless there is specific evidence that was not mentioned in the post, it seems deeply uncharitable and inappropriate for OP to assume that the skeleton came from an illicit source.

          1. Julia*

            Not sure why you’re responding to me, but no matter where the skeleton comes from, is it necessary and respectful to pose it – the remains of an actual human being – for fun?

            1. Miss Elaine e.*

              +1. Only speaking for myself, I agree with Julia that it doesn’t seem respectful to pose the remains of an actual human being — someone’s mother/father/child — for fun.
              For the same reason, I also avoid those museum exhibits that show plasticized human remains in various poses. (For reference, it was shown in one of the more recent James Bond movies.) Again, that’s someone’s relative there. And, I’ve also read that some of those corpses were obtained by rather questionable means.
              For the record, if it was a factory-made skeleton being posed in the OP’s question, I wouldn’t have a problem with it: I’d kind of roll my eyes at the junior-high level of humor.

              1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                I went to the original Body World’s exhibit about 14 years ago, and it was beautiful. The displays are fascinating from a medical and science perspective, exquisitely and artistically posed, and each is displayed with information to inform each viewer of interesting facts about the human body they may never have learned otherwise. And all the bodies were donated and used with consent. It was truly amazing, it took me several hours to go through the whole thing, because I read every plaque and studied each exhibit closely.

                It makes me kind of sad that you see that as disrespectful, these people made the selfless decision to donate their bodies to advance the cause of biological science and help teach about & demystify the human body and it’s processes for everyone. It seems far more disrespectful to look down on this great gift that they have given us than it is to actually be a part of the exhibit itself, or one of its planners.

            2. Kate 2*

              As quite a few commenters have said, they would actually enjoy having their remains posed. And I agree I would find it a reminder of the skeleton’s humanity. A birthday hat is comical but it is also a reminder this skeleton was a person who did have birthdays, etc.

              1. LBK*

                That just makes it creepier to me, honestly. Why do you want to be reminded that you have a dead body hanging out in your office? Would you keep a severed hand as a cute desk decoration?

                1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  Do you ever wear leather? Or fur?
                  That is dead skin, and dead skin with dead hair.
                  Do you ever eat meat?
                  That is a dead corpse.
                  What about gelatin? Do you use glue? Do you own clothes with buttons made of bone or mother of pearl, or any jewelry, same? Rabbit’s foot keychain?
                  Do you think people who have taxidermy are ‘disturbing’?
                  How about people who wear real human hair extensions?

                  Dead is dead and body parts are body parts. Humans are animals too, and no more ‘sacred’ than the animals whose parts we use for food, clothing, decorating, and thousands of other items. It hubris & religion that make us think differently, but when it comes right down to it, we are really just bones, skin, and meat, like everything else.

          2. Scarlet*

            Yes, I don’t know why so many people seem to immediately jump to this conclusion.

            1. Specialk9*

              Because we got educated on the illicit and murdery recent past of human skeletons? It was just 1985 that India banned the practice because of the grave robbing and murder.

              1. Cal*

                So EVERY SINGLE skeleton was obtained that way? Come on. Stop reaching, pretending you’re so much more educated than everyone.

                1. nom de plume*

                  Good grief – Alison, we really need some moderating on this thread! This is an example of the type of shallow, ad hominem attacks that have been going on up and down this whole discussion. Cal’s reductio ad absurdum adds nothing to a legitimate ethical issue, and this tone seems against the commenting rules.

                  Please step in!

            2. Persephoneunderground*

              And because the post does contain a little information saying it’s a “medical curiosity” passed down in the boss’ family. So very much not a family member of the boss, and was procured as a “curiosity” not likely the remains of a friend, and 100 years ago there were big problems with unethically sourced bodies even for medical purposes. The description the boss gave reminds me of an imperial British person circa Sherlock Holmes period describing the provenance of their shrunken head conversation piece. It’s closer to that scenario than it is to “donated themselves in their will to medical or just whatever purposes they wanted” based on the boss’ own words. I think people like playing devil’s advocate, and also speaking up would be a risk for the OP, so I think many people are trying to justify why the OP can avoid taking that risk.

          3. E.*

            I’m guessing this assumption came up because many people who privately own a skeleton did not acquire it legally.

            1. Say What, now?*

              +100 Privately owned in addition to the age of the item (passed down from the grandfather) make it likely that this could have been illicitly/illegally obtained.

              1. ket*

                People seem very sensitive about the factual statements re: provenance of skeletons especially in the early 1900s. I think it’s important to remember that saying that legal and ethical standards were different in 1900 is not an attack. A lot of American people felt it was fun to dig up Native American remains & “artifacts”, that blackface was great entertainment, that women getting the vote would corrupt the family structure. There’s no point in getting too judgy about the past or too invested in defending the morals of people in these different times. The skull my grandfather-figure had was not obtained in accord with ethical guidelines of 2018. The Ojibway stuff my other grandfather found along the river wasn’t dealt with according to NAGPRA. It is what it is. I can learn from these family members *and* I can do better.

          4. Temperance*

            Most of these did come from an illicit source, though. It’s not uncharitable.

          5. AnonforThis*

            Interestingly, a somewhat recent production of Hamlet used a real skull as a prop. The deceased left his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company specifically for that purpose.

            1. Julia*

              That’s different, though. If I want to be on Broadway, no matter how, even as a skull, that’s my decision. But I doubt the skeleton in question consented to being posed in funny ways around someone’s office.

              1. Kate 2*

                Oh please. Anyone who has ever seen a movie or tv show with a skeleton prop, or who knows anything about science knows people are going to do things to them. It comes up in every single medical drama for one thing. Someone who cares enough about science to donate their body KNOWS this.

                1. Julia*

                  Oh please. (Seriously?) Medical dramas are not the pinnacles of realism. I mean, in medical dramas, doctors sleep with their co-workers, subordinates, and patients, without getting fired.

                2. ket*

                  And everyone has great hair in those medical dramas!

                  (Especially the ones I watched in 1910 before donating my body to science ;) )

            2. Wrench Turner*

              It’s my intention to do the same thing with my local theatre community. I’ve always wanted to play Yorick and worked so long behind the scenes because I was terrified of acting. I hope to make many appearances for years to come. (I use past tense because I no longer do theatre not because I’m posting from the great beyond…. or am I???)

              As for the poor soul with the poor taste decor, if you have a familiar enough relationship with them I’d take time to have a heartfelt chat to tell them why it bothers you. They may have no idea and you may not be the only one. You don’t have to ask them to take it down, per say, but let them know it’s bordering on disruptive. If they still go “Well too bad, my office, my rules!” then you may be out of luck until it actually becomes disruptive, in which case you take your case to HR.

              Something to consider, their office may be the safest place to store something like that, because if it’s the genuine article then they are quite valuable and expensive. Maybe they can’t keep it at home because the dog keeps taking a leg or something.

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                I’m going to have to disagree that an office would potentially be the safest place to store valuables. It’s an office. Things get stolen from offices all the time. In any case, it’s still a personal item that the owner is responsible for, not the office. The owner of said item needs to take care of it in a reasonable fashion using their own resources, not their workplace, and if the dog keeps stealing a leg bone (I cannot believe I just typed that), then the owner needs to take responsibility for both the item and the dog and store the item in a more logical fashion than sitting it out where the dog can get to it.

                (I may very well be reading more into your last statement than need be, but the thought of “oh it’s safer there because the *dog kept stealing a leg bone* seems awfully flippant when we’re talking about an actual, real, used-to-be-alive person’s remains, who may have been unethically sourced, or may have specified to be donated to science….and is now playing dress-up and charades in some guy’s office for giggles.)

            3. Temperance*

              I think that’s really cool, though, and a way to honor the person’s last wishes.

            4. Erin*

              Fulfilling a persons last wishes with their remains isn’t disrespectful. Because that skull was the personal property of the deceased he can will it to whomever he wants.
              This is a real person not weekend at bernies.

          6. Specialk9*

            Actually check out my post above with sources. Most real human skeletons in the market DID come from illicit and non-consensual sources. Robbed graves or street kids killed to spec. It’s fairly disturbing.

            1. Dahlia*

              Even if it’s a legitimate source, The person donated their body for scientific purposes. This body is not being used for scientific purposes. It’s being used as decoration for personal amusement.

              People keep equating this to a skeleton in the classroom or a teaching tool, but it’s expressly not used for that purpose here.

              1. Quince*

                The issue is that we don’t know anything about the circumstances about how/why the skeleton was obtained. It’s all just speculation, which might have no ties to the reality of the skeleton the OP it talking about.

                1. Specialk9*

                  So… The comment you’re responding to said specifically that even without the origin discussion, it’s still not ok to use human remains as a joke. To which you said ‘but no really the main issue is origin, but we don’t know, so let’s stop talking about this’.

                  You can’t possibly have done that by accident, right? So what are you gaining by this? It feels like this whole page of comments is a protracted gaslight.

                  Did the Russian bots get in? What’s going on here?

                2. ket*

                  Gotta agree with Specialk9. Quince, later in the page you ask how I know my own grandfather was white. What’s the deal?

          7. soon 2 be former fed*

            I agree. And my prior bosses have decorated their offices in ways I didn’t care for. Just not the subordinated place to try to change. She can express her opinion, but to require him to get rid of it is beyond her power level.

          8. Lindsay Gee*

            The thing is though, you have to look at the history of how ‘artifacts’ (i.e. human remains) have been historically treated in this regard. There is a really awful history of remains being kept from repatriation, stolen from graves, the list goes on. Since we don’t know how they got these remains, it is a very real possibility that it was originally procured through either illegal or really morally sketchy means

          9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            As others have noted, it’s not uncharitable to assume a family “heirloom” was procured illicitly. The laws regarding donations of human remains (and informed consent) have changed dramatically since the 1970s, and prior to that, a significant number of medical specimens were procured using methods that are currently unlawful and unethical. The probability that a real human skeleton of the age being described is unlawfully procured is in the 90-95% range.

            But, even if the skeleton was procured lawfully, treating it as office decor is almost certainly beyond the scope of its grant. There are strict rules about how remains can be treated even when donated, and most people who donate their bodies to science do not do so with the understanding that their skeleton will turn up as office decor in a division that is not conducting research related to human anatomy.

            1. Quince*

              Not uncharitable, but it is guessing. We don’t know the specifics for this skeleton, but that isn’t stopping posters from filling in details using their imaginations and biases.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                I agree with this. It’s telling fairy tales and then making judgements based on stories instead of facts.

                I wonder if many people are afraid of death and are then trying to back up their position with “facts” to justify their fears.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  It’s not guessing—it’s an inference made based on a body of evidence that indicates there’s a high probability that the skeleton was not ethically procured. Most people who’ve commented have not said the skeleton is definitely illicit—they’ve noted the probability that it comes from dubious origins is very high for a skeleton of that age.

                  But, in addition to that, people have also commented that even if the skeleton was lawfully obtained, the manner in which it’s being used is not respectful or appropriate, and in the vast majority of situations, its treatment will read as unethical to outsiders.

                2. ket*

                  On a personal level, I don’t have a problem with human remains in the office! Death’s a part of life, blah blah, and we had some really cool anatomical exhibits on the buffet in the dining room for a long time (very delicate ear bone assemblies — pretty unique as the parts of the ear are so fragile). Yes, we eat in the dining room.

                  But the stories about how skeletons have been procured over the centuries are not fairy tales any more than stories about the dawn of the study of the anatomy in Italy in the 14th century after it died out (haha) in Greece. Barber surgeons, dissection of cadavers robbed from graves — that’s history!

                3. Specialk9*

                  Not sure why you’re getting annoyed at people for understanding statistics. Statically and historically speaking, it’s really unlikely this is an ethically sourced human skeleton. It’s far more likely that it came from the abhorrent systematic practices of the era. Sources are linked throughout this thread.

                4. aebhel*

                  Nobody’s telling fairy tales. People are pointing out that many if not most anatomy skeletons of that time period were procured through means that we would not now consider ethical. That’s a well-documented fact.

                  You can decide that you don’t care about that; it might even be a legitimate argument. But calling the history of grave robbing, especially in minority/poor/underprivileged communities ‘fairy tales’ is just flat-out dishonest. And making up spurious psychological assessments of total strangers because they happen to disagree with you on an ethical matter is entirely obnoxious.

              2. mrs__peel*

                It doesn’t take “imagination” to make educated guesses based on probability and knowledge of history.

      2. Thlayli*

        I did a little googling and apparently in American high schools and universities they are often real though many are plastic. (Interestingly I’ve neber seen either a fake or real human skeleton outside of American tv, but they are so ubiquitous in American tv that I actually had to think about it before I realised I’ve never seen one in real life).

        The source was usually India – there was an entirely legal trade in human remains in India until the 1980s. Apparently at its peak Calcutta alone was exporting 60,000 skeletons a year.

        There are a huge number of poor people in India so there’s no shortage of dead bodies of people who’ve left no money to pay for a funeral. In Calcutta there are so many homeless people that there are literally third and fourth generation homeless people. Most other Indian cities have huge homeless populations too. It’s pretty common for people to just die in the street and be left lying around.

        It’s illegal now though.

        1. Loose Seal*

          H.H. Holmes* had some of his victims rendered and articulated into skeletons that he sold to doctors’ offices and med schools. It was, apparently, such a normal way for them to get skeletons for study at the time that there were people you could hire who would come take a body from you — no questions asked! — and return it to you strung together and ready for sale.

          *America’s first (known) serial killer. If you don’t know the story, you should look it up. And also read Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City. Fascinating and creepy!

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Oh, I second this book recommendation! Probably one of my top five books ever!

        2. E.*

          What?? “It’s pretty common for people to just die in the street and be left lying around.”

          No, no there are not dead bodies just “lying around” in Indian cities!

          1. Nonnon*

            I’d have believed it if they’d said “Victorian London” or something. London has frequently had problems with corpse burial, especially during epidemics.

          2. Chatterby*

            Unless it’s during a widespread epidemic, it seems really weird that bodies are just lying all over the city streets of India.
            However, the river Ganges in India frequently has a dead body problem. It’s a holy river, and believed to have a redemptive/ purifying affect, making it a popular choice for people as a last resting grounds. Most people who wind up in the river are cremated and then the cremains scattered into the water.
            But, in cases where the families are too poor to afford cremation, or where cremation isn’t done (like suicides or young girls) it’s a fairly common occurrence for the entire corpse of the deceased to be snuck into the river. It’s illegal to do so now, but still happens.

          3. Engineer Girl*

            Have you ever been to a slum?

            It’s a problem not just in India but in many parts of the world. Someone will come in haul the body off eventuality. But yes, people do die in the streets. It’s awful.

          4. Thlayli*

            How much time have you spent in the slums of India? I’m guessing not. Maybe before you make blanket statements spend a little time on google. 5 seconds of googling found this article, one of many that came up.

            This is from one single city and not even close to the poorest city in India. And this is now, in what is a very prosperous time for India. It was a much poorer country during the time of the legal dead body trade.

            So yes, I’m sticking with my correct statement that it is really common for people to die on the streets in India.

          5. Thlayli*

            This is a misunderstanding. I didn’t mean that were loads of dead bodies left “lying around” for weeks or months. I meant there are many homeless people dying in the street – many of them every day – and there is a subset of them (probably a large subset) that have no friends or family to look after the body, so they are literally left lying there until a stranger calls the authorities to come pick up a dead body. Which is probably within a day or two, not weeks or months.

            What I was getting at is that there are loads of dead bodies there for long enough that a person who wanted to harvest and sell human remains would have no problem finding them.

            I meant it like “there’s an easily accessible source of dead bodies for people who want to sell them”, not “the government of India let’s corpses rot in the street”.

            Sorry for the misunderstanding. I stand by my statement that if you were in the market for a dead body, it’s pretty common to find them in India. You’d probably have to get in quick before the official body cleanup people get there though.

            I posted another reply to you before I figured out the misunderstanding which is currently in moderation, because in it I put a link to one of many articles about the huge number of Indian homeless people who die on the streets. I saw a documentary once about a guy who buried the dead homeless in India for a living and every day he dug loads of graves for people who no-one knew their names or history. Was very sad.

          6. Thlayli*

            Although having googled a little more it seems the Indian government must be getting really efficient at gathering the dead bodies quickly, because apparently the most common source for India’s (now illegal, but still happening) bone trade is now grave robbing. This article talks about a guy who owned a crematorium who literally pulled bodies out of the flames as soon as their relatives left.

            Warning – this is a pretty gruesome read.


            1. E.*

              Yes, thank you for clarifying! There aren’t bodies lying all over the place, and I think that painted the wrong picture for people who haven’t been there (and likely already have misconceptions about it), but definitely, people do sadly die on the streets there, and other places with extreme poverty.

              And yes Engineer Girl, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in slums in India and elsewhere, thats why I feel so strongly about how people talk about places like this.

        3. Not Australian*

          I worked in the teaching department of a large hospital some years ago and a lot of people had skeletons of various kinds which they used in their work. OTOH the general habit was to have a special cabinet in which it was kept – like a tall, grey steel locker, designed for the purpose – and it only came out when it was actually needed. I was told at the time that most of the skeletons in use were antique ones – very probably from illicit sources originally, it was admitted – with a small number coming from people who had donated their remains to medical science. There were also some plastic ones, but the problem was that they very often didn’t show medical conditions which can affect the bones, i.e. they were too perfect. Anyway, what’s troubling here is not the presence of a skeleton itself but the disrespectful posing of it. I wouldn’t want to work for or with anyone who thought that was amusing.

        4. Erin*

          Usually the plastic skeletons for biology classes are smaller size than what the average human, and the pelvis is modified to be inbetween an male and female. I learned this in figure drawing, we had to draw the plastic skeleton before we got to the nude models.

          1. else*

            You can buy lifesize model ones that are accurately male or female – that’s what medical and bio students usually have available. I’ve never actually seen one with a modified pelvis like that.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        Teaching anthro survey classes I find myself repeatedly saying some version of, “Yes the skeletons are plastic, however they are cast from a real person who was born, lived, breathed just like you do, and then died. Be respectful.” Since it’s college level there’s about a 50/50 shot that I have to repeat it multiple times through the semester. Sigh…

          1. archaeo*

            Since it’s an anthro survey class, it’s practice for when they come into contact with real remains, as three of the four subfields in American anthropology are incredibly likely to have at least some contact with dead bodies or human remains, whether during training or in the field. It’s also just a good idea because those replicas are expensive.

      4. Dahlia*

        A lot of people seem to be saying “I’m ok with it” or “the mainstream white male academic culture” is okay with it, so it’s totes cool.

        A lot of people and a lot of cultures would find this horrendous,

        In this case, there is no counterbalance coming from arguing it’s a teaching tool or that it’s somehow necessary. Or that, this came from Yorick and he wanted his body to be so used.

        This is a dead body part being used purely for decorative purposes. Repeat. It’s part of a dead body being used purely for decorative purposes.

        A hell of a lot of people are not ok with that, a hell of a lot of cultures aren’t ok with that.

        I would not personally care, as I’m atheist and see it as just a body, not a person. If, however, I was this guy’s boss, the skeleton would go. Because it isn’t respectful and it is t necessary.

        It’s high time American academics and researchers confront their own biasss. Assuming that something is universally accepted by they have traditionally been cool with it is wrong.

        Part of being a member of a civil society is realizing that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Anything in an office that is solely there for decorative purposes should go if it has a high potential to offend.

        The presence of this skeleton is completely unprofessional and offensive to some people and some cultures. There’s no reason for it to be there other than the dude who brought it in likes it. That is insufficient.

        Further, we are all framing this individually. Our personal offense or lack of offense. His rights. At some point, we do have to realize that we are now ina global world. We have to start looking at things through a lens that acknowledges other cultures, not just other individuals.

        He needs to take it home and do what he will there. That is, assuming his partner/wife/husband is ok with having it in the residence.

        He may well have it in the office because his partner or kids don’t want it at home.

        1. [insert witty username here]*

          I agree with a lot of what you said here, but I think the reason a lot of people comment to say “I”m ok with this” or “this is my opinion” or “this is how I see things done a lot” is to give the letter writer some context on what is done in other offices/settings and how other people feel on different issues. Again – I agree with you that we need to be sensitive to all cultures, but people coming to give their personal opinions isn’t inherently bad and people shouldn’t be slammed for expressing how they personally feel about issues. There is actually quite a bit of counterbalance coming through in comments (which may have happened after you made your comment), which is exactly the purpose of this forum.

          1. Amadeo*

            Thanks for this. I understand that it bothers some people and cultures, but, myself, personally? Even if it were my skeleton? I don’t care, I’m not using it anymore and it would amuse me to know someone was getting some entertainment out of it.

            I don’t know that this LW has any standing at all to talk to her boss about it, but if she’s got a good relationship with them and knows for sure it won’t go over terribly, I suppose it’s worth asking. But if the boss is like some of the ones I’ve had previously myself, I’d just deal, because not only would I have been shut down for asking, I’d have been mocked for some time afterward. It all depends on how well OP knows her boss.

          2. ket*

            I am glad people are hashing it out in this forum, but you *know* there’d be a different reaction if it was, say, a big old crucified Jesus, or Jesus with a cowboy hat & some Mardi Gras beads. Or, noting that the guy has posed the skeleton to greet people, Christmas decor in the reception area. Even though a lot of people now say about Christmas decor, “Meh, it’s not religious anymore so I don’t care,” lots of folks would be mildly thoughtful about respecting other religions & the image presented by the office when thinking through the Christian stuff, and wouldn’t comment repeatedly to say, “Well I’m a Christian so Christian religious stuff is fine with me!” But here tons of people are saying, “Well I don’t care about bones so I’m fine! Sure, I understand your culture is sensitive about human remains, but mine isn’t, you know?” A bit of context on what people feel is fine but it ends up being not very useful when comments start piling up.

              1. ket*

                It’s not meant to be an equivalence, but a contrast.
                The boss clearly views the skeleton as explicitly non-religious while others may regard the remains are having religious meaning. In terms of comments on AskAManager, though, and the volume of “Well, I don’t mind, so why should you care?” comments on this versus Christmas decorations in the reception area, how is it an inappropriate comparison? (I looked up the Christmas decoration in the reception area question.)

            1. Specialk9*

              Excellent comparison. I was getting a whiff of ‘you people need to relax’ that just isn’t a thing when it’s one’s own values (religion, ethics, etc).

          3. myswtghst*

            Agreed. While there are many valid concerns being shared and they should be taken seriously, it’s not a bad thing for the LW to see the many differing opinions being expressed, because the LW should be realistic when deciding if and how to approach the boss about this.

            In the letters and comments here we’ve seen, over and over and over again, that what should be isn’t always what is. So while it’s great to provide the LW with those valid concerns (and facts and studies) about origin and acquisition and treatment of remains that they can approach their boss with, it’s also really important that the LW realize the boss may respond with defensiveness, or be dismissive of their concerns, or worse. If the LW has standing to address this, and if the boss seems reasonable and open-minded, and if the LW is willing to spend their capital on this, then more power to the LW. But I also worry that if the LW is in a position where this could cause friction (or worse, cost LW their job or relationship with their boss) that they’ll feel guilty if they aren’t able to speak up.

        2. Academic Addie*

          Even this week, a major research institution in the US is dealing with complaints of NAGPRA violations. Repatriation and human remains are big issues, and we have not grappled with them adequately.

          1. Rock Prof*

            Even at smaller, regional universities, this is a big, big deal. One of our university’s higher ups wanted to give a tour of our anatomy labs to some donors while the teaching cadavers were out, including allowing them to take pictures. I have never seen the anatomy professors get so righteously angry at the ethical lapse that would be. I think they ended up touring the lab, but they weren’t allowed to take pictures or spend time gawking. It was very squicky feeling, at the least. At the worst, our pre-medical profession program could have lost its ability to use cadavers, been fined, and possibly impacted some accreditation (I believe).

            1. Specialk9*

              I really like hearing all these stories of professional ethics around treating human remains respectfully.

              I’m an organ donor and am considering donating my body to science. I don’t mind my body being used in all the ways that “Stiff” talks about, even being left in a field to demo putrefaction stages. But I hate the idea of people mocking my remains. I am glad to hear that there are well defined professional expectations for respect.

              1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                I read Stiff too, and am also donating my body to science.
                And I actually don’t give a flying fart what they do with my leftovers once my life is over, because I won’t be there to know. And if people are posing me in ridiculous positions for larfs, my corpse will still be being useful as entertainment. And I’m happy to increase the sum total of smiles & laughter in the world. I already mock myself on a daily basis for the purposes of comedy, and I’d love for that to be able to continue once I’m nothing but bones and rotting meat.

          2. LCL*

            Some people, including me, believe the intent of NAGPRA is good but the application has gone too far into woo and religious accommodation. Returning Kennewick man specifically.

            1. Jessica*

              Yup. Every archaeological find is an indigenous person if you draw the defnition broadly enough. Kennewick man was the absurd post-logical conclusion to what was supposed to be a reparative scheme.

        3. Trillion*

          I must say, all of your comments have been excellent, to the point you made me change my response to the situation.

          I still don’t think human remains are sacred or special. I wouldn’t care about the skeleton, even if it were my own.

          But this still doesn’t make it okay considering it may be highly highly offensive to someone else. Better to remove it.

          1. Princess Loopy*

            Yep, me too. Dahlia and others have changed my original reaction. I appreciate the willingness to engage here.

        4. epi*

          A+ comment. I personally am not creeped out by human remains and have worked in health and medicine fields my entire career. I had to consciously put aside my reaction and try to empathize with the OP; others should at least try to do the same.

          Also since there is tons of uninformed back and forth on this point, an antique skeleton in the US is highly likely to have been obtained illicitly. This is pretty common knowledge in the history of science and medicine, and large caches of stolen remains have been found in older US institutions from times when this was common. The OP isn’t being uncharitable– maybe they just read the news.

        5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I really appreciate all your comments on this (and don’t think you’re being hectoring).

        6. SophieK*

          So he has to respect other people’s sensibilities but nobody has to respect his? What now?

          On ANY subject it is NOT ok to make up an uncharitable backstory in lieu of facts. Here’s what we know. It’s a real human skeleton. Vintage/antique. We do not know who it was. How it was procured. If the remains are sacred or not.

          We know it gets posed. We do not know if the skeleton’s owner is having respectful or disrespectful thoughts while doing so, and frankly it doesn’t matter.

          We know some people are fine with it, some not.

          We know the OP wants to police her boss. I say have at it and enjoy ruining her career over something that isn’t her business whatsoever. I would venture to say the boss knows about possible origin issues already, and I want to hear the update if she chooses to do this.

          The Native and African American grave robbing and non consent is beyond valid. But hectoring your boss about the origins is just not the way to go professionally, any more than we should be throwing paint on antique fur coats and taxidermy, or explaining to our great grandmother that her diamond ring is probably a blood diamond. There’s activism and education and there’s being a jerk who alienates people so much the message is lost.

          Let’s focus on the current issues of people and animals who are alive.

          1. ket*

            Why are you reading into this policing, hectoring, throwing paint, career ruining, etc?

            The OP can simply bring up directly that she has a concern, in a polite way, and brainstorm possible solutions. There are a range of solutions and compromises, from putting the skeleton out of sight of visitors to simply not dressing it up to bringing it home.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think some folks who are unbothered with the skeleton have been reading Dahlia’s responses, and in toto, they are reading in a pedantic/frustrated tone. (I don’t think that tone is there, but I went back through to try to understand the “hectoring” accusations, and this is the most charitable explanation I could come up with, as I believe most AAM commenters are kind and thoughtful people who are NotJerks). I suspect they feel like they are being accused of insensitivity, which is of course triggering. When I read Dahlia’s comments, though, I read the tone as “here’s some information you may not have had when you commented that may change your feelings on this issue,” and I read it as sincere but calm disagreement.

              Unfortunately, like most written comments, it’s really difficult to read tone, especially when people have fairly significant disagreements about the approach. That’s doubly so when the conversation triggers concerns about sensitivity, belief systems, and ethics.

              With some exceptions based on commenting history, something that helps me is to try to read opposing/disagreeing comments as if I were talking with a good friend. I find it makes me more willing to hear the other person and ensures I’m less likely to be (negatively) emotionally triggered.

              1. Specialk9*

                I think you’re being more charitable then the “hectoring” folks deserve.

              2. Chameleon*

                I think it’s more the fact that those of us who don’t believe human remains are different from any other object are being accused of being trolls from alt-right websites (speaking of uncharitable responses…)

              3. Trust Your Instincts*

                I agree with Chameleon’s assessment.

                Also personally, as an Aboriginal person I find it kind of offensive that she keeps bringing up my heritage for her argument as though we are all one big tribe that all feels the same way. We already have a hard enough time being heard without someone drowning out our own voices with theirs. (I assume she’s not native based on her comment about asking her Native American friends.) And a lot of it came off as holier-than-thou, I’m-defender-of-the-helpless tone, whether she intended that or not.

                1. Jersey's mom*

                  Generally, each of the First People Tribes interact with government as a single political unit. Sometimes the various First People Tribes will coordinate together to create a stronger, louder voice on issues that are important to them.

                  Respectful treatment of historical artifacts, especially bones and religious artifacts are often a focus of these political and legal intetactions, resulting in US Federal laws to protect those items.

                  If you disagree with how your Tribe or People are handling these discussions and legal actions, I strongly encourage you to be involved with your Tribal Council and make your voice heard.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I hear you on paragraphs 2, 3, 4 and 6 of your response. But I’m not sure it’s accurate/fair to describe OP as “policing” or “hectoring” their boss, or to suggest that the boss’ sensibilities are being disrespected. And I think the statement about focusing on living creatures is a bit dismissive of legitimate cultural norms and beliefs regarding the treatment of the dead. Granted, we can all have differing views on the dead, but there are legal and other frameworks that are widespread enough that it makes sense to consider those issues when deciding to use a human skeleton in the manner described. Caring about the dead does not detract or diminish from caring about the living.

            I think there’s a low-political-cost approach available to OP, and it can focus on their discomfort and the optics of a government research facility being cavalier with human remains (even though it’s in his office, he represents the government, and not all others will see his skeleton as a quirky personal choice). I suspect if her boss heard an opposing viewpoint grounded in non-accusatory concerns beyond squeamishness, he may reconsider his position.

          3. Kate 2*

            THANK YOU! I’m a little upset by all the comments that seem to think respecting cultures only goes one way. My religion says it’s disrespectful to hide death away, and to shove this person’s remains into a closet or box. He should be remembered and seen and dressing him up is a playful way to remind people of his humanity.

            Why is it okay for Dahlia’s culture to override mine/other people’s to the point that people are agreeing the skeleton should be taken down?

            Personally I think OP should feel boss out more about it’s origins. He might enjoy telling the story and be able to prove they were donated, if not she could segue into the non-consentual removal of remains, and who some are being returned. If he seems open to it, she could suggest he do it.

            1. LBK*

              Your religion states that bodies should be kept around as decorations to be posed and dressed up? What religion is this?

              1. Specialk9*

                Yeah I’m curious too what that religion is.

                And would your religion insist on doing this behavior publicly, as opposed to in your home or in a space specifically arranged for those who opt into this belief to gather? (As opposed to ambushing nonbelievers in a public space with something they may well find offensive, traumatic, or off-putting.)

                Because this argument sounds like Mens Rights arguments, and I’m just as dubious.

                1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  What is it with the insistence that anyone who feels differently than you MUST BE an alt-righter, men’s rights activist, breitbarter, or whatever. Has it not occurred to that women & people of other/non/trans genders, LGBTQIA people, POC (some who have even spoken up here!), progressives, Democrats, and left wingers of all sorts, and those of all kinds of religious beliefs including none, can and do believe that human remains are simply inanimate objects that were once part of a living animal, no different than the inanimate remains of any other animal, or any other inanimate object at all?
                  There are a lot of people lobbing some strange ideas around about us, like that we are sociopaths or racists or at least culturally disrespectful, but what you keep saying has to be the most bizarre and unfounded red herring of them all. There is absolutely NO connection between alt-rightism or men’s rights activism and being able to clearly see from a rational and scientific perspective that there is nothing ‘sacred’ about human remains. It is not “culturally insensitive” to know that humans evolved from a common ancestor just like every other living creature did, and to know we are firmly a part of the animal kingdom, hairless, big brained bipedal apes who share an overwhelming amount of DNA with chimpanzees. It is the purest chance that it was our particular branch that ended up the dominant one, and who knows what accidents of timing & luck gave us that advantage that could easily have gone a different way and given that advantage to what are now gorillas, bonobos, or orangutans, or even a completely different species altogether- lemurs, felines, canids, whatever, or even NOTHING. From our perspective it might look like a ‘just-so” story to some, but the extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs and gave mammals the chance to flourish was certainly not a given (what if it had happened a million years earlier, or a million years later?) nor were any other large prehistoric extinction events, or any other factors that contributed to the eventual evolution of humanity.
                  It is not ‘culturally insensitive’ or ‘religiously intolerant’ to believe that accommodations for personal & cultural beliefs ends at the point that those beliefs conflict with basic human rights, medical care, or established science. You do not have the right to withhold medical care from a child or other person under your guardianship because you don’t believe in medicine or blood transfusions; you do not have the right to refuse to perform certain medical procedures or fill certain prescriptions because you feel they are immoral; you do not have the right to abuse animals or trash the environment because your religion says you have dominion over those things; and you do not have the right to object to how other people display human body parts because you think your/some deity picked people out for a special kind of specialness that is absent from all other animals on earth.
                  If someone came to OP’s boss with proof that the skeleton was a family member (whether ethically sourced or not) or a stolen historical object or native artifact, then it would behoove them to return it to the rightful owner/s, museum, tribe, community, etc, or donate it to a medical school/scientific institution or whatever the rightful claimants wishes are.
                  If it could be proven that it were unethically sourced, but not a historical relic, native artifact, or identifiable person, the boss is free to do as they wish- keep, display, donate, bury, whatever they feel comfortable with. Just the same as if they know for sure that it was freely and consensually donated to the source his grandfather got it from. There is no universal standard, and there shouldn’t be.

            2. Seespotbitejane*

              I agree, I think the issue here is very much the provenance of this skeleton. Just because the letter doesn’t say where it came from doesn’t mean that nobody knows. It seems to me that if ethical procurement/treatment of animals is part of the work they do (which I think OP mentioned in a comment, sorry if I misread) then the boss is probably willing to at least discuss it?

              Re: the posing and funny clothes I can see that being done in a reverential way or very much not but there’s no point in trying to adjudicate that from here.

              I’m also having a little difficulty because I have handled human remains in a few different contexts but I have always felt extremely reverential and grateful for the opportunity and I can’t imagine someone not feeling like that? But I understand that certainly people don’t and have been/are completely capable of willfully desecrating bodies and graves.

            3. Catelyn*

              I think the origins matter here! If the individual came from your cultural background, this is an appropriate use. However, if they did not, and their body was acquired illicitly (which seems likely, given that they are pre-1920), then this gets into creepier/more unethical territory.

              Basically! There’s nothing wrong with displaying a body *with the consent of the person whose body it was*. Which is the crucial sticking point.

            4. Rudy*

              Count me in as one of the people who’s curious to know which religion says people’s skeletons should be posed in funny ways and dressed up in party hats.

          4. aebhel*

            Gosh, it sure is a good thing that nobody’s suggesting that OP police or hector her boss, then!

        7. Eliza Jane*

          Thank you for all of this.

          I’ll add, all the “I’m okay with this” or “I don’t understand why this is a problem” responses bother me.

          I wouldn’t be bothered by it, either. But someone DOES have an issue with it. Why can’t we respect that person’s right to feel comfortable in their workplace? It’s not like anyone is made uncomfortable by not having a skeleton on display. If most people are equally comfortable with and without skeleton, and some people are hugely uncomfortable with skeleton, why can’t we respect the person who is bothered?

          This doesn’t seem like a huge ask.

          1. Kate 2*

            Some people actually are though, bothered by not having him/her on display. Shoving someone’s remains into a closet or box is incredibly rude and mean in my culture and religion. So it actually would be a huge ask to remove the skeleton.

            I don’t want to repeat myself over and over again, but please read my other responses. If multiculturism is going to work, it has to respect the feelings of ALL cultures. Not just the biggest or most well known or who shouts the loudest.

            1. Eliza Jane*

              Maybe there’s a compromise that works here, then, around asking that the skeleton be displayed in a respectful manner, instead of being posed in funny ways? It’s pretty clear from the initial post that the disrespect issue is part of the problem — if he or she is treated respectfully instead of as a sort of toy decoration, that’s a more comfortable middle ground.

            2. LBK*

              There are a million other places you can put something that’s personally important to you that aren’t your place of employment. In fact that actually seems like the weirdest place to keep something that’s of high personal importance – shouldn’t those be at your home?

            3. ket*

              My religion asks me to bear witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ but I can do that without mentioning the guy in the classroom where I teach something academically unrelated.

            4. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              But no one is saying to shove the skeleton in a box. It is fine to display in some contexts, just not in THIS context. The office is not the appropriate venue for venerating the dead, unless you work in some very niche industries.

              1. Aaron G*

                I would be okay with them putting it into a closet and only bringing it out for special events, like a Halloween party or to prank new hires.

        8. spock*

          Thank you for this and your other excellent comments here especially in light of all the comments saying thay you’re making too big of a deal or something. I agree with you on every count and you’ve laid it out extremely clearly.

        9. Quince*

          “It’s part of a dead body being used purely for decorative purposes.”

          You may think that, but it doesn’t make it true. You don’t know the motivations of the skeleton’s owner.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Is your argument that the original person donated their skeleton to be used as office decor?

            1. Doe-Eyed*

              I’m not that commenter but honestly I’m not religious and I’m going to donate my body. I don’t care if someone dresses up my skeleton, I’m not in there anymore. Just bones.

              I understand that many (probably most?) people would not be at that place on the spectrum of corpse beliefs, but not everybody thinks your body is a sacred vessel to be carefully preserved in dignity after death. For some folks it’s just the box you hang out in until you die.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I get that for some people, there is nothing special about a dead body. My religious tradition places no value on remains after death, except if they’re desecrated because that’s seen as intentionally disrespectful (it comes from a history of persecution in which people desecrated remains). But I also know that there are enough people with strong feelings/religious beliefs about remains, and that there are legal and ethical frameworks that try to respect those beliefs because ultimately, it is better to err on the side of respect than the side of offense.

        10. Chronic Lurker*

          This. Just, all of this. So much this. I understand and respect that some people would not personally be upset by this, but the number of people on this thread who seem to think that means other people/cultures are unreasonable for taking issue with it is genuinely disturbing to me.

          How we respect and honor the dead — including how we handle their physical remains — has been a distinctive part of every culture throughout history. An individual’s opinions don’t invalidate the fact that those cultural practices and attitudes are valid and should be respected in a multicultural society.

        11. Kate 2*

          And a global world includes cultures in which not only is this not offensive, but it WOULD be offensive to hide the skeleton away like it is something to be ashamed of.

          1. Eliza Jane*

            Can you give an example of a culture where it’s offensive to not display skeletons? You’ve mentioned it twice now, and I’d like more context on what that looks like before responding.

            1. Robin Sparkles*

              Same…I would be curious about this because I am not familiar with a culture that requires displaying the dead in humorous ways…

            2. Kate 2*

              I really don’t want to discuss my culture or religion here. Sadly we are a (relative) minority and often mocked. I also have to say, why does that matter which it is? Dahlia has not listed hers.

              Also I wasn’t saying we are required to display the remains of the dead, although some cultures, also minorities do. Link in my name.

              What we are required to do is to remember the dead and respect them, and the fact that death is just as much a part of life as living is. They say no one is truly dead until they are forgotten. To shove this skeleton in a box and take him/her out once a year for a few classes would be super disrespectful in my culture. He donated his body to science to be remembered and used as a part of life still.

              This is much better to me than if he had been left in a grave, some graves from that time period have no names because they stones were so worn down. And does anyone here still remember their great-grandparents and visit their graves regularly? S/He might not be called by name by the OP, but their boss might know, and at least he is still out and about. In this way he is not dead yet, but still alive.

              1. Eliza Jane*

                Thank you for sharing that.

                I think a person can both respect your beliefs and also feel that the display as it is happening is inappropriate in the workplace. It really feels like the OP is objecting to the use of the skeleton as a humorous prop. There are ways to display him or her that are more respectful to everyone’s sensibilities, or the boss could keep the remains in his home where he can appreciate it and see it daily and treat it more humorously.

                I definitely would feel better about it if we knew the provenance of the skeleton — if it was, for instance, a relative or a patient of his grandfather’s. If the connection is to the original owner of the skeleton (the person whose bones they are) and not just the person who acquired them later (boss’s grandfather), that puts an entirely different cast on it for me. Is he honoring the person, or treating them as an object divorced from the original person?

                The context to me suggests the latter, but I suppose we don’t actually know.

              2. You're Not My Supervisor*

                That link in your name was really interesting, thank you for sharing that. Did not know about that tradition. Learned something new today.

            3. Kate 2*

              Well I had a nice long comment, but it looks like it gotten eaten. I am too tired and upset to retype the whole thing. Suffice to say, no my culture does not require the display or our dead, but some do, and that should be respected too. THe dead should be remembered, and the death is as much a part of life as living. I don’t want to name my culture and religion, we are in the minority and often mocked. I also don’t see why that matters, we feel as strongly about this as Dahlia does, who has not named her culture/religion either.

              I just think kindness and respect should go both ways.

              1. Chinook*

                Your link is very informative and adds an important point to the discussion. If OP’s boss believed as you do, I think that would change the discussion, partially because he would then know the provenance of the skeleton and partially because this action is one of respect. But, if the two beliefs (display vs. not display) were in conflict, I think it would take some cooperation on both parts to come up with a compromise that is acceptable (and those of who have an issue with the skeleton in this case probably would be okay with it in your case as our issue is about showing the corpse respect).

                That being said, this doesn’t seem like the case for the OP.

              2. Specialk9*

                Well, you’re telling us that we’re being bigots for not respecting a religion that demands non-consensual skeletal display in public space with nonbelievers. I’ve never heard of that, but would like to learn more.

                Since you’re refusing, but still calling us all bigots, it kinda feels like you’re one of the many t_rolls on this thread today.

                1. Koala dreams*

                  I was also confused about that comment at first, but upon re-reading I take it to be additional information about respect for the dead and how it differs from culture to culture, not a direct comment on the skeleton in the boss’ office.

          2. nom de plume*

            Your arguments are non-sensical. The skeleton isn’t being displayed reverentially, nor as a teaching tool, nor as necessary professional prop – dozens of commentators have said this before me. And we know this because the OP has said so.

            Now you keep making the spurious that there’s a cultural element to the boss’s display of said skeleton that must be respected, when there simply isn’t (see above paragraph). And the reductio ad absurdum of conflating “don’t display in a public, professional space” with “throw in a dark box, which is offensive and means shame!” is not flying either. They’re just not the same. There’s a whole spectrum in between.

        12. Toastedcheese*

          As someone who has spent a lot of time hanging out with archaeologists, thank you for your well-informed comments.

        13. Skeleton OP*

          Yeah this is pretty much my thoughts on it. I’m an atheist white American person who works in science. I don’t have any sort of religious or spiritual objections about it, I just feel a little weird about it because we work in a field with a very complex set of ethics (and that we debate and employ very intensely when doing our own work with animals and their remains) but to have a human skeleton that he treats kind of humorously as a personal decoration in his office feels weird to me. We don’t teach or study human anatomy, it’s there just for his personal enjoyment. And there are a lot of ethical discussions going on right now in the biological and archaeological circles about how to ethically display human remains when you’re doing it for what many people consider a legitimate educational purpose. That paired with the fact that we know a lot of human skeletons in private collections weren’t “donated to science” like a lot of people here seem to assume and were procured through illegal means makes me feel overall like its unprofessional.

          1. Robin Sparkles*

            Thanks for the context. So how would he respond (from what you know of him) if you politely asked him to remove it because of the reasons you state? I think what you and others have said seem perfectly reasonable and I would hope he would be grateful for your perspective and would want to remove it to avoid upsetting anyone else.

            1. Skeleton OP*

              He’s a pretty amiable guy and so I like to think he’d understand. He and his family have kind of a personal interest in natural history so they might just be thinking of it like another neat curio. Although all the discussion here with people seeming to think I’m a weenie who is just icked out by dead bodies or someone ready to go on a political rampage is making me nervous.

              1. salmon*

                this doesn’t need to be treated as a big deal and it doesn’t require a huge sit down. You can depersonalize it and it sounds like you can go in not in assuming that he has good intentions.
                A simple: “Hey Fred… wanted to raise the issue that people could possibly interpret the posing of your skeleton as problematic– especially in light of our recent discussion of proper handling of animal remains. I know that it makes me feel a little uncomfortable! (said in a light tone.) I know you don’t mean anything by it so figured you would want to know.” seem like the way to go.

              2. Princess Loopy*

                Remember that your boss has a lot more context than the commenters here do, too. It can be really difficult to give faceless internet people the benefit of the doubt, but you and your boss have a whole history and personal connection that you’ll bring to any conversation you have.

              3. Chinook*

                “He and his family have kind of a personal interest in natural history so they might just be thinking of it like another neat curio”

                The “curio” comment is what I think sets the issue apart from what Kate 2 talks about as well as what is causing the ethical issue with so many of us. To see human remains as an object of curiosity (the definition of “curio”) is very different from using it for education, research or honouring the dead.

                1. Persephoneunderground*

                  Thank you- this exactly. “Curios” makes me think of uncomfortable cultural appropriation and imperialism that was common over 100 years ago E.G. “hey, here’s this cool sacred religious item/shrunken head I brought back from Africa and now use as a paperweight because I don’t view those natives as people”. Those attitudes were a product of the times, but now we should know better and it might just take an outside set of eyes for your boss to look at it a different way since he’s used to thinking of this as normal. (I don’t mean to be overdoing the hyperbole or saying this is the case with this particular skeleton, I just wanted to illustrate why the “curio” phrasing was hitting me really wrong.)

                2. Mad Baggins*

                  +1 Persephoneunderground
                  Boss sounds like the descendant of that guy from the Tower of Terror at Disney Land, who collected all these “curios” from native tribes all over the world and then they cursed him (to go gently up and down an elevator shaft, I guess?). Maybe Boss doesn’t know the history of it or share those colonial attitudes, but that doesn’t give him the right to do what he wants with these inherited stolen possessions.

              4. Jersey's mom*

                Dear OP – the best suggestion I have is this – at a good time, to open up a quiet, calm, private conversation with your boss. “I’ve never seen a real human corpse before. Who is it?” And if he cannot say exactly who it is, mention that statistically, it’s likely from a disadvantaged group from that period, like Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants, or poor people. And that this being a government office and government property, it might be a good idea to potentially avoid offending protected classes of people by leaving it at home. And in the same breath say that a plastic skeleton would be cool in the office.

                This gives him a soft reason to get rid of it (govt office, protected classes), which may cause some people to moan about it, but they can blame that politically correct govt office, and at the same time you tell him that a plastic version would be ok. Then you’re not the office fogey, you come across as trying to be protective of your boss/job. BUT the timing is critical – you have to catch him in a calm, receptive mood.

                1. Safetykats*

                  Um – first of all, a skeleton is not a corpse. This guy doesn’t have an actual dead body in his office.

                  Second, this is verging on the sort of thing many commenters are, rather correctly, calling “hectoring.” It’s at least lecturing. OP doesn’t have any responsibility or moral obligation to educate her boss on any of the many reasons it might be a bad idea for him to even own the skeleton, or what kind of questionable moral ground his grandfather may have been on in buying it (as judged by today’s society). And possibly her ongoing relationship with her boss will be a bit better if she doesn’t lecture him.

                  She can always just say that it makes her uncomfortable, and see where it goes from there. If it also makes other people in the office uncomfortable, maybe they can band together for a discussion. mostly these typeset of discussions go better when you don’t start out by moralizing or lecturing. Sometimes people do what you want just because it’s the nice thing to do.

                  Sometimes not, of course, in which case the suggested lecture is not all that likely to work either.

                2. Jersey's mom*

                  The OP is asking for advice. She is uncomfortable with the inappropriately posed and propped skeleton in her bosses government office. She asked if she could say something and asked for assistance in saying it.

                  How you or I feel about human remains in a government office is a minor side discussion that merely adds to our advice to the OP.

                  I gave the OP one option in which to engage her boss on this issue. Others are free to give her advice, which she may choose to take or discard as well. Only she will know her situation best and how to handle it.

                  You can certainly suggest your own advice and suggestions on how to engage the boss on this situation. I never said you can’t or attacked your thoughts or posts.

                  To call my suggestion to the OP as “hectoring” is unkind. You are free to post your own ideas without attacking others. The purpose of this blog is to try to provide OPs with advice based on our personal experiences, not to attack each other.

                3. 12345*

                  The OP is asking for advice. She is uncomfortable with the inappropriately posed and propped skeleton in her bosses government office. She asked if she could say something and asked for assistance in saying it.

                  Right. She is asking for advice. So how exactly are literally hundreds of posts detailing historical issues with grave robbing, skeleton sales, etc helping? And yes, some of them are coming across as lecturing and condescending. How does any of that info help her approach her boss with it? There are but a few suggesting how to approach/what to say.

                4. Jersey's mom*


                  There’s a lot of commentary and outright argument going on with OPs question. She already knows how she feels, that’s her personal emotion. Perhaps some of the discussion will give her context as to whether she may feel differently about the human remains.

                  I provided her my advice on how to potentially approach her boss, from my viewpoint, and she is free to read and use or not use it as she pleases. You may or may not agree, and you are free to post your suggestions.

                  It does annoy me to have bloggers simply comment or attack how they perceive my “tone” when I am not engaging them in a debate about their morals or ethics. Especially when thas all they’re doing, instead of providing the OP with suggestions.

                  Perhaps you could provide her with a specific suggestion if you disagree with mine, rather than complain about mine

                5. Mad Baggins*

                  I thought your suggestion was very helpful. Gives the boss plenty of room to save face and is very gentle.

    3. Tim Tam Girl*

      I would tend to agree. I’ve worked for years in health and science settings and this sort of thing is, if not common, certainly not eyebrow-raising.

      I respect and appreciate your concerns about the source of the remains, and if you were to raise it with your director I would say that’s the road to take, especially if you know him to be an empathetic and aware person. Alternatively, as you said you work for a government research program, you may be able to raise concerns that the skeleton is too casual (especially with the poses) for that environment. But I suspect that either way you’d be expending a fair bit of your political capital on this so you’d want to think carefully before proceeding, especially if you don’t have an established and trusting relationship with the director already.

      1. Tim Tam Girl*

        Sorry, I realised that I wasn’t clear: my assumption was that it was an artificial skeleton, as they have been in use for decades (at least), and that could well be artificial even if belonged to the director’s grandfather. If you were to raise this with the director, you could couch your question in terms of trying to figure out if it is artificial; if not, then raise concerns about the source.

        I strongly agree with PCBH above and professor below: if this is a true human skeleton, there are definitely cultural issues that should be acknowledged and respected. Furthermore, if the skeleton is of an Indigenous person and you are in the US, Canada or Australia (and I’m sure any number of other countries), there would be legislation involved – and as a government research facility, this could get particularly tricky.

        1. Kathryn T.*

          The OP’s letter indicates that the skeleton is real. If this were an artificial skeleton I doubt there would be a problem with it.

      2. CarrotCake*

        I agree on the political capital portion.

        I studied anthropology and skeletons, real and replicas, were common. Occasionally a student had an issue with this and it was, while accepted, not met with full empathy. They were teaching tools. For us, any that were real where willed to the school while the person was alive. (P.S. do this if you’re young! It’s hard to get <60year old skeletons and the differences are very useful to see)

        Other commenters have mention religions/races/ethnicities, those are really hard for even experienced people to determine. And after decades of handling a lot of markers will have been worn. I doubt the skeleton itself would be easy to “place”, if even possible.

        I’d focus on the “funny” poses. Respecting remains is a pretty sturdy place to stand against any backlash.

        1. Czhorat*

          There’s a difference between a teaching tool and a purely decorative item.

          I’d take objections seriously in all cases, but it’s harder to see the need for a skeleton as a cool discussion starter on someone’s office than it is in a class.

          1. Say What, now?*

            This seems to be difficult for commenters to distinguish. We aren’t talking about a classroom setting. They’re a research facility, but the OP expressly commented that the research they’re doing has nothing to do with anatomy. This is a decoration to him.

              1. Skeleton OP*

                I am the OP. It’s just being used as a decoration. We study non-human biology. It’s an articulated real human skeleton that he just thinks is kinda fun to keep in his office and he likes it because it was his grandfather’s. He and his dad, also a scientist, have some private interest in cultural anthropology.

                1. else*

                  Mmm. That makes me feel differently about it. That, and some of Dahlia’s points. I’m bewildered by the passionate feelings some seem to have about skeletons (they’re dead! they don’t care), but I acknowledge that they feel them, and could be badly offended or hurt. There doesn’t seem to be any good justification for this – I think he should just take it home, although I kind of suspect he will not react well if asked to. I bet you his spouse has evicted it from their home – my office has a lot of art because of that. Not any made from bones, btw.

                2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

                  As a cultural anthropologist I’m highly disturbed that he thinks that using a real human skeleton as office decoration is okay. Contemporary anthropological ethics would not condone this in any way.

      3. Mrs Pitts*

        Skunk Bear made an interesting video about this. It might be worth sharing with the director. And asking, “what do you know about your skeleton? I want to make sure it is treated respectfully.”

        1. Genny*

          This seems unlikely to come off as a genuine question and far more likely to come off as preachy or holier than thou. If someone came up to me at work with this tactic and tried to lecture me about garment factory conditions in Bangladesh and how I shouldn’t wear what I’m wearing, it would not go over well.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The political capital piece of this is highly relevant. The question isn’t “should you keep a real skeleton in your office?” or “should some higher-up tell him to remove it?” The question is whether the OP herself should ask her boss to remove it. Many people, I think, still say yes to that question — but it’s a different framing than a lot of what I see being argued here.

        1. Kathryn T.*

          Would it be different if it were a different kind of potential ethical violation? If the remains weren’t acquired with consent, keeping them on display like this is a pretty seriously unethical situation. From the advice I’ve seen from you in the past, it seems like a departure to say “Nah, probably just leave it alone, it could be impolitic to try and solve this problem.”

          1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            I’m with you here. If I were OP I feel like I would have an ethical obligation to speak up about this issue. But as an anthropologist I probably feel more strongly about the ethics here than most.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, having read some of the comments that explain more about the potential ethical issues, I do think there’s more room for that!

            1. Kathryn T.*

              Yeah. To me, this is less about an antique medical curiosity that some might see as creepy, and more about the fact that the boss is choosing to joke around with what are very likely stolen human remains.

    4. Silicon Valley Girl*

      Totally love it myself. Adds character, esp. with the family history! Unless LW #1 is being asked to dust it or move the it around or other wise touch / interact with the skeleton, best not to mention it.

      1. Jess*

        I do too. It’s unique and quirky and has a great backstory of being passed down through generations. But I’m starting to wonder if that’s an odd or atypical reaction given the number of commenters vehemently opposed to it.

        1. soon 2 be former fed*

          I’m with you. My mom was a voracious reader, smoker, and coffee drinker. Her skeleton posed reading a book , smoking a cigarette, and drinking coffee would be amazing! I cremated her though.

          1. Bleeborp*

            This has got me reconsidering getting cremated myself because if I could somehow have my skeleton donated for comedic posing purposes, I’d definitely do it! I I’ll never fully understand people who are coming from the “It’s disrespectful to pose a skeleton” camp but I don’t have to understand in order to acknowledge that lots of people for lots of reasons could be offended and perhaps the OP should point out that it’s something that upsets a lot of people.

            1. ket*

              To leave with your body, write an updated skeleton-posing version of the poem “Mira’s Will” by Mary Leapor. She’s a hilarious 1700s working-class poet from England I recently discovered while trying to find rhyming poetry that would put my toddler to sleep. (Thanks, Norton poetry anthology from college!)

              “My wit I give, as misers give their store,
              To those who think they had enough before.”

            2. Specialk9*

              I have a Facebook friend who does hilarious poses with her fake skeleton.

              Wouldn’t be funny with a real one, unless I knew it was someone super quirky who was expressly cool with being used humorously that way.

        2. Specialk9*

          I grew up playing with my dad’s med school skull, and hearing about human dissection at the dinner table. I like graveyards as a family and community space.

          My objections to the letter are about sourcing and respect, not about the bones themselves.

          But also, at work? They don’t bother me, except for what I said above, but they do bother a lot of people, especially those who are grieving. (Hard not to imagine your loved one being posed for giggles.)

        3. Bigglesworth*

          I’m in the same boat. It sounds cool to me, but I’m wondering if that’s an appropriate reaction now. My family jokes about death and has openly discussed what we want to have done to our bodies after death. Although I understand cultural norms influence how a person views a dead body, I grew up with thinking, “Well, once I’m dead I won’t care what happens to my body so others probably won’t either.” Reading through the responses shows me that a lot of people and cultures still very much care, which is good to know.

          1. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

            Yes, I feel the same way. This thread has been very informative, and I’m shifting the way I thought about this issue initially.

        4. Nea*

          I’ve donated my body to science with the “do not return for burial” option. I’m… kind of expecting parts to end up in people’s collections. Apparently keeled skulls are rare these days.

          1. Erin*

            When I took anatomy in college I actually got to hold a plasticzied (sp?) heart in my hands. It was a very humbling experience to know that this heart is what kept a real live person living through a tiny fetus until a grown human and that the person that it belonged to actually lived and breathed, ate and thought and had likes and dislikes. Just like the person who’s skeleton it is we are talking about.

            1. ExcelJedi*

              I think this is very different. You’re talking about a teaching experience, in which you experienced empathy and connection for the person who had once been alive. This is an office decoration. I would even argue that that level of reverence is somewhat inappropriate/distracting in many office settings (at least on a long-term basis, with a skeleton you see every day), but in any case, it doesn’t seem like it’s being exhibited by the boss.

      2. Wrench Turner*

        I’m of the same mind and would probably have it in the office myself. Although I am bothered by mummies, Native American remains or the plasticized bodies of maybe-prisoners, for some reason real medical skeletons don’t bother me. I wouldn’t make it do anything not work appropriate but would probably have it holding clip boards or a guitar or something on occasion.

        That said, I would definitely want to know if my office decor disturbed someone! Unless I had no other safe place to keep it, I’d move it out. Work is work, not my private fun house.

      3. Observer*

        Which is fine. But when your office is semi-public, it matters what you put in there.

        A few years ago one of my kids went to New Orleans and got me a figurine are a souvenir. I put it on my desk at work. My office gets a lot of traffic, due to my role. One day a coworker came in and pointed out that the particular doll could be seen as racist and suggested that I put it away. She was right – I moved it. My kid wasn’t being racist – had absolutely no idea of the history of that would make it so, in fact. But nevertheless because of the history etc. the coworker was right that it could be seen that way and therefore it was not appropriate for me to have it sitting where people of all backgrounds were likely to have it in their faces.

        That’s pretty much the situation here. This is something that is likely to offend a LOT of people for a variety of different reasons, including the history of how human remains have been procured over the years.

        1. Specialk9*

          Excellent analogy. ‘oh hey I didn’t think of it that way, thanks for telling me it bothers you, I’ll put it away right now’ is a very appropriate and kind response.

      4. Kathryn T.*

        You mention the “family history,” and I’m curious what that means in this context. By my reading of the OP’s letter, the skeleton isn’t the skeleton OF a family member; it’s a skeleton that has been passed down through the family for a hundred years or more. Under those circumstances, the probability that the skeleton was acquired via methods that we would find abhorrent today is very, very high.

        1. Skeleton OP*

          No, it’s a medical artifact. His grandfather was a doctor and he and his family are all kinda natural history buffs. So it’s a random skeleton that was kept as a kind of scientific curio.

          1. Kathryn T.*

            Yeah, that’s what makes me really uneasy. “Random” in these circumstances usually means “unethically acquired.”

    5. Persephoneunderground*

      I do find it odd- we’re discussing a real skeleton, not a replica made for an anatomy class. I don’t think I have ever seen a real human skeleton (not a fake one) displayed in a classroom like Alison refers to, though I know that’s what was used in the past before plastics came along and is probably normal in medical contexts. Then again I was not a biology major, so ymmv. Probably best to leave it alone, but this is legit weird from where I’m standing – but I love weird or perverse humor sometimes, just a matter of taste.

      1. Persephoneunderground*

        Oh, and in those contexts the source of the remains does matter, the person or their family usually donated the body for research or education. I don’t see someone donating remains to be an office joke…

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I went all the way to UCL just to see Bentham’s auto-icon. And inadvertently discovered that Speedy’s Cafe and the Sherlock door are right down the street. :)

      2. Aristocat*

        Very, very specific setting but in my vet school anatomy lab in addition to all the real animal skeletons we do have a real human skeleton. It sits in a chair in an unobstrusive part of the lab. But again, very specific classroom to have real bones.
        I think my high school had fake skeletons and I don’t think I was ever in a classroom with a human skeleton in undergrad.

      3. Tau*

        This is where I fall. My old job was medicine-adjacent and our office used to have a skeleton, which people would dress up with scarves, silly hats, etc., and I don’t think anyone minded. But, and this is a big but, it was plastic. Using a real person’s remains seems pretty disrespectful.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          This is pretty much where I fall too. I think I’d be pretty creeped out by actual human remains in my workplace.

        2. smoke tree*

          I agree–I don’t personally find skeletons creepy, but it would definitely colour my opinion of the owner. It feels like a pretty blatantly disrespectful treatment of human remains and I imagine many people would be uncomfortable with it. I think it’s inappropriate for the office and this guy’s boss should tell him to bring it home. Whether the LW is comfortable bringing it up, and whether it’s likely to have any effect, is a separate question.

      4. HannahS*

        I’m in an environment where it’s normal for there to be real skeletons (a medical school that shares facilities with PT and OT programs) and treating human remains as decor or a joke would be considered grossly unprofessional here. Like, “Your future in this program is in jeopardy” level unprofessional, and that’s even though we know that the bodies were willed to us by the people themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if similar attitudes were present in archaeology and thus in museums as well. One class of mine has a plastic skeleton that wears scrubs and gets dressed up for Hallowe’en but it’s, crucially, PLASTIC. It was never part of a living human body, and thus is more along the lines of being a neurologist and having a stressball shaped like a brain. The further you go in history, the more likely it is that the real skeleton is of a person who never gave consent to be objectified that way. So I’m in the “No, this is inappropriate and weird” camp. Frankly, enough people are from cultural backgrounds where showing respect for the dead is important that I think decorating with human remains in the workplace is a bad move.

        1. sigh*

          This might be an academia thing, but I work in a building with a bone lab and we have super intense policies around behaviors and there are certain doors that must remain shut at all times, etc to allow people with certain cultural and religious beliefs access to the rest of the building. Real bones are a big thing.

          1. Pleather*

            You’ve piqued my curiosity. What cultural and religious beliefs are you referencing? I don’t understand what kind of beliefs the shut doors/access to the rest of the building rules address and how.

            1. WS*

              I don’t know where sigh is located, but in Australia it’s becoming common to have strict procedures around display of human remains, including warnings posted, out of respect for a number of indigenous Australian cultures. Some groups have strict taboos about seeing human remains and so would not enter a building if there was a chance this might happen: obviously this is hugely disadvantageous to a physics professor who has to walk past the human anatomy labs to get to class, for example! Closing the doors and posting a warning means this isn’t an issue. The same goes for (in some groups) images of dead indigenous people and using the names of dead people, so media reports now tend to use a partial name, like A. Smith or Ms Jones instead. There’s a lot of variation between different groups – for example, where I live it’s fine to use the name of a dead person but not their image – so general policies are formed rather than having to pry into each person’s background.

              1. anonagain*

                I had a classmate in the US whose religious/cultural beliefs required that she not look at the human skeleton in our classroom. We were only in middle school, so I don’t know or remember too many details.

            2. Clementine*

              Orthodox judaism has some pretty strong beliefs regarding things you can and cannot do in the presence of dead bodies. I have no idea if it is door closed level, but I know it can be an issue in archaeological excavations.

              1. Batshua*

                You have to wash your hands after leaving a cemetery, freshly dead bodies have to be kept company by a guardian who says psalms for their shocked & confused soul…

                When doing tahara (preparation for burial), we apologize to the person if we’ve offended them in any way during the process.

                1. that'll give you bees*

                  Plus, a segment of the population (kohanim) can’t be around a dead body that isn’t from a member of their immediate family.

              2. HannahS*

                Yeah, and I’m not Orthodox but our practices for respecting the dead don’t leave much room for this kind of behaviour, and it would make me really uncomfortable. I can absolutely respect someone’s own choice about how their remains are treated, and I’m grateful for the people who gift their bodies to anatomy labs, but I feel strongly that the default position if you don’t know what someone wanted should be to return the body to the earth in a respectful way.

            3. sigh*

              I wasnt here for the moving of the lab so I didnt go to the town hall style meeting, but the internal report references concerns from Jews, Catholics and multiple indigenous groups. The lab is built so that it is contained behind several doors/in a corner of rhe building on a low floor, and theres copious signage to warn individuals. We have a very large indigenous population in the building as there’s a specific program for their retention and success, so the bone lab coming here was a big deal. I’m Jewish and I’ve elected to not take part in labs that use real human remains as I feel it’s against the spirit of Jewish law unless for very very specific reasons, so I appreciate their thoroughness in planning and advertising. (Also, the lab makea a big big deal about complying with all regulations and making sure to return things when there’s the smallest possibility of an issue. Theyre a great lab).

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I don’t think it’s an academia thing, tbh. I think it’s a matter of whether a person was ever exposed to the history of body part procurement and the legal and ethical frameworks regarding remains. And a good deal of that is influenced by whether you are a member of a community (i.e., non-white, low-income/poor, political prisoner) that has had its remains routinely pilfered and used jokingly in the name of “science.” The cultural norms around desecration of remains are pretty widespread, regardless of a person’s belief system, and OP’s boss is doing just that with this skeleton.

            Perhaps I’m being limited in my views, but I’m struggling to understand how folks who are aware of the history of specimen-snatching, indigenous remains repatriation, current laws regarding donation of remains, or bioethics (see, e.g., HeLa cells) could be so cavalier about someone using a body as office decor.

            1. HannahS*

              Ditto. I’m perplexed by all the “but I’D be fine with it if my remains were played with!” …ok? sure? But do you really think it’s likely that this person was?

            2. Bleeborp*

              I think the issue is that a chunk of society (which I’m a part of) don’t believe in an afterlife and believe that after a person dies their remains are not sacred. Even if someone’s skeleton wasn’t treated how they would have preferred for religious or cultural reasons, I don’t actually believe there is any means, metaphysically, for that person to be affected by how their remains were treated. But of course I know a big chunk of society does care, deeply, and believe in an afterlife and feel the way the remains are handled affects the person spiritually who inhabited the remains. I do think that it’s a wrought enough issue that the OP’s boss should take the skeleton home and only pose it around people like me.

              1. smoke tree*

                Well, personally I also don’t believe in an afterlife and don’t have any religious objections to being in the presence of human remains, but I still consider it wildly disrespectful. Particularly for someone who works in the biological sciences, it just feels incredibly cavalier to act this way with the remains of someone who, statistically, was likely part of a persecuted group and certainly didn’t consent to this treatment.

              2. WS*

                I don’t care about the afterlife, but I do care about the living people who are being hurt by past and ongoing disrespect, so yes, I agree.

            3. Mad Baggins*

              Well said, and thank you for all your comments on this post. You always share the most kind and eloquent thoughts.

        2. SamKD*

          Yes, this. If the skeleton in question is synthetic I would have no problem but OP’s boss playing dress-up with an actual human skeleton which once supported an actual human is appalling.

        3. Anonymousaurus Rex*

          Yes. This exactly. This is way outside of the professional norms for handling human remains.

    6. Needs Moar Coffee*

      I’m a researcher who frequently works with animal skeletons; many of my colleagues work with human remains. In one of my old jobs, one of the human bone labs doubled as a meeting room — we’d just conduct our meetings around boxes of bones, gently moving them if we needed space, sometimes being nosy and having a poke around, etc. And, yes, our teaching collections were real human skeletons that, yes, sometimes did just hang out in people’s offices when not in use.

      I get it that this isn’t really the same thing; any modern acquisitions to our research collections fall under strict guidelines, everyone who has access to the collections is a highly trained professional, we spend a lot of time talking about the ethics of research on older human remains collected without the informed consent of living community members, etc. Just because I’m blasé about bones doesn’t mean everyone is, and “biological sciences” does cover a lot of territory. I imagine the OP knows if he or she works in a place where human skeletons are really super normal, and, hey, if you’re offended, you’re offended. Up to you to decide if you want to spend the social capital to try to either get the skeleton removed or have it treated more respectfully.

    7. Thursday Next*

      Count me among the dissenters on #1. It’s the ongoing, “humorous” posing specifically for the purpose of *greeting visitors” that pushes this way over the line. If the skeleton were posed in a typical anatomy classroom way, placed in a corner of the office that was not within the sight line of someone entering the office to have a quick word, that might be one thing. This is a biological sciences office, after all, not someplace where a skeleton would be completely incongruous (like…a bakery?).

      BUT the skeleton is being used as a joke, in a way designed so call attention to its presence (the changes in pose), and in a way intended to engage visitors to the office. It has become an item for explicit, public consumption. At best, this use of a skeleton is juvenile and tasteless.

      If I were in the OP’s position, I’d push back on those grounds. OP, you have to decide what your lines are for pushing back, and how much capital you have/want to expend.

    8. gl*

      Yeah and when she says ‘government research’ what does that mean? Is it scientific? As AM said, these things are displayed in classrooms, libraries, and doctors offices around the world.

      Since you said he likes to have fun with it and put it in silly poses, you can join in? Can you make Mr. Skeleton a top hat and monocle?

      The skeleton would have been donated to his relative most likely for science and learning at the time. Some people want their bones to be on display!

      1. Dahlia*

        Those displays are plastic. Not something that was once a person.

        That’s a major difference.

      2. Dahlia*

        She finds it creepy, so what should she join in?

        Also, if this was from a grandparent, you have no idea what the donor originally envisioned. Certainly donating a body to science is not anticipating that some doctors grandson would use it as humorous office decoration.

        it is either scientific or a decoration, not both. Whatever the original purpose or willingness of the donor, this dude is clearly not using it for that purpose. I find it highly unlikely a willing donor 75 or 100 years ago would have said “please sign me up to being used in some future dude’s office as a decoration used for his own amusement.”

        1. Mom MD*

          I would. I’d have no problem if it were me. It’s educational no matter the scenario. A cadaver is different business and has to be treated with the utmost respect.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Aren’t the rules of donation the same for human skeletons as they are for cadavers?

      3. Kathletta*

        I don’t know why you’d suggest the OP get a monocle for the skeleton that she’s creeped out by?

        I am honestly surprised so many people wouldn’t have a problem with this; it’s a dead body in the office being moved around like a joke! I think I would quit my job immediately if I had to work with a human skeleton so close to me, and there is no way I could ever work for a person who has so little respect for the desceased person that they treat the body like a joke. I would hate to think of any of my loved ones ending up this way, it just makes me sick to think about.

        I’m sorry you’re in this situation OP, especially since we seem to be in the total minority – I would have thought this was something you could easily push back on and have removed. Judging from the comments here it doesn’t really seem like there’s much you can do though. You have my sympathy, because your situation would be an absolute nightmare for me.

        1. Trillion*

          I think there’s a difference between “nightmare” and “pretty creeped out.” Creeped out indicates a dislike, where you’re saying it would actually affects your ability to work with this person. If she’s bothered by it to the point that it’s affecting her work, she should be able to push back on it.

        2. JuliaB*

          I find it horrifying and would be super offended. Just your average middle class, middle aged, white woman here. But from a career perspective, I would ignore it completely. I can’t see any actions the OP could take that would lead to any good outcome. If asked about my opinion, I’d do a head tilt with a wan smile.

      4. Observer*

        Since you said he likes to have fun with it and put it in silly poses, you can join in? Can you make Mr. Skeleton a top hat and monocle?

        Why on earth would they do that? I can’t understand why you would suggest that they join in this activity that they find disrespectful and creepy.

        The skeleton would have been donated to his relative most likely for science and learning at the time.

        The reality is that the older the bones, the less likely this is. We don’t know for sure, but we DO know that the history of cadaver acquisition is rife with illicitly acquired bones. Furthermore, “donated for scinece and learning” is different than “for silly pranks”.

    9. Blue Eagle*

      If the skeleton is in a common area (like a hallway) I can see a possibility for asking for it to be removed from the common space. However, if it is in her office (or a cubicle), then I agree with Alison that you should leave this alone.

    10. Scubacat*

      I’d be fascinated if my coworker had a skeleton in their office. The skeleton is just a person who happens to be dead. Though, I am biased on this topic. My end of life plans already include donating my bones to science. I hope to end up in some office or anthropology lab.

    11. Trillion*

      Agree. Unless it’s actually impacting your work, leave it be. This is not rare in the medical field, and a real human skeleton can be quite a treasured relic.

      I may be biased because I grew up with a human skeleton that we posed and dressed up, and one of my mother’s prized possessions is a genuine human skull in a bell jar. I have a necklace made of human bone.

      That said, you shouldn’t be expected to touch it. If he asks you to pose it or touches you with it, let him know that you don’t find that acceptable.

      This question coincidentally on the same day that I’m going to travel to the same museum that sold me the necklace! (I’m buying another one).

      1. Trillion*

        The comments actually have great counterarguments to my opinion that are making me reconsider my response. Sure *I* don’t find it disrespectful. Bones are bones. Bodies are bodies. Human remains are not sacred or special.

        But there are many people, religions, and cultures that would find this completely abhorrent. Considering that, he should keep it at home.

        This is why I love this site. It’s a wonderful opportunity to debate and open yourself to new points of view.

      2. Femme D'Afrique*

        You have a necklace made of human bone? I’m really curious about this, I hope you don’t mind explaining a bit more: how was this bone attained, do you know? Turning human bone into a necklace doesn’t seem to fit into the “body donated to science” stuff that lots of people have brought up. Any idea what the procedure was?

        1. Trillion*

          There’s a museum nearby that takes donations of anything from animals to your own human body. They go through a lot of effort to attain as much consent as possible. When I first bought the necklace (it’s a finger bone on a cord. It’s quite delicate so I don’t wear that much.) I wasn’t aware of all the problems with grave robbing and unethical harvesting of prisoners, so I didn’t research it much.

          I had hoped to go back this weekend to the museum because I wanted to ask more about the bones they sell, but I didn’t make it there. Next time I get there, I’m going to ask. And if I can’t get satisfactory answers and feel sure that the person donating consented to having their parts sold, I won’t wear the bone and will decide what to do from there.

    12. Lindsay Gee*

      HOLY GOD NO! Anthropologist here. a) we have no idea how these remains were procured. They may have donated their body to science, it may be grandpa joe, it may be the remains of a Native American. But based on how poorly anthropology and archaeology used to operate, it’s a good bet this is an artifact this person probably shouldn’t have. it;s also a good bet this person didn’t donate themselves to sit in this dudes office.
      b) In north america, there is a pervasive habit of viewing the remains of Native Americans and African American slaves as ‘science’ and keeping them to study vs. obvious European remains being found and reburied. Additionally, we have a habit of keeping ‘artifacts’ or even STEALING them instead of repatriating them back to tribes who have a rightful claim to rebury their ancestor (versus keeping them in a museum)( .

      This issue is SO much more complicated than just the LW feelings. Anthropology, anatomy departments have skeleton casts that they use for educating, decoration etc. But they are CASTS they are not the actual remains of a human being. I think we all have a little more dignity than to think whoever that skeleton used to be would have been cool chilling in some dude’s office. Go online and buy a plastic skeleton ffs

      1. SophieK*


        Anthropology and archaeology are inherently disrespectful. Your spiritual thoughts while desecrating sacred sites and treating people like zoo exhibits matter not a bit.

        You know that many, many, anthropological studies are not valid because the PEOPLE being studied were trolling the academics in revenge, right?

        1. Lindsay Gee*

          anthropology, archaeology, ‘cultural studies’ are all inherently problematic, due to the reasons I stated in my original post. I’m not trying to defend the awful practices that unfortunately are still going on (its better in some respects and not in others). I don’t really get how your comment is in response to anything i said? I am completely supportive of repatriation of remains and artifacts whenever possible, and NOT having these remains gawked at in museums.
          My whole point was that because these awful practices existed and continue to exist, we really need to consider thepossibility that this skeleton could have been obtained through these practices. Therefore this dude should not have it, or be disrespecting the remains (which WERE A PERSON) by using it as a decoration.

          1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            Another anthropologist here. Just saying hi and +1 to everything you said.

    13. CDel*

      I wonder, would you (or anyone else here saying it isn’t a big deal) feel the same way if there was a dead body in the room just sitting around for amusement? How is this any different, just because there isn’t skin or muscle on the bones?

      People saying that the person probably donated their body to science, this use is not scientific! It is disrespectful and rude.

      1. Scubacat*

        I’d be okay if my mummy was used in such a capacity. There wouldn’t be a difference if just my bones or bones plus the flesh bits were on display. However, the office skeleton situation situation is more complicated. The OP doesn’t know how the skeleton was acquired. Others have pointed out the problems with this.

    14. machiamellie*

      Yup. That wouldn’t bother me at all, but then bodily functions and anatomy don’t skeeve me out at all.

    15. professor*

      I commented on this below, but I feel it bears saying again and some clarifying due to some comments I’ve seen here. For the record, I have a PhD in Biological Anthropology and I am scientist.

      We have ethical rules about bodies in my field, and this is a blatant, clear violation. We show respect to bodies that are donated to science and can only use them as agreed. They are not toys. The fact that someone’s culture may “allow” this is foolish and irrelevant. The fact that the body is dead is irrelevant; they had wishes in life, they come from communities with cultures that may disagree with you (those cultures deserve respect too). Go look up NAGPRA and Native American issues on this (relevant to the point below too); living people are affected by what is done with their dead.

      In addition, I have serious concerns about the identity and way this body was obtained. A relic passed down from their grandparent makes it highly unlikely it was obtained with consent. This also means it likely belonged to member of a marginalized group, and so is perpetuating harm done to this group.

      This is profoundly not ok. Saying that doesn’t make you anti-science, it means you recognize scientific ethics.

      1. Flummoxulent*

        A relic passed down from their grandparent makes it highly unlikely it was obtained with consent. This also means it likely belonged to member of a marginalized group, and so is perpetuating harm done to this group.

        Genuine question: how is it perpetuating harm to the group? We do not have any information about the provenance of the skeleton. If it does belong to a marginalized group, that group isn’t aware of it. The director isn’t claiming the skeleton was taken from any marginalized group or attaching it to any narratives about marginalized groups. Who is being harmed and how?

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          If you are genuinely curious, then google will be your friend on this. I’m not being sarcastic–I mean you can find more explanations and more detail than this site is designed to be provided.

          But before you start your research, I would ask you to ask yourself if your first response was “what’s the harm?” Because too often people of non-marginalized groups (which you might not be a part of, I have no way of knowing, I’m just going by your word choices) spend almost no time processing and accepting past harms we’ve inflicted on others, the affect those past harms continue to have on groups today, how quickly we expect to be absolved of that continuing harm because we weren’t the ones who did the bad stuff in the past. We jump to “that was the past, that’s not happening now, so I don’t need to spend any time thinking about effects or whether the same kind of thing still happens in different ways or whether the attitude that led to that past thing happening still prevails.” I’m not phrasing it well. But people are saying that this skeleton almost certainly was obtained in an ethical manner, and for your reaction to be “I don’t see how this harms anybody” could be read as disrespectful and derailing, although I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way.

          Not to mention expecting more free labor from people that have already taken the time and energy to explain why what the OP’s boss is doing is problematic. Again, I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but please be aware of that.

        2. Mad Baggins*

          1. Everyone who sees the real skeleton and knows the statistical likelihood of how it was obtained is harmed. Personally I’m hurt that those injustices happened in the past and cannot be corrected because there is no way we can collect all of the stolen remains and artifacts and return them to their families and cultures. Even if you are not a member of a marginalized group yourself, surely you can sympathize with this awful tragedy.

          2. Marginalized groups don’t need to have disgrace actively practiced to their faces for it to count. See: microaggressions, systemic injustice, benevolent racism, etc. The status quo IS harming these people. When white people say “it doesn’t matter if Native remains are returned because they were stolen in the past,” what they are saying is “this doesn’t affect me so I don’t see why it is important. Native American people, rights, history, and culture are not worth preserving or respecting.”

          There was a Buzzfeed (I believe) video where Native Americans speak about what it’s like to be Native American in the US, and I recommend you watch it. One woman said that to even speak her name, which comes from her tribe’s language, was defiance; the fact that she is even alive today, means that she has survived. It was a very powerful video and I recommend it to you.

          3. The issue here is not some kind of “cultural appropriation” issue where it matters whether the boss has claimed that the skeleton is from a marginalized group. The issue is that he *doesn’t know* where it came from and *doesn’t care* and *is not treating it with respect*. If he found out the skeleton came from a white man, it would still be disrespectful to treat that person’s body as a funky decorative prop without knowing that man’s wishes.

          I am writing this as a person who learned about this through google and listening, so if your questions are genuine as you say, there is a lot you and I can learn about this, and other comments on this thread are a good place to start!

          1. Flummoxulent*

            Thank you, I definitely intend to see if I can find that Buzzfeed video you mentioned. It sounds similar in theme to a video I watched recently in which Haunani Kay Trask defends the use of the word Haole.

            I have learned a lot through google and listening as well, and the discourse throughout this thread definitely helped me understand many things better. I asked the question above because the claim of “perpetuating harm” was not one that had been clearly addressed in this thread and that I couldn’t really find any sources directly addressing, so I really appreciate you taking the time to address my question. I think your reframing from “cultural appropriation” to a broader issue of respect helps me understand a bit better how the harm could be something that is continuing.

            I am still ruminating a bit on the idea that a skeleton of unknown provenance could be perpetuating harm to any specific cultural group. I understand what you said in #1 above about the statistical likelihood being part of the ongoing harm*, but I do also feel that the existence of new ethical standards and the present possibility of reparations is the best correction to that harm that we have. The idea that there are harms of the past we cannot correct (such as the likely provenance of this skeleton) and thus will perpetually be harmful no matter what progress we make is one I can’t fully grok yet.

            *(and I am a member of multiple marginalized groups, though none affected disproportionately by grave-robbing, or the human skeleton trade)

            1. Mad Baggins*

              Thank you for your kind and measured response, and I’m glad my comment was helpful to you! I will look up the Haunani Kay Trask video you mentioned, it sounds interesting.

              I definitely understand where you’re coming from in terms of thinking about “harms of the past we cannot correct…and thus will perpetually be harmful no matter what progress we make”. What I remind myself is that the status quo is harmful and we must disrupt it, as you said with things like new ethical standards and possible reparations. The hopeful part of me wants to believe that someday, the playing field will be totally even and these painful cultural histories won’t be (as) painful. But I think the first step is recognizing them, apologizing and changing things so it won’t happen again…and as a country I think we’re at best 0.5/3…

              But anyway thanks for a kind exchange, you’ve given me food for thought and more hope in the internet!

      2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Thank you! Another Anthro PhD here (Applied Cultural, but have studied all 4 fields) and I’m glad you articulated this so well.

    16. UKview*

      If the OP had been in the UK, this could be a legal question – since 2004 we have the human tissue act which regulates the use, storage, removal and disposal of human tissue and the use of human skeletons has changed a lot since then. “The HTA considers that if the body of a person, or relevant material which has come from the body of a person, is seen by members of the public as a public display, a licence may be required.”

      Of course, it depends what you count as a public display but I don’t think posing a skeleton would go down well on an HTA licence application…

      1. UKview*

        I’d add, UK organisations like research labs and Universities take their HTA licences to use human tissue VERY seriously.

    17. MD Person*

      It’s hard for some of us to understand how this might creep some people out, but sometimes it does. The boss should be more sensitive.

    18. Prod Coor*

      I agree with Rogue on OP #1. It would certainly come off as overly sensitive to me, especially when OP isn’t of any culture that has specific beliefs about remains. There’s a lot of white folk (myself included) that are trying to be so respectful of everyone all the time and acknowledging privilege when no one is being insulted/offended/harmed. Certainly if someone is offended per their culture/religion it should be taken down. But if OP is just worried some other person might be at some point offended, that seems overly cautious.

    19. TardyTardis*

      I would love to be in that office for Halloween. And I have a pirate hat I would be willing to loan out on September 19th. (Of course I have a pirate hat. And a really spiffy, high quality sombrero I must find and get cleaned. Plus, when they had Hat Day at my husband’s school, he had a different hat for each period, including a Mr. Cat in the Hat Hat. On our anniversary, we wear our Mickey Mouse Groom Hat and Minnie Mouse Bride Hat. At Christmas we wear a Mickey Mouse Santa Hat and a Minnie Mouse Santa Hat. Can you tell we like hats?).

  2. nnn*

    My visceral reaction in #1 is to wonder if the skeleton is in a case of some sort, or just out in the open. If it’s in a case I’m more okay with it, but if it’s just out in the open that feels just…wrong? Gross? Unsanitary?

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it’s because most people don’t think it’s ok to play with a dead person or their remains. I think the director is solidly in the wrong. Even if his family’s claim to the skeleton is legal—which I sincerely doubt given its age—this is really unethical treatment of remains. And it’s certainly not funny. If he wants a joke skeleton, he should buy a plastic replica.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Based on the age of the skeleton, the likelihood of the provenance being (now) illegal or requiring repatriation is pretty high.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              For the time period that OP’s boss’s grandfather likely lived, well above 90% (closer to 98–99%). This isn’t just my personal belief—it’s fairly easy to look up and read about the history of how remains were procured and the ethical problems that have attached as our legal system has evolved to protect the less powerful.

          1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

            I agree that even if the skeleton is legal to keep, the ethical concerns stand. Without knowing more specifics it’s hard to say whether OP’s boss should be worried that his skeleton is illegal to have, but it could very well not be. Generally speaking, private individuals are not bound by NAGPRA’s repatriation requirement, but federally-funded institutions are – a privately-owned skeleton passed down over generations is unlikely to be an issue, even if it does belong to a Native American person. And laws that outlaw a thing (like, say, excavating a Native American grave on federal land) don’t apply retroactively to people who did the thing before the thing was legal.

            But the current laws are in place because people recognize that the way things were done in the past wasn’t okay. Knowing that and keeping the skeleton around anyway is ethically questionable, even if it is legally permissible.

      1. CynicallySweet7*

        I personally don’t have a problem with this, but I can understand why someone would. And as long as it’s phrased right I don’t see this taking up a ton of political capital (unless he’s unreasonable). Also given the age the skeleton probably is legally owned. Not to say it’s procurement couldn’t have been super shady, but there was a huge (legal) market for Skeltons back in the day

        1. JuliaGuglia*

          Yeah, that pretty much sums up my take on this as well.

          Once I’m dead, I don’t really care what happens to me. My family might, sure, but I won’t. Take my organs. Burn me. Bury me. Put me in the Bodies Exhibit or in the office of some guy and dress me up in funky hats. But I know not everyone shares this belief.

          That said, I think OP is fine saying “Hey, that skeleton makes me uncomfortable.” Boss would hopefully either take it home or at the very least cover it up when meeting with OP. He may start off lightly teasing OP for seemingly just being uncomfortable with death, but if OP doesn’t slacken, boss with realize severity and act accordingly.

          1. SamKD*

            Agree with this very much. Not much capital for OP to tell Boss “I’m really uncomfortable around your posed skeleton” and see where the conversation goes. I don’t think OP should/will be viewed as overly sensitive or delicate by asking, either. Sure, “too darned bad; I like it” might be one response but there could be others. OP you might consider whether there is any compromise position (no more posing, cover it, put it in different corner of office, etc) which would be okay with you.

      2. Kate*

        I don’t really understand your and the OP’s ‘who knows how he got it’ stuff, it seems a weird leap. A), she could just ask him (who knows? he does, probably), and b) it says his grandfather was a doctor- I’d have said it’s like 99.9% chance it was donated to medicine by the skeleton’s owner, and like 0.1% chance of murder or grave robbing.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          My guess is PCBH and others are more concerned that the remains belonged to a disenfranchised person who didn’t have a say in what happened to it. If a poor person died 100 years ago with no close relatives, their remains may have been co-opted by medicine/science without permission. And their religious/cultural beliefs could add an additional layer of insensitivity.

          I don’t think anyone was suggesting murder/grave robbing.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes, what DAS said. Most skeletons procured before the 1970s came from dubious and problematic backgrounds, and most people did not “donate” their bodies to science at that time. Both the poor and people of color (and intersections of those two identities) had a disproportionate likelihood that their bodies would be used without their consent, and often against their spiritual beliefs, for scientific “research” and inquiry. So the reason OP and I are doubtful about the legality and ethics of how the remains were procured is because most remains from the period in which the boss’ family obtained this skeleton were not voluntarily or ethically “donated.”

            Even those that were lawfully “donated” at that time are subject to certain repatriation rules (see, NAGPRA), and the treatment of almost all remains in bio sci research facilities ar subject to strict ethical provisions. It doesn’t sound like OP’s boss is complying with those conventions.

            1. Quince*

              You know nothing about the skeleton in the office. You can be as doubtful as you want, but it really doesn’t matter.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                That’s pretty rude. I know you’re on the “everyone here is guessing and so they’re all wrong!” drum, today, but this reads as “not all men” to me. There’s a 95–99% chance the body is not being used ethically or appropriately, regardless of provenance, and I’ve been pretty honest about stating “here’s the probabilities, and we don’t know if that applies here, but it probably does.”

                The fact that there’s a 1–4% chance that the body was donated and is being used within the scope of the grant does not negate concerns that it is not being handled appropriately in this case.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Yeah, lots of Mens Rights type arguments here. I don’t really get what they’re getting out of this.

        2. Dahlia*

          You’d be wrong, depending on the age.

          There is fairly clear evidence that a lot of skeletons acquired by doctors prior to the 1920s in the US and England were acquired highly illegal means and not donation.

          There used to be a fairly robust trade in grave robbing in this country and in England.

          So, presuming it was donated would make sense if this was this guy’s father, but once you get to grandfather and beyond it gets a bit sketchy depending on the age of the parties.

          We can’t and don’t know either way.

          Even if it was a donor, do you think That they envision donating their body to science would mean they’d be sitting in somebody’s office used as a decoration and a joke prop?

          Whatever the original purpose of the donation, it’s pretty clear that this guy isn’t using it for that purpose. If he really wants to honor his grandfather and honor the person that gave their skeleton, he should donate it to some med school or teaching college.

          1. Browser*

            1920 is nearly 100 years ago. I’m 40 years old and my grandparents, all of whom are deceased, were born in the 1930s. So this skeleton could easily have been acquired well after 1920.

            1. Quince*

              It could have been acquired in the 1990s for all we know. There are a lot of people here who like to speculate with little information. Too bad Dahlia couldn’t stop with “We can’t and don’t know either way.”

              1. Kathryn T.*

                It belonged to the man’s grandfather, and the OP believes it was sourced in the early 1900’s, probably prior to 1920.

        3. ket*

          I gotta say, based on historical research and my own experiences with skulls, ear bones, etc passed down from a grandfather, it was probably not donated by a kindly person interested in science. Almost all skeletons back in the day were taken from poor people without discussion before they died, or from battles in Europe & elsewhere. It was usual in Britain for unclaimed bodies from the workhouse or poorhouse to be sold. After the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 skeleton pickers apparently descended on the battlefield & picked up a lot of “dervish” bodies. Executed criminals had their bodies sold if families didn’t pick them up for burial. And then some poor folks entered into agreements for cash up front to give to their families before they died, in exchange for the body. I can provide links in the next comment.

          1. ket*

            Here’s a little clipping from the Melbourne Advocate newspaper from 1898, strangely: It mentions the battle in Sudan (the “dervishes”).

            Here’s a 1907 article from a New South Wales paper about the French skeleton business: It notes the “specimen bodies of different races sent home by travelers and explorers” as well as the criminals.

            I think people were rather titillated by the skeleton stories back then. Here’s the Black Hills Union paper in the US discussing the bones from Omdurman, in the middle column. I think it’s basically a wire article from the day! Note “[i]t is only right to state that there is not the slightest possible chance of a British soldier having been converted into a marketable specimen.” An important point, because using a *British* soldier’s body would be disrespectful or distasteful, unlike… wait… (ok, it’s also mentioned that British bones are often in poor condition, yellow and malformed).

          2. ket*

            Last, I’ll say that the grandfather in question knew that the bones probably came from someone who wasn’t asked beforehand and was not bothered. It was not at that time an ethical concern for white doctors, you know? Just like excavating Native burial sites, for science. ‘It’s really unfortunate that those people are upset by it and trying to hold back the development of Western knowledge. Furthermore, it’s legal so it’s fine.’ (Let’s not be revisionist about attitudes!)

                1. nom de plume*

                  Ket, just want to say how much I’ve appreciated your reasoned, thoughtful, and informative comments throughout this thread — and this last one is probably my favorite!! ;)

          3. ST*

            “Almost all skeletons back in the day were taken from poor people without discussion before they died,”

            That sounds painful. . .

          4. TS*

            “Almost all skeletons back in the day were taken from poor people without discussion before they died,”

            That sounds painful. . .

        4. Magee*

          But, as many other people have said, there is a big difference between donating your body to science and donating your body to be used as office décor that the occupant dresses and poses. This is my opinion, but I think that most people that donate their bodies to science don’t think that once the original “owner” of the body dies, their family gets to inherit the body and do what they want with it. I have a very hard time believing the person that donated their body to science thought their skeleton would end up in an office to be used as a conversation starter. Especially in an office that has nothing to do with human anatomy.

      3. soon 2 be former fed*

        I hard disagree. I don’t think it is OK to “play” with a dead person, but that’s not what this is. Not unethical.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I hard disagree with you. These are human remains and the person is playing jokes with them. Completely unethical.

        2. Trillion*

          Isn’t it though? It’s posing it into funny poses. That’s playful. It’s playing.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          How is it not playing with a dead person? (I’m asking genuinely, not combatively.) These are real human remains.

        4. Rachel01*

          The playing with it would gross me out. But it’s his office. I work in higher ed & faculty can do some strange things. I wouldn’t appreciate it seeing it, but oh well. If he plays with it in front of me, I would have a problem. Many times — with male professors mainly. Their wives get fed up with whatever crap they have at home, boxes of books, old VHS tapes, ugly art, skeleton’s etc., and tell the husband either it goes or I toss it. So it migrates to their offices, because they are either pack rats, it has sentimental value, (but I wouldn’t one in my home), or they do not want to take the time to go through them, so they box the old stuff up, and shove it into their offices. Years ago I had a faculty member that took over our file storage room with boxes from his work (outside of the university) off legal documents where he served as a legal expert for some lawsuits. I approached it as hogging up the space. Didn’t go over well. I had to go in as the university doesn’t want to accept the responsibility of legal documents and confidentiality concerns of lawsuits not associated with it. Than gave him a time to get them out or I would. I had to copy the Dean on that to force him to follow through. He was the nicest man, but he chose to ignore things if he didn’t want to deal with them, or hope they would go away.

          I’m leaning towards the wife told the OP’s boss to get rid of the skeleton.

    2. Loose Seal*

      I can’t imagine it’s any more unsanitary than anything else in the office.

      1. Trillion*

        What? I don’t understand this at all. Old bones are just minerals and other solids.

  3. LouiseM*

    #1: Personally, it wouldn’t bother me at this point in my life because in my line of work you see all sorts of things. Let’s just say if a human skeleton was the weirdest thing I saw all day…it would be a good day, LOL! Particularly in the sciences, this might fly with a lot of your coworkers. But if you say something, you should probably present it as a quirk of yours. Like, “I know this might seem silly, but I have this weird thing about human remains…”

    1. AnonforThis*

      I worked in a pathology lab for a summer and gallows humor was very common. My friends who are doctors say that it is also common around cadaver work. It just isn’t out of the norm in these kinds of fields.

    2. Thursday Next*

      I know words like “silly” and “weird”are often used as softening language, but I’d avoid them here. Enough people find the decorative display of human bodies *taboo* that I don’t think OP should pussyfoot around it if they decide to bring it up. Sometimes a thing just needs to be said.

      1. Batshua*

        I feel like the best word here is “uncomfortable”.

        “I may be in the minority, but I’m uncomfortable with how casually we’re treating these human remains…”

        1. Thursday Next*

          Yes—it doesn’t discount the feelings, while allowing room for opposing views.

    3. Ali G*

      I think the OP should compromise a little, because I think that is the best way to settle this:
      Antique, family heirloom skeleton on display in the directors private office: not creepy
      Posing human remains and dressing them up and using them to “greet” people: could be perceived as disrespectful and maybe the director might want to rethink that part.
      I kind of see this like the antique rabbit stole I have that was my grandmothers. I would NEVER buy a fur today. But in her time, that was completely legal, acceptable and very much coveted. If I had a legit reason to wear it (winter gala, loan it to a friend for a wedding, etc.) that’s one thing. But I would never use it as part of a Halloween costume, or try to force a vegan friend to wear it, but I would also never get rid of it, because it is also a family heirloom. It’s just about respect for the item as it is now, not what we would like it to be.

      1. Jessica*

        Thank you for the rabbit stole analogy, it helped capture how I feel about this. Yes, it’s likely the skeleton was procured in a way that was deeply harmful and offensive, and may be illegal today. But for me, that doesn’t mean the mere fact of the director continuing to own it is inherently harmful or unethical. The posing is a different story, but just the owning and displaying of it is not a problem from my perspective.

        We continue to benefit in lots of ways from horrors of our past, whether that’s through something silly and vain like an antique fur or a skeleton, or from medical discoveries that were made through unethical practices. The HeLa story is fraught for this reason. It’s obviously deeply unethical and something we need to continue to learn from. That being said, I’m not going to refuse all medical treatments that were made possible through HeLa cultures.

        Obviously there isn’t a broader cultural “benefit” to keeping a family heirloom skeleton, but the harm has been done – long ago. The director wasn’t the one who procured it unethically, and there’s really nothing to gain from destroying or disposing of the skeleton at this point.

  4. LouiseM*

    OP #2, do you think that your colleague was envisioning the awards dinner as a special networking opportunity for you? I still think it would be fine to decline it, of course, but perhaps you could leave the door open to some future mingling in a less stressful setting.

    1. LouiseM*

      Hit submit too soon! For example, you could say: “I can’t make it to the awards dinner, but I saw X will be speaking. I’d love to meet her another time!”

    2. Screenwriter*

      I agree, LouiseM. The awards dinner might also be a very special treat (in my business, people vie like crazy to get invited to awards dinners) and it might feel unprofessional if she begs off; and, as you say, they are always networking opportunities. If it’s a major company event, it can also make her look more connected and involved to have been there.

      And by the way, OP, honestly, you might actually enjoy it. It’s not like a large cocktail party where you have to try to plunge into pre-existing groups of strangers or try to look like you’re not a wallflower–those are awful. At a dinner, you’re seated at a particular table, and even the shyest or most anxious person can introduce themselves to the other people around the table–at least some of them will equally not know anyone else and be happy to meet you–and you will all have the company in common. You can either chat with them, or, an awards dinner always consists of an MC, presenters, and people getting the awards, all of whom speak, plus there’s often some kind of video–in other words, there’s a constant stream of, essentially, entertainment, while you eat.

      Honestly I think they’re a lot of fun. Sometimes there are goody bags, too. It might also be a small way to tiptoe into dealing with the GAD. Also, if your GAD is serious to the point of affecting your work opportunities, I highly recommend an appt with a sensitive, thoughtful psychiatrist, who can provide very low-dose medication that make all the difference in the world.

      1. Artemesia*

        I class awards dinners with graduation ceremonies in terms of complete tedium unless I am getting the award of course and even then unless you know lots of people they are deadly. I am having trouble envisioning a setting in which tickets are highly sought after.

        1. Screenwriter*

          The Golden Globes
          The Spirit Awards
          An awards dinner where Steven Spielberg is speaking
          An awards dinner with a goody bag
          It really depends who’s speaking and who’s getting an award

      2. Lady Jay*

        I hate awards dinners for exactly this reason. I’m seated at a table with a bunch of perfect strangers, stuck there for the evening (no switching tables!) and expected to listen to a lengthy and often boring talk.

        I’ve declined every award dinner for the past 3-5 years.

      3. Fellow GAD sufferer*

        Please don’t take this the wrong way, Screenwriter, but I kind of question from this advice that you have much first-hand experience with GAD or social anxiety. The situation you describe wouldn’t be less stressful for a person with GAD than a large cocktail party. And it isn’t a way to tiptoe into dealing with it – a place filled with strangers, where there is no one that you don’t know extremely well, where it is extremely hard to leave without drawing attention to yourself is not is not a toe in the pool, it is a full-on dive into the ocean.

        Also, OP didn’t say anything about what their treatment is – it is unlikely that they have a diagnosis of GAD and are holding down a job but have no doctor or treatment plan. It also isn’t affecting their job, it is just making them not want to go to a function. That might mean missing out on potential opportunities but it doesn’t negatively affect their job at all.

        Maybe I have it wrong, maybe you do have experience with GAD, but for me this advice wouldn’t be very helpful and misses a lot of considerations.

        1. Camellia*

          I was thinking along those same lines. As I was reading their comment I thought of when I tell people I can’t eat ANYTHING spicy, including ordinary black pepper, and they say, “Oh, you should try this, it’s really mild!” Seriously?!?

        2. Bostonian*

          In all my anecdotal experiences with anxiety, different people have different levels of comfort with different situations. For example, Bob with GAD might be REALLY anxious about driving and eating alone, but isn’t quite as uncomfortable in a classroom setting (still uncomfortable…but not as much), whereas Gilda with GAD might get REALLY anxious in the classroom because she’s most concerned about being called on when she doesn’t know the answer and now everyone’s looking at and judging her.

          That was all a long-winded way of saying, I don’t think Screenwriter’s comment was off base at all. I think if OP wasn’t familiar with what is entailed with an awards dinner, this information would be helpful for OP to process and decide if this is less or more anxiety-producing than he or she originally thought.

        3. Kelsi*

          I felt that way too. Reading Screenwriter’s description of what it entailed made me feel panicky even though it’s not my event! A large cocktail party might actually be better for me because it left spaces for me to go hide and calm down, vs. a dinner where you’re trapped with strangers for the entire time (as you mentioned, no way to sneak out quietly).

          Feels like Screenwriter is trying to solve the problem of “I wouldn’t know how to approach people/join a conversation,” when I get the strong vibe that the LW’s problem is actually “Forced interaction with strangers, especially for long periods of time, is extremely stressful for me.” Or, put another way, shyness is not the same as social anxiety, though some of us have both!

      4. Antilles*

        You can either chat with them, or, an awards dinner always consists of an MC, presenters, and people getting the awards, all of whom speak, plus there’s often some kind of video–in other words, there’s a constant stream of, essentially, entertainment, while you eat.
        Apparently my entire industry and my wife’s industry are both Doing It Wrong, because “constant stream of entertainment” is absolutely not how I’d describe it. At best, it’s “a couple interesting moments interspersed with a lot of meh”; at worst it’s fall-asleep-in-your chair boring. This is how our awards banquets usually go:
        >The MC is another Teapot Engineer in our industry, who’s personable and friendly, but certainly not a comedian.
        >The presenters give a couple sentence definition of the award (in case you couldn’t figure out what “Large Design Project of the Year” meant), a few vanilla platitudes about how the competition was especially tough this year and there were tons of great nominations and etc, then call out the winner.
        >The people getting the awards go up. First, they give a short minute or two discussion on the project, which varies wildly in quality – some people do a good job of quickly mentioning the basic information about the project and what makes their project special, but more commonly, it’s a bland speech about how “this was a really tough design challenge, but we really pushed through it” without actually explaining what was challenging/interesting/unique about it. Then a few thanks of people and the client, who aren’t there and you probably don’t know.
        >As for videos…they’re pretty rare. When they are used, it’s typically along the lines of “Here’s a special message from the President of Teapot Engineers International” talking up how much he appreciates us and how important our branch is.

        1. Yorick*

          I agree that an awards dinner isn’t fun entertainment. But I suspect that Screenwriter meant that in the sense that there is a “show” happening. Attendees aren’t expected to have much interaction with the people around them.

    3. pleaset*

      I feel the same – drafted the following before seeing LouiseM’s note:

      An awards dinner at the end of the summit is a dinner with at least some people who just went through the same experience as the OP. So it’s not random people – it’s people with high potential to network with.

      And building on Screenwriter’s comment – even if it’s not “enjoyable” it might be worth it for the networking. But one warning – if the GAD issue is strong, it’s harder to leave a dinner than it is to leave something that is only a reception.

    4. Nekochan*

      OP here – considering my background is in publishing and not the actual industry (insurance) I have very little knowledge of the subject as a whole and I anticipate any networking I would do at this event wouldn’t be useful in future.

      I responded to my contributor this morning and he mentioned he might extend an invite to someone else within my organisation. We have agreed to meet for a coffee next month to discuss the project he is attached to.

      Screenwriter, as Fellow GAD sufferer rightly assumed, I have had treatment for my GAD and depression, but am currently in recovery and off meds. I do manage my symptoms quite well and have attended networking events with gusto in the past when they have been relevant to me. However being trapped at a table, with people who work in a completely different role to me (in an industry I have little stake in) and then add in the anxiety of getting home late at night in London is a perfect storm of triggers.

      1. soon 2 be former fed*

        And even if it wasn’t triggering, you never have to go to an event you dread attending!

      2. Ama*

        I think you’ve come up with a fine solution here, but as someone who runs events like this, I can tell you that most of the time when we invite someone to a summit/lectures + social meal/networking type event, it’s really the summit we want people to attend, the meal/social part of it is supposed to be a fun bonus for the attendees — I suspect your contact invited you to the dinner because he felt it would be rude not to include the full event in the invitation.

        I would not have a problem at all with someone I invited saying they were going to need to head out right after the summit (in fact it is great to know that up front because if several people are doing that we can reduce our catering order).

      3. Formerly Arlington*

        I just have to say as someone who is wildly extroverted–the evening you’ve described sounds like torture. I love work events where you can get dressed up and meet new people and celebrate, but sitting among strangers who aren’t even in the same field as you? Ugh, don’t blame you for passing that one up!

      4. GlitsyGus*

        I think this was a good way to handle it.

        When I heard the scenario I thought it was very possible he invited you to the dinner simply as a way of offering a free dinner and a few drinks as a thanks for coming to the lectures. There would be the possibility of there being people there it might be useful for you to meet, but I can’t imagine him being upset if you couldn’t make it.

  5. Etak*

    Op #1, I totally get where you’re coming from. Something about a human skeleton in a non-medical or teaching environment feels a little….disrespectful? Icky? Squeamish? I couldn’t tell you exactly where these feelings come from or really explain them any further, and just for he record, I don’t have any issues with the sight of blood or injuries or loose teeth etc, so it’s not a general unease with things like this. But I think I’m this case, I would leave it alone and chalk it up to “not my choice of decoration but whatever” in your mind.

    1. You don't know me*

      Disrespectful and icky are the same words I’d use. Its a human skeleton, not a plastic fabricated one, and I find that wrong. But I do also realize I probably would not be able to ask him not to display it.

    2. Lily*

      yeah, I’m in the medical field, and doing funny stuff with a real skeleton would get you the combined disapproval of the anatomy professors, several other disciplines and the ethics committee, and rightly so. The deal with using human remains as studying/teaching material is that you need to be extra respectful and not make fun with it.

  6. Elle*

    #2 – As always with AAM’s recommendations regarding politely declining work events, I love this advice! Something I have realized – fairly recently – is that people generally fall into one of two camps; they either frequently give vague (or made up) excuses for not attending things and feel totally fine about it, or constantly go to events that they don’t really want to attend and feel awful on the few occasions where a conflict arises. But it is okay to not want to go to non-mandatory work-related events! Having plans with yourself, or friends, or a partner, or nobody at all is totally a fair reason to skip out on an event like that. “You are allowed to decline things you don’t want to do” – YESS. Take ownership over your own schedule and ability to not do things that you don’t want to do, and enjoy it!

  7. nnn*

    For #4, I absolutely agree with Alison that “I took time off to care for my father at the end of his life” is all the explanation you need. However, if you should ever find yourself in a position where you need an explanation for not jumping right back into the workforce, you could add “…and then I had to handle his estate, sell his house, all that stuff before I could return to [place where you live]”. This makes it clear that there was an unspecified amount of work to be done even after his death, and that geography meant you couldn’t be in the same place as your job for a period of time.

    My condolences on your losses.

    1. CynicallySweet7*

      Who would ask about that? (general curiosity). I mean their dad just died,and they were caring for him. I would assume most ppl would need reset time after that

        1. a1*

          And a lot of people are fortunate and haven’t had to deal with all this themselves so have no idea what all needs to be done and how much time and effort and labor are involved.

    2. soon 2 be former fed*

      Yes, just reference settling the estate, and other post-death matters. My condolences also.

    3. Ali G*

      I’m currently job searching after about a 4-month gap of nothing (I left a job with severance and decided to take advantage of it). I like to say that “I was fortunate enough to be able to take some time to decide what I really wanted out of my next career move and so I took some time to myself to figure it out.”
      OP could use a version of that – “After everything involved with my father’s illness and all that goes along with that, I was lucky enough to be able to take some time to myself to reset and get myself fully ready to re-enter the workforce.” This is also a really good segue into why you want the position you are applying for. I shows you are being thoughtful about where you applied and aren’t just looking for first available position.
      OP#2 I am sorry for all your losses! Let this be the least of your job-search worries right now.

    4. starsaphire*

      OP #4, I’m in a similar situation, and I don’t even go into that much detail. I reference “a family emergency.”

      When the gap comes up in an interview, as it generally does (mine was much longer than yours) I say “I was dealing with my parents’ estate,” and every single one of them has simply said, “Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss,” and I say, “Thank you, it was pretty stressful,” and then we move on.

      It’s totally fine to be vague about this; anyone who doesn’t understand or at least make sympathetic murmurs is probably not someone you want to work with/for anyway.

    5. Specialk9*

      As a hiring manager, I wouldn’t think twice about you needing time off to care for a dying relative.

      And I’m so sorry for what sounds like such a rough and painful time.

      1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

        Indeed. In fact, my only second thought would be about your previous employer, and why they wouldn’t give you leave to do that!

  8. bunniferous*

    We passed around a real human skull in sculpture class when I was in art school. The whole skeleton was hanging around in the classroom as well. These are not uncommon objects. It may be a bit unusual to have this one about, but I would not bring it up (and the truth is some of these are really realistic looking plastic-although ours was not-so maybe you can convince yourself this one is a fake if it will make you feel better.)

    1. nutella fitzgerald*

      The whole skeleton as in the skull-less body of the skull being passed around?

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        I think they meant that the skeleton was displayed in the classroom for figure reference while the skull itself was passed around?

  9. phira*

    OP 1: I’m also in a non-anatomy field of biology but wouldn’t be even a little fazed by someone having a skeleton in their office. It’s really common, at least in my experience in multiple academic locations, for there to be “out of field” items in people’s offices, or in classrooms. “Our field is unrelated to human anatomy” doesn’t strike me as an actual reason for your boss to get rid of the skeleton, and more like a fact that you hope would help justify your feelings about it.

    If you’re creeped out by it, you’re creeped out by it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking him to at least keep it in one place/position so you aren’t taken by surprise when you walk into his office. But I don’t think it’s worth trying to come up with justifications for why he should remove it.

    1. E.*

      But there are so many valid justifications for removing it – ethical, hygienic, potentially legal, not to mention generally being professional.

      1. Scarlet*

        Depends if OP is in a position to walk up to their boss and calling them “unprofessional”, etc.

          1. Artemesia*

            What is unhygienic about a real skeleton especially one that is probably 100 years old or more?

            1. Scarlet*

              Yeah, those bones have been cleaned a while ago… The discomfort is purely moral/psychological. I can understand that, but let’s not pretend it is festering with disease or something.

      2. Mike C.*

        Hygienic? The other reasons have had their cases made, but not this one. Bones are just mineral deposits.

        1. Specialk9*

          I mean, I wouldn’t want to breathe in bone dust (not after watching that episode of Bones), but just hanging out with a long-ago-cleaned skeleton wouldn’t bug me, from a hygiene standpoint.

    2. Skeleton OP*

      My concerns are more that I find it a bit ethically uncomfortable because of what we know about how many displayed human remains are obtained. I mentioned the bit about our field not being related to human anatomy to indicate that he is not displaying it for a relevant educational purpose. I suppose that might make me seem like a political weenie to some people, but it is a relevant debate in academia.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        I have a background in bioarch and I would feel exactly the same as you do.

  10. Melissa*

    Uh, if I am interpreting that first letter correctly then that skeleton used to be the skeleton of a real living person. A replica skeleton is one thing, actual human remains is another!

    1. Persephoneunderground*

      This- I was confused Alison referenced this being common in classrooms. Typical classroom skeletons aren’t real, they’re plastic!

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Totally agreed. I found that a bit odd, too. Real human-bone skeletons are fairly rare for k-12 classrooms, and nearly all classroom skeletons, today, are plastic replicas.

        1. E.*

          Yes, was thinking the same. This isn’t my field, but I cannot fathom that real skeletons would be the norm in school classrooms.

        1. Froggy*

          Me: “Interesting office decor you have here. “

          OP1’s Manager: “Oh yes, I’m quite proud of it. It’s a family heirloom. “

          Me: “Who??!!!???

      2. CynicallySweet7*

        Depends on the classroom. Real Skeltons were pretty common in my college classrooms, but I studied a lot of anatomy

        1. E.*

          Right, I would expect that in a college-level anatomy or related class – not in an elementary school classroom!

          1. CynicallySweet7*

            Yeah I don’t remember real ones before college (though that was awhile ago). And I’d like to say we were 100% respectful, but…I mean, we played with them too. Like not exactly the same way as this guy, but I remember needing a break during a lab and making a ‘dead’ poets society…that may have been stress related tho

      3. Coffee or Tea*

        Eh, my high school biology class had real and plastic skeletons. My understanding how was that we were not the only HS in the area to have one either. I haven’t been out of high school that long either.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I think it depends, we had a real one in elementary school , but I will also say we had super enthusiastic science teacher to go along with it. We also had jars and jars of floaty dead things and a whole giant cabinet filled with fossils.

          I’m pretty sure we had a real one in HS too.

    2. Cat owner*

      I know! I’d be creeped out too! How are other commenters saying it is common? IT IS A REAL SKELETON.

    3. AliceBD*

      Eh. We had a real human skeleton come to show and tell in elementary school, because one child’s parent was an orthopedic doctor and had it hanging around the house/practice. I think they’re fairly common.

    4. LPUK*

      Yes I agree. For real skeletons, each one was a person who made the kind and generous donation ( unless we are talking a Burke and Hare situation) to medical science, in the hope that their body, organs and skeleton might further medical knowledge and hopefully prevent or mitigate future death or illness for other people. It seems a little disrespectful for that gesture to result in an ongoing gag situation in an office where the skeleton is not even in tangential use as a medical tool. There are plastic skeletons you could use for that!

      1. Politically incorrect*

        I would like to remind Dahlia and her ilk to read what the LW actually wrote.

        The LW does not say anything about the skeleton being used as a joke or gag. Therefore speculation as to whether such treatment is appropriate is irrelevant to the situation at hand.

        Similarly, we do not have any information as to whether the skeleton was obtained illicitly, what the ancestry of the decedent was, and so on. All we know is that LW described it as a “family medical curiosity.” I will agree that those words are not 100% clear, but the best interpretation is that the skeleton belonged to one of LW’s own ancestors who had some medical affliction.

        I thought we were supposed to take writers at the word here.

        With this in mind, the skeleton is legal, the professor is in the medical field, it’s his property, and it’s his private office. LW needs to back off and be prepared for repercussions if she chooses this hill to die on.

        1. Skeleton OP*

          No, OP here. He is definitely treating it lightheartedly. That’s why I said he was posing it in humorous ways.

        2. Skeleton OP*

          The skeleton is his property, from what I know it’s an antique that belonged to his grandfather, we are not in the medical field, we study a very different field of biology. And I’m not trying to make this a big fight, just square it with my own professional ethics.

          1. Lisa Michelle Danish*

            yeah, this is not ok, and I say that as a PhD in Biological Anthropology. I recommend you anonymously inform someone higher up in your organization. That should at least get the skeleton removed from the office. Mention uncertainty about it’s origins and concern over things like NAGPRA, and you might get a bigger response too.

            1. Flummoxulent*

              Mention uncertainty about it’s origins and concern over things like NAGPRA, and you might get a bigger response too.

              This suggestion is heinous. NAGPRA is a law meant to protect and make amends to Native groups that have been actively harmed by pillaging of their cultural artifacts and remains. It is not a magic password to wield any time you want a “bigger response” to an office complaint.

              1. Specialk9*

                So you’re certain that this skeleton *isn’t* native? It’s a valid point. Me, I’m betting it’s an Indian kid or a graverobbed Indian adult, but that’s just statistics. Why wouldn’t someone mention the concern?

                1. Flummoxulent*

                  Of course there is some chance the skeleton is native, but as you noted, it’s a very minor chance. Additionally, and more importantly, as has been mentioned, NAGPRA applies to institutions, not private individuals. This skeleton is the personal, inherited property of the boss.

                  Lisa Michelle Danish didn’t suggest invoking NAGPRA because there’s any legitimate reason or any evidence at all to believe the director was in violation of it, she suggested it because it would “get a bigger response.” Raising the spectre of a serious legal problem just to get a bigger response is absolutely not within professional norms.

        3. E.*

          If “pose the skeleton in humorous ways” isn’t a joke or gag, I don’t know what is… And nobody is not taking LW at her word around the skeleton’s origins – the original letter is what suggested there was something dubious.

        4. nom de plume*

          “read what the LW actually wrote.”
          You do, too – you’ve really mischaracterised the key information here.

        5. Mad Baggins*

          You’ve been very aggressive and uncharitable throughout this thread. It’s perfectly find to interpret the LW differently and have different opinions than other commenters, but rude attacks like “Dahlia and her ilk” are against the commenting rules. Please be kinder to other commenters.

    5. Bea*

      We had a real skeleton in elementary but I also recall teachers drilling it into our heads that it’s not a toy and to always be respectful.

      I’m not scared or grossed out by skeletons but the lack of respect sets my rage button off.

      Then again I’m angry when people are loud in cemeteries. So, I’m hyper sensitive to respecting the dead.

      Especially since we know many skeletons are stolen. I always assume that even if we play the “oh no no they’re collected ethically” card, be respectful of the learning tool.

    6. KBC*

      I generally do not have any issues with properly acquired skeletal remains especially if they were legally donated for medical or academic studies because it’s remains like that which I used to get my Masters in Biological Anthropology!
      But, as a Museum Curator, I have some concerns about what the cultural affiliation of this skeleton might be. Many museums have Native American human remains given to them by donors back in the day. My museum specifically has some given to us in the 1950’s by a medical professional.

  11. professor*

    I’m a biological anthropologist, and we use human skeletons in our classes, and I think the boss is letter #1 is behaving unethically and inappropriately. Human remains must be donated through proper channels, for educational use, and are not toys to posed for fun (I would not pose mock skeletons in this manner even). One of the things we tell our students is that we must treat such specimens with respect, as they were once a living person, who has donated their body for their education. This is disgusting, reprehensible behavior in any context, even more so a government office. In all likelihood, this skeleton was obtained without consent and is likely from a member of a marginalized group. If it is Native American, it falls under NAGPRA and needs to be repatriated for example. Forget talking to your boss, report this to a higher up. This skeleton needs to be not only not in the office, but removed from this person’s possession and taken care of properly. I am at a loss for words with how disgusting and wrong this is.

    1. Persephoneunderground*

      Thank you actual industry person! It’s hard to know where the line is when you know there are legitimate uses but not how those are properly defined, so I was flailing a bit in the general direction of your comment. OP, please listen to the people who have direct knowledge of the professional standards here like professor.

      1. Pleather*

        Probably worth noting here, OP said they work in the biological sciences, not the social sciences. The “industry standard” for an anthropologist won’t be the same as for every other discipline.

        1. nom de plume*

          Biological anthropology is a science, not a social science, and ethical guidelines would not change across disciplines when the object is the same. See: IRB and similar protocols.

    2. Emma*

      As forensic anthropologist (there’s more of us) I think the key factor here is how/where the skeleton came from in the first place. We know that the grandfather had it in some sort but the op and us, by association don’t know how it was there.

      If-it’s lawful, legal, and otherwise all there in paper-which we don’t know-than that is simple personality squick.

      The ethics apply of course, but ethics are not rules and as we don’t know the research or the institution we can’t say that he’s not acting within the manner of the institution. Besides that as an assistant-the OP has a limited ability to push back if this is all on board.

      1. professor*

        I just highly doubt it was obtained in a way that passes muster today given the time frame. Even it is legal after all, it so flies in the face of convention to do this. I’ll bet if this assistant reports it to a higher up of the agency, it will get looked into at least.

        1. Scarlet*

          “I’ll bet if this assistant reports it to a higher up of the agency, it will get looked into at least.”

          And I’m sure that will have no impact whatsoever on their relationship with their boss…

          1. CynicallySweet7*

            Right? If they’re uncomfertable enough to report it then they should just say something to him. From the letter he doesn’t seem unreasonable, n I know of someone came around to investigate something like this my 1st question would be “Y did they never tell me this bothered me so much?”

          2. Lisa Michelle Danish*

            it’s government office, I’m sure there is a way to do it anonymously which is how I would proceed

        2. Genny*

          I can’t imagine this being a high-priority investigation. Someone might get around to it sometime, but unless there’s a problem that’s harming the org itself or a whistle-blowing situation, I doubt anyone will look into it immediately or do an in-depth investigation beyond asking the boss a couple questions.

    3. Tau*

      Thanks for bringing in the expert knowledge here! I was also thinking “um, plastic skeleton is one thing, real human skeleton is something entirely different” but didn’t have the knowledge to back it up.

    4. FormerAnthroMajor*

      This letter made me think of my college physical anthropology class. Your statement is the same thing our professor said before we were allowed to handle human bones in class.

      1. sigh*

        Right? We got the respect talk before even handling plastic bones and animal skeletons. I can’t imagine this behavior going over well in any actual settings where skeletons have use.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      You said this so much better than I did. The director’s behavior is so inappropriate and reprehensible that even if the remains were lawfully donated (super dubious if this is a family “heirloom”), it likely was not donated to become his office decor/joke. I audibly gasped when I read the letter. I don’t think OP is wrong, here, to be discomfited and concerned.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        If the skeleton belonged to boss’s grandfather, then it may well come from a period which pre-dates plastic. In the 19th century I seem to remember that it was common for criminals who had been sentenced to death to have their bodies used for dissection. (There is a John Landis film about Burke and Hare, the body snatchers in Edinburgh, which ends with a shot of one of their skeletons in a glass case in a museum)

        I would find it creepy as well.

        1. Loose Seal*

          Google tells me that the method to cast human bones into a mold for reproduction in plastic was developed in 1952. So, depending on relative ages of all involved, Granddad could have had one of the earliest plastic models, which might legitimately be seen as a collectors’ item today.

          Before that time period, though, articulated reproduction skeletons were carved out of wood or molded from rubber. So even if the skeleton is older than the plastics window, it still might not be human remains. (But my guess is that it probably is.)

      2. Pollygrammer*

        While I do agree that at the least he’s showing some insensitivity, I think “reprehensible” is way too strong a word here. I mean, he didn’t kill the guy or dig up the skeleton. He inherited it.

        I’m curious–what wouldn’t be reprehensible? Giving it a proper burial?

    6. Thlayli*

      I did a little googling and apparently the source was usually India – there was an entirely legal trade in human remains in India until the 1980s. Apparently at its peak Calcutta alone was exporting 60,000 skeletons a year.

      There are a huge number of poor people in India so there’s no shortage of dead bodies of people who’ve left no money to pay for a funeral. In Calcutta there are so many homeless people that there are literally third and fourth generation homeless people. Most other Indian cities have huge homeless populations too. It’s pretty common for people to just die in the street and be left lying around.

      It’s illegal now but there are plenty of human skeletons still in America.

      1. Janice in Accounting*

        I’m an Indian person, and while the thing about generations of homeless people is (very sadly) true, dead people being left just lying in the street is NOT “pretty common” in Kolkata, or any other major city.

      2. Katniss*

        Given that you’ve been corrected twice now by actually Indian people do you think you could stop repeating/retract the lie that dead bodies are just laying around in their streets?

        1. Thlayli*

          Ah, I see the issue now. This is w misunderstanding. I didn’t mean that were loads of dead bodies left “lying around” for weeks or months. I meant there are many homeless people dying in the street – many of them every day – and there is a subset of them (probably a large subset) that have no friends or family to look after the body, so they are literally left lying there until a stranger calls the authorities to come pick up a dead body. Which is probably within a day or two, not weeks or months.

          What I was getting at is that there are loads of dead bodies there for long enough that a person who wanted to harvest and sell human remains would have no problem finding them.

          I meant it like “there’s an easily accessible source of dead bodies for people who want to sell them”, not “the government of India let’s corpses rot in the street”.

          Sorry for the misunderstanding. I stand by my statement that if you were in the market for a dead body, it’s pretty common to find them in India. You’d probably have to get in quick before the official body cleanup people get there though.

          1. Thlayli*

            Although as I posted upthread the government must be pretty quick about gathering the bodies nowadays because apparently now the source of dead bodies in the (illegal but still happening) Indian bone trade is grave robbing.

            So I guess I was wrong about the bodies being left there long enough to be easily gathered by bone factory owners. Still, with many homeless people dying on the streets every day, along with bone factory owners still robbing graves, id be very surprised if they NEVER manage to get their hands on a the body of a dead homeless person.

            (Links upthread to sample articles about the number of homeless people dying in the streets in India and India’s ongoing bone trade many years after it was outlawed. Plenty more articles like this online).

        2. LCL*

          Given that the user’s name is Thlayli, do you think you could stop lecturing her about how to speak about India?

          1. Thlayli*

            Thanks for your support, but I’m not Indian. Thlayli is actually the name of a fictional rabbit from an English book. One of my best friends is of 100% Indian origin though, and I’ve spent time in Mumbai with her family.

            This whole thing was a big misunderstanding as far as I can see – I just meant the many dead homeless people were an easy source of dead bodies when the trade was legal. I wasn’t trying to imply anything awful about how Indian people in general treat dead bodies nowadays.

      3. LilyP*

        Also, just because the trade was legal does not mean it was ethical then or that we can’t object to its results now. Dying while homeless and foreign != donating your body to science

        1. Femme D'Afrique*

          ALSO it doesn’t actually appear to be illegal to trade in human bones in the United States. You can buy bones on Amazon (link in my name). This fixation on “the huge number of poor people in India” is really weird too.

        2. Thlayli*

          Just to be clear, I don’t think legal = ethical. I think the whole thing is awful and was just as awful when it was legal, perhaps even more so.

          I honk trafficking in human body parts that are given without the consent of the person who died is pretty sick. Anyone who has seen the planned parenthood videos and heard them say they crush different parts of the foetuses body to kill it, depending on the type of organs they are asked for, and regardless of whether that creates more or less pain for the foetus during its death, is well aware of the difference between what is legal and what is ethical.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t mean to be rude, but it is NOT common for bodies to be left in the streets in any city/village in India. It’s true that there is abject poverty, but I think it’s important to groundtruth Google research.

      5. Yorick*

        I interpreted “lying around” as staying unclaimed in the morgue or something, not that Thlayli thinks dead bodies are all over the streets

        1. Thlayli*

          I meant lying on the streets for a short period of time, like a few hours until they are reported, not that they are left there until they rot. But I’m sorry if I offended anyone.

          I actually loved India when I visited my Indian friends family and it certainly wasn’t my intention to make it sound as if all Indian people just walk past dead bodies every day and ignore them! That is definitely not the case!

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Thank you for clarifying, Thlayli! It definitely read as if there were bodies being abandoned for days in the streets, and I appreciate you coming back to clarify.

            1. Thlayli*

              Thanks PCBH. It literally never occurred to me that “lying around” could be interpreted as “lying around for weeks or months”. That’s so bizarre a concept that it didn’t even enter my head!

    7. Flummoxulent*

      There’s a lot of weird assumptions in this thread and other comments. OP said only that it was a family curiosity, passed down from the grandfather. I’ll grant: medical ethics basically didn’t exist when this skeleton was obtained. But rampant assumptions about the identity and potential for horror behind the obtaining of the skeleton are so weird and unnecessary to me. Even if some kind of investigation were instigated, I doubt the director knows the identity of the person whose bones they were, so I’m not sure what it would hope to accomplish. I can understand why there’s reason to believe the skeleton was obtained unethically, but I just don’t see that there’s an ongoing harm worth getting het up about, or any reason to “remove it from the director’s possession” and “take care of it properly.” Who decides what’s proper in this case? Who is going to take care of it?

      Discussion of NAGPRA is totally excessive and out of left field. NAGPRA is largely about returning known, identified property and artifacts (including human remains) – usually held by museums and institutions – to their proper cultures. It’s not about hunting down every single skeleton and trying to figure out its origins in case they happen to be indigenous, and then trying to figure out which tribe to give the unidentified skeleton back to. Are they going to 23 & Me the skeleton and then shop it around to see if any tribes want it based on the results? If the director were making some bonkers racist claims about having an indigenous skeleton I could understand the pearl-clutching, but as it is, it just feels like bringing it up is grasping for the most shocking possible scenario.

      I’m struggling here. I understand that cultural sensitivities exist, and if this were a clearer case I’d be in agreement. But also i’m thinking – well, if I was 100 years dead and someone wanted to position my skeleton in a funny way to greet their visitors, what the hell do I care? I know not everyone feels the way I do about what to do with my bones when I’m done with them, but it’s just hard to get upset about.

      1. Loose Seal*

        I feel the same way you do about it. If I’m dead, what do I care? But I get that I’m probably in a tiny minority about that so I can see why people are upset.

        I’m not sure who professor thinks would forcibly remove the skeleton from the office. The higher-ups would just tell the boss to take it home, I’m sure. If the boss knew who the skeleton was and was broadcasting that info, I guess descendants could possibly go to court to try to get it. But surely, we don’t have a skeleton removal agency that tracks these things down and returns them to their families or ancestral grounds (but I’d watch the hell out of a TV show about that!).

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          There are a lot of cultures and religions that have very strict observances surrounding the treatment of remains. You may not care, but a lot of people do and they should be respected.

          1. Politically incorrect*

            Once again, it’s in a PRIVATE OFFICE. Not a public place. The professor is under no obligation to accommodate any and all cultural differences in his office. Remember the letter last week from the woman with two office mates fasting for Ramadan?

              1. Genny*

                You’re allowed to have decorations in your government office. You’re allowed to have decorations in your government office that others might find offensive based on their religion. For instance, I can hang a crucifix in my cube even if other Christians think it violates the second commandment. I’m allowed to have a Buddha statue even if a Muslim coworker believes it to be an idol.

                1. Observer*

                  Actually, in a lot of Government offices that would be a problem if you are in an open office type place or you were in a position to have people coming into your office on a regular basis.

                2. Genny*

                  What does your “that” refer to? The skeleton or the religious artifacts? The skeleton might not be allowed in an open office plan, but the boss is keeping it in his office, and OP gives no indication that the public is frequently coming into his office. I think it’s at best 50/50 whether the powers that be would care enough about his reports, especially if he only has a few, being exposed to the skeleton.

                3. Specialk9*

                  But it’s making at least one person uncomfortable. But I guarantee OP isn’t the only one.

                4. Observer*

                  @Genny Both.

                  Lots of government offices have explicit regulations about stuff like religious articles in offices.

                5. Pleather*


                  Lots of government offices have explicit regulations about stuff like religious articles in offices.

                  I sure hope you’re talking about offices run by governments that don’t have a Free Exercise clause, because in the US prohibiting someone from keeping a religious article with them at work sure wouldn’t fly.

                  (All of this is irrelevant to the skellington discussion, though. As it’s clearly not a religious article.)

            1. ZTwo*

              The letter last week where someone was asking what’s the best way to culturally accommodate people fasting? I am….not sure how this makes the point that no one is under any obligation to accommodate cultural difference? The fact that the accommodation in the case of Ramadan is “keep on doing what you’re doing!” doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable question to ask or thing to try and do.

            2. Lisa Michelle Danish*

              it’s a government office and as such I’m assuming must follow government rules about things like how bodies are obtained and when they get repatriated. Look up the history behind NAGPRA for example. Also, this is a bit deeper than accommodating someone else’s beliefs, this is the body of a person. That person’s beliefs are primary here, not the skeleton displayer.

              checking on the origins is simple; someone with authority asks the boss, he produces any papers left to him. They decide from there. If he has no paperwork, well, he has no legal claim does he? And so we must err on the side of burying this body. Ideally, he has some information about origins, even unwritten, and this body can be given back to his people.

              1. Pleather*

                If he has no paperwork, well, he has no legal claim does he? And so we must err on the side of burying this body.

                Someone check the temperature in hell because I’m about to defend private property rights. But no, that’s not how any of this works.

            3. Observer*

              Not really a “private office.” He has people coming in there on a regular basis. That matters.

              How would you respond if he had a racist item hanging on the wall, because it’s a family curiosity? Or perhaps an image from Robert Maplethorpes more controversial pictures? (Google him if you don’t know about his work.)

              What he does in his home is his business, but what he hangs in his office where people come in is a different matter.

            4. BethRA*

              You keep saying that as if this is somehow private property, and not a space actually owned by his employer, in which he conducts his employer’s business, and in which he meets with colleagues, subordinates, clients and the like.

              So yes, within reason he absolutely is obligated to consider the impact his decor has on the people that have to meet with him in that space.

            5. Â*

              Well, no.

              It is not a PRIVATE office, as you say. It is a semi-public workspace owned by his employer. People other than the office’s occupant will be required to enter the office in order to conduct the business of the organization. For instance, the boss can call his direct reports – including the OP – into his office for a project meeting, a performance review, or any other purpose. There will be, in the ordinary course of business, a requirement that others visit this person’s office.

              Your comment implies that this manager’s right to humorously pose dead human remains trumps other employees right to work in an environment that does not create unnecessary ethical, religious, or cultural offense. That’s just ridiculous. Those things aren’t even on the same scale.

              The professor (sic) is under no obligation to accommodate any and all cultural differences in his office.

              Actually, organizations do have a legal responsibility to accommodate certain kinds of religious commitments. While that is not the OPs stated concern and it might not apply to this case, your comment betrays a basic misunderstanding about workplace norms and legalities.

              In actual fact, a manager DOES have a responsibility to accommodate certain kinds of cultural differences. Plus, it’s just a practical – not to mention considerate – thing to do. You’re going to get much better work out of people if you’re not causing ethical offense every time someone walks into your not-actually-private office.

      2. Scarlet*

        100% agree. If people want to play with my remains after I’m dead, they’re quite welcome.

        I’d find the skeleton pretty cool personally, but I guess I can understand how some people would find it creepy. However, this is the boss’s office and I think OP needs to think carefully about whether this is the hill they want to die on. Maybe they could try and ask around if other coworkers are also made uncomfortable?

      3. Myrin*

        I think that’s where I stand. I completely understand the point around disrespect, logically, but I can’t quite bring myself into that same mindset. I suspect commenters’ own religious and cultural beliefs and traditions might play strongly into how they perceive this, though – neither my culture nor my confession have particular strong beliefs tied to the bodily remains of a dead person whereas in others, they might be seen as unspeakable or sacred respectively, which is bound to produce a stronger reaction.

        (FWIW, without reading the comments, I never would’ve thought that this skeleton was procured through some kind of unsavoury channels. That might just be my medical history-related naïvité speaking, but I immediately assumed that it was eccentric great-aunt Velma who donated her soon-to-be-dead self to her nephew, or some other kind of relative or ancestor. But that could again be more of a cultural issue and have more to do with what we’re facing in our daily lives.)

        1. AnonforThis*

          I wonder because I have a bit of an art background too and many museums have reliquaries and even other artwork with human bones that you would not realize. Human bones or teeth as decoration is a very old concept.

          1. Nea*

            There are churches in Rome and I think Prague that are decorated entirely with human bone.

            1. Scarlet*

              It’s not in Prague but in a small Czech town called Kutna Hora. It’s great :-)

            2. pleaset*

              It’s worth looking at Mark Twain’s Innocent Abroad for view on the churches, including churches with bones, in Italy.

            3. Chinook*

              Those are usually in Catholic holy sites and the whole space is treated with reverence. In the Catholic tradition, you can still display a body as long as you are still showing it respect (i.e. not treating it differently from when the person was ill and/or not damaging it. So having them lieing in repose is good but hanging from a noose with a party hat is bad). That is also why the body parts are often covered in jewels, cloth, gold and/or placed in a specific manner (instead of just thrown in a pit).

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            There’s a church in Pittsburgh with a number of reliquaries on display. They are displayed respectfully, not like a scene from Weekend at Bernies.

            1. Heynonniemouse*

              I visited a museum in Florence where they have a couple of Galileo Galilei’s fingers and a tooth that were taken from his body when it was moved and reburied. They’re displayed in what are clearly reliquaries, just without the official Catholic Church stamp of approval for keeping body parts around. I found it pretty hilarious that Galileo of all people has ended up with freelance secular relics.

          3. smoke tree*

            I think what I find really disturbing about this letter is the intersection between the troubling ethics of the inherited skeleton and the fact that the director is being so blatantly disrespectful in his treatment of it. I would assume this reflects on his feelings about scientific ethics more broadly, and I can’t imagine I’d be the only one. If he just had the skeleton standing in a corner of his office, it wouldn’t be nearly as troubling, although I think it would be more thoughtful to remove it entirely.

            1. Specialk9*

              OP said they get training on being respectful to the ANIMAL remains they work with, which was part of why him being so disrespectful to actual human remains was so jarring.

        2. that'll give you bees*

          If it was Great Aunt Velma, they’d probably still call the skeleton Great Aunt Velma. If it’s just a family heirloom or curiosity where they don’t know the name… it’s an object to them, not a person.

          I really wish we could flip this script ever at any point. Because the dominant culture has no problem (after all, it was never _their_ dead; scientists and doctors took poor people, not their own parents), it gets framed as “oh, some cultures over there find it disrespectful, we’ll humor them because we’re so nice now.” Considering the number of cultures that have issues with this, can we ever just allow those “other cultures” to be the status quo?

      4. Scarlet*

        Also, commenters clamoring for OP to involve the higher-ups seem to completely disregard the impact it would certainly have on OP’s career in this place of work. What’s the worst that would happen to the boss? They’ll take the skeleton away? And then OP will still have to work under that person after reporting them to their hierarchy.

          1. Pleather*

            Whistleblower policies are for known wrongdoing. They aren’t for “this skeleton creeps me out and maybe if we investigate it we’ll find out it was procured in an unsavory, but probably legal, way.”

            1. Scarlet*

              Exactly. Even if the skeleton’s source was unethical by today’s standards, it probably was procured in a way that was legal at the time. Also, the boss received it as an heirloom, they didn’t go out and buy it themselves. So whatever happens, OP will be stuck reporting to someone they “snitched on”. Can’t see it going too well.

            2. KHB*

              This isn’t just a matter of the OP being personally creeped out. As the professor, above, and others have said, there are standards for the ethical treatment of human remains, and the manager is violating them. I guess whether it counts as “known wrongdoing” depends on how explicitly those standards are codified and whether they necessarily apply to the OP’s office.

              I guess I’m a little put off by all the comments (not necessarily yours) of the form “ha ha, it’s just a dead person who was probably poor and brown and homeless, so what’s the big deal?” It’s the body of a person. Who almost certainly didn’t ask or consent to be used in this way. That’s a big deal.

              1. Scarlet*

                Who on earth said anything remotely close to ““ha ha, it’s just a dead person who was probably poor and brown and homeless, so what’s the big deal?”???

                1. serenity*

                  These comments are getting a little ridiculous. Whistleblower policies? Really?

                  Fair enough, a real skeleton creeps a lot of people out and may have an unsavory history of how it was obtained a century ago. How does any of this help the OP?

                2. serenity*

                  And to clarify, I think it’s fine to think the boss is being insensitive in displaying this in his office for perhaps many reasons.
                  But pushing the OP to confront him or report him into the authorities (!) as a commenter advised below is absurd.

          2. Observer*

            I’d guess, HIGHLY unlikely.

            I think the boss is not behaving appropriately, but I do agree that bringing this up could have repercussions that they might not be willing to risk.

        1. Genny*

          I have to laugh at the suggestions of an investigation. What do people think that will look like? Unless there’s some ethics board attached to this government organization, it’s going to be someone in HR asking the director a couple questions on the backstory and then at best asking him to take it home because someone complained. The OIG isn’t going to care about this. Higher level management most likely isn’t going to care about this. HR or the ombudsman aren’t going to have the right tools to do a serious investigation (if one is even possible this late after the deceased’s death), and likely won’t care all that much.

      5. CynicallySweet7*

        +100 and maybe it’s because my exp with bones is on the medical side, but yes

        1. CynicallySweet7*

          Which to be clear, if someone donated their bones to an institution for study then I would find this inappropriate, but that’s not the case here.

      6. Harper the Other One*

        The problem is that we have no idea how the person themselves would have felt about their skeleton being used, and the time frame in which the skeleton was originally acquired by the family makes it highly likely that there was no informed consent.

        It being a government office is adding an ick factor for a lot of people because allowing medical students or curiosity seekers to take skeletons and other anatomy samples from the poor, minorities, etc. was approved by the governments of the time. It’s potentially a visible reminder for many of how the government served only the citizens it wanted to (and in some cases, still only serves those it wants.)

        I’m like you – when I’m gone, take all my useful bits and put them to good purpose. And I think skeletons are fascinating and I’d be interested to see it. But it is out of place in a government office, and especially shouldn’t be posed in “funny” ways.

      7. nutella fitzgerald*

        It’s funny, I always thought I wouldn’t care what happened to my body after I died, but the visceral reaction I just had to the phrase “family curiosity” made me think I would haunt the F out of whatever family kept my bones around as a joke.

        1. Flummoxulent*

          I hear you. It wasn’t the best choice in words. For what it’s worth when I wrote it, I was thinking of something along the lines of the “eccentric great-aunt Velma” story Myrin posited upthread, rather than a touchier John Merrick kind of thing.

      8. char*

        I gotta say, I thought I would be okay with donating my body to science, but I am totally NOT okay with the idea of someone treating my skeleton like a toy/amusing joke decoration. I know, I would be dead and so technically I wouldn’t be around to care anymore, but the idea that someone might treat my remains that way makes me extremely uncomfortable.

        1. Politically incorrect*

          “I am totally NOT okay with the idea of someone treating my skeleton like a toy/amusing joke decoration.”

          Where does LW say that the professor is treating the skeleton as a toy or “amusing joke decoration.”

          1. ExcelJedi*

            Blink. Blink.

            “…and will occasionally pose the skeleton in humorous ways in his office to greet the people who come visit him.”

            How is that not treating it as a toy or joke?

    8. Femme D'Afrique*

      This is something that has confused me for some time. I was browsing the US version of Amazon and came across a human bone allegedly sold by a reputable company (link in my name). Under the “Customer questions and answers” section at the bottom, the company admits that it is difficult to prove the age and origins of the bones ( “It is very likely that all of our human ribs are from the last 20 (!) to 70 years”) but claims that it is “perfectly legal” to buy and sell human bones in the United States.

      Is this legal or not? I’m not particularly disturbed by the idea of human bones in an office, for whatever reason, but the idea of BUYING bones on Amazon doesn’t sit well with me either. I’m really confused about this one.

      1. Natalie*

        In general, it’s legal as long as you didn’t go procure the skeleton yourself. There are some exceptions, namely specific states, and all Native American remains, which are regulated under NAGPRA. I’ll post an article in a reply.

        1. Femme D'Afrique*

          Ah yes, I did notice that it’s illegal to buy and sell (and own?) human remains in Texas. However, the whole tenor of this conversation has several contradictory statements that are muddying the waters for me. “Professor” said, “Human remains must be donated through proper channels, for educational use, and are not toys to posed for fun” but then how come they can be sold through AMAZON, of all places? And lots of people are claiming that it’s “more than likely” that human bones would be procured through shady means… but then why would their sale be legal? I’m dying to read the article. I’ll check in later, and thanks!

          1. Natalie*

            I don’t think that commenter is talking about ethical standards within their field or institution, not legal requirements.

            1. Lisa Michelle Danish*

              sadly yes, you can buy stuff on amazon. You shouldn’t ethically, but people do. You can’t use that stuff for educational purposes though, and something tells me a government office like OP’s would object to something like that being displayed. Actually, I would expect a government office to veto this display on pure optics, even if it’s procurement was 100% ethical etc. The optics are so bad, especially with the history of skeletons. This skeleton has no relationship to the office or it’s purpose, so they would likely say a big NOPE.

          2. Specialk9*

            Read the Nat Geo article posted just above. It says that eBay said flatly that it now refuses to allow sale of human remains because it’s illegal, but that’s not actually true. Then the article goes into what those laws actually do say. It’s disturbing.

      2. Moonlight Elantra*

        Just the idea of buying human bones on Amazon tickles me for some reason. Seems more like an Etsy thing to me.

    9. mskyle*

      Yeah, posing a real human skeleton in “funny” ways would have 100% unacceptable at any of the places I’ve worked that had real human skeletons! (Two schools of health sciences and one science museum.) Like, possibly a firing/expulsion offense, certainly a cause for disciplinary action. It’s disrespectful to human remains (which, as other posters note, were probably obtained without the consent of person whose remains they are or their family).

      I don’t know what if anything the OP should do about it but she’s not wrong to be upset or offended by it – this is very much outside 21st century norms.

      Yes, lots of people did this kind of stuff when they were in medical school, but that doesn’t make it OK. Also, yes, I’d love to be an articulated skeleton after I’m dead, and I wouldn’t mind if people put me in goofy poses. But unless you know that was the living person’s preference it’s really not OK.

    10. soon 2 be former fed*

      I totally respect your comment. It is unlikely that the origins of an antique can be identified though. Or that something that has been in his family for decades can be forcibly taken, it is his property no matter how distasteful it seems to you.

      It’s interesting to me, that if asked prior to death, if you would be opposed or not to having your skeleton posed, there would probably be a range of responses. I totally agree that remains should be respected, but what that means will vary. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since my mother recently passed, and I had her cremated as her body had become a source of torment. Some folks don’t agree with that, I think it’s beautiful as her beautiful urn in my living room is a place of honor. Now I wish I had donated her brain to Alzeheimers research, she was a science fiction fan and would not have objected to furthering the cause of science.

      What about medical students and medical examiners who eat lunch and other thinhs around the bodies. Is that disrespectful?

      Lots of emotions surrounding this subject.

      1. HannahS*

        Uh, we 100% never eat lunch around the bodies. No food allowed in the anatomy lab. If you’re not using a specimen for education right this second, you put it back in its case or on its shelf. No phones to take pictures in the anatomy lab, and if you get caught doing something silly with a cadaver or specimen you get a permanent citation of un-professionalism on your record. All of those things are disrespectful, so we’re not allowed to do them. I’m not saying the anatomy lab is a dire, serious place; to most of us, it’s just another classroom and we talk about what we’re doing on the weekend or oof that test was hard or man, I can’t really see much on this specimen, but joking about the bodies themselves is really Not Done.

      2. ket*

        Definitely many emotions. My (living) grandfather has arranged to donate his body to the local university. He checked with the kids & grandkids first to see if we had any concerns. I think it’s great. Our local university has a ceremony every year to honor the people who donated their bodies; I have not attended, but I’ve heard it’s very moving, and that a couple medical students speak every year. I’m sure I’ll attend when my grandfather is in that bunch.

        I am really glad that he gets to choose where & how his body will go when he passes on.

      3. Who Knew*

        “What about medical students and medical examiners who eat lunch and other thinhs around the bodies. Is that disrespectful?”

        This is not a thing. TV might make it seem normal, but no.

    11. LizM*

      This. I work for the federal government in a NAGPRA adjacent field, and having a skeleton of unknown origin from the era OP is describing would make me incredibly uncomfortable, especially given that this is a federal facility.

      1. LizM*

        I’ll add, it’s not just because the remains could be Native American that would make me uncomfortable, but because learning about NAGPRA has taught me about the dubious practices used to obtain bodies for research before “informed consent” became an important part of medical ethics. The fact this is a government facility (if I’m reading the letter right) to me, means that the ethics are especially important.

    12. MJ*

      Hard second.

      At one point I wrote the human remains storage policy for my university. The overarching ethos is that human remains are not objects, and are never to be treated as such. We cannot know what the individual wished — we don’t even know their *name*. (You’ll notice that human remains are now named after the place they were found, instead of being given fake names — Otzi is no longer referred to as Otzi in any serious literature, for example.)

      I am absolutely horrified at how the remains of a real person, someone who lived and had beliefs and existed, are being treated. Additionally, everyone should have the freedom to not look at human remains. It’s clear that the OP is seriously bothered by this, and I want to make it clear that anthropology and the heritage sector, frankly, back them up.

    13. sometimeswhy*

      Chiming in as another person who has professional experience with human remains:

      It’s really, really not okay. Plastic, novelty skeleton? All day every day, bring it to the office holiday party! Actual human remains (that aren’t Jeremy Bentham) displayed in an office setting? No. Do not do this.

    14. Wombat*

      I am a professor of anatomy and physiology at a university. Thank you, fellow professor for your excellent comment. I work with human remains daily, including skeletons. It is absolutely unacceptable to treat human remains with any hint of disrespect or even a flippant or joking attitude. Treating them respectfully is not conditional on how they were obtained, or what we speculate the deceased would have wanted — it is completely and unequivocally WRONG. I would be furious if one of my students did this, and I have never even seen one try to in all my years of teaching. They are given strict instructions not to. Instructors who teach with cadavers often attend special freaking MEMORIAL services with the families of the donors to honor their beautiful gifts. Whatever stories you’ve heard of what goes on in med school or with other people who work with human remains are either outdated, wrong, or just plain abhorrent. This is just disgusting. Do not use those anecdotes to justify this behavior, as it hasn’t been acceptable for many years, if it ever was. Those of us who work with human remains professionally treat them with the utmost respect and care, and we demand the same of anyone else who is handling them. The boss of the letter writer shouldn’t even have that skeleton, and he certainly shouldn’t be using it for entertainment.

  12. I Coulda Been a Lawyer ;)*

    When the ex was in medical school we acquired a skeleton for educational purposes. My family tree is filled with police officers and funeral directors but it still creeped me out to have someone’s deceased family member living in my spare bedroom/home office. That person was donated for educational purposes, not entertainment or decor. I wouldn’t hesitate to request that the deceased be treated with more respect.

  13. JanetInSC*

    LW4: My husband and I, both retired thankfully, are going through the care-giving phase with his parents, and, down the road, my mom will be next. Hubby also took care of his sister three years ago when she had cancer. It is a physical and emotional strain that leaves a permanent scar. My thoughts go out to you. You did the right thing to take some time for yourself. I like Alison’s wording very much.

    1. Artemesia*

      Everybody should be so lucky as to have someone willing to step up to see them through. I would agree that little explanation is needed other than to note the need to see a parent through end of life care.

      1. irene adler*

        Awhile back I had a job interview where this came up. The interviewer was very respectful of this.

        The job description did not mention anything about travel. But when the interviewer talked about going to sites to troubleshoot processes, I asked if these sites were local or would there be overnight travel involved. He answered that the sites were all over the USA so overnight travel would be necessary – probably 4 or 6 times per year.
        I mentioned that the job description didn’t indicate anything about travel.
        Then I went on to explain that I have a loved one at home who needs a twice daily medical procedure. So, I guess this isn’t the right job for me- right now. He expressed his disapointment as he really liked my resume. I assured him my circumstance would change down the line. Perhaps after 12-18 months or so.
        Hearing this, his voice became very sincere. He said he understood and wished me the best. Encouraged me to re-apply when I was able to travel.
        But he didn’t ask for any details or clarifications.

  14. Ann*

    OP #3, I have worked in hospital administration for a long time and think it is totally normal and appropriate to close your door. I once had a similarly located office and got tired of toddlers wandering in all the time (cute visitors, but very distracting!). My understanding was that doors really shouldn’t be propped for regulatory reasons, so you may have that on your side as well. One option would be getting a small window installed so people know when you are there, but the easiest thing to do would probably be to just post a “We are here – please knock” sign on the door, which should be received as totally appropriate. If you think people won’t feel welcome, you can always put out a candy dish to show that drop in guests are wanted.

    1. Thlayli*

      Tou can get signs either for your door or your desk that allow you to switch between do not disturb and I’m free to talk. I think either door closed or headphones or both combined with one of those signs would be fine. I don’t see why headphones are more “unapproachable” than door closed – I would have thought the opposite.

      1. Audrey Puffins*

        You’re more physically approachable when wearing headphones than when you’re behind a closed door, but a closed door could mean “there’s a chilly draft”, or “the noise is unbearable today”, or “I was making a private phone call and haven’t opened the door yet”, or “the last person who came in to see me closed the door behind them”, whereas headphones in an office environment almost exclusively means “I am trying to block you all out”.

        1. bentley*

          To me, headphones in an office environment usually mean, “I’m trying to listen to something and it would be rude and interrupting to broadcast it out loud to other people.” I don’t read it to mean “keep out.” I see it as being polite.

        2. ErinW*

          Generally if I have my headphones on in the office, it’s because I was falling asleep and I needed the music to boost me back up.

          I do have phone-answering responsibilities and I tend to wear one earbud and leave the other out so that I can hear the phone, and also converse with anybody who needs me.

      2. Erin*

        I think even an open closed sign from the dollar store on the door might solve the problem. Open means your available, closed means your on a break or an important call.

    2. Luna*

      Agree, i think a closed door with a sign is fine given the situation.

      Also, LW your officemate is a jerk. Mocking someone for not having children is extremely rude, feel free to tell her to cut it the hell out next time she thinks it is “funny.”

      1. Specialk9*

        Oh is that what the office mate was doing? I reread that a couple times and wasn’t sure, I figured there was a typo but not sure which way. If your interpretation was right, yegads, what a tool!

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      I was going to suggest this as well. If your office doesn’t have a window to the hallway, replace the door with one that has a window in it.

    4. Specialk9*

      I was wondering if you can wander by the peds area sometime when the toys are out and it’s unmanned, and swipe the xylophones. You can return them on the DL when the renovations have been done.

    5. Ali G*

      At my last job it was always cold. I used to have a space heater so I would put a note on the door that said “Just keeping heat in. Please come in!”
      If that wasn’t there, and the door was closed that usually meant I was on the phone or needed to be left alone. I think people would understand a simple note on the door.

    6. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Here’s how I work the door thing… My office door is solid wood with no windows.

      If I need semi-privacy (usually when I’m on a call on speaker phone) or quiet I will shut, but not latch the door. So it’s open anywhere between a crack and a couple of inches. If I need privacy or don’t want people walking in, then it’s shut. (I’m also lazy and don’t unlock it, so if it’s shut people can’t open it, they have to knock and I have to open it from the inside.)

      It’s a pretty good system and was born out of when I had the only coffee maker for the office in my office. Without that I would probably put up a small tasteful sign that says if the door isn’t latched, come right in don’t knock (or something like that)

    7. Caffeine Cowgirl*