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Following Comaroff Fallout, FAS Provides Counselors for Anthropology Department

A flyer for a walkout held last Monday condeming Harvard's handling of the sexual harassment allegations against Comaroff was taped to a sign outside Harvard's Tozzer Anthropology Building.
A flyer for a walkout held last Monday condeming Harvard's handling of the sexual harassment allegations against Comaroff was taped to a sign outside Harvard's Tozzer Anthropology Building. By Aiyana G. White
By Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writer

As the Harvard Anthropology department grapples with the aftermath of sexual harassment allegations against professor John L. Comaroff, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay said the FAS has provided professional counseling “to rebuild trust and promote healing” in the department.

Gay placed Comaroff on unpaid leave in January after two separate investigations by the FAS and Harvard’s Office for Dispute Resolution found that he violated the school’s sexual harassment and professional conduct policies. Fifteen tenured Anthropology professors called for Comaroff’s resignation last month after federal lawsuit filed against Harvard detailed a decade of harassment allegations against him.

The suit alleged that the University mishandled its investigations into the allegations against Comaroff, a professor of African and African American Studies and Anthropology. The Anthropology Department has been roiled in recent years by allegations of toxicity and gender-based harassment.

In an interview Wednesday, Gay said FAS leaders attended an Anthropology Department town hall last month addressing the recent sanctions and backlash from students and faculty.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay poses in front of University Hall for a portrait last November.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay poses in front of University Hall for a portrait last November. By Josie W. Chen

“This is a really challenging time for the department — and really, for a number of departments — and there are efforts underway to work to rebuild trust,” Gay said.

The FAS has offered members of the Anthropology Department one-on-one and group counseling sessions from two external mental health counselors, according to department chair Ajantha Subramanian.

“We recognize that this is long-term work and will continue to support the department in its efforts,” Gay said Wednesday.

The FAS' Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging has also produced a guide for all department chairs to help them lead sensitive conversations about departmental culture, Gay added.

Professors from departments across the FAS faced fierce backlash last month after nearly 40 faculty members signed a letter questioning Harvard’s investigations into Comaroff. All but three of the professors who signed the initial letter retracted their support for the statement.

Gay said the FAS' academic mission includes fostering an environment in which people can “reach their full potential.”

“I think we all appreciate how harassment and discrimination are not only personally damaging to the people who are the targets of it, but they are also destructive to the culture and mission,” Gay said Wednesday.

“And in that sense, we have to bring the same urgency, seriousness, resourcefulness, creativity to addressing those issues and building a positive culture that we do anything else that threatens our mission,” she added.

Correction: March 3, 2022

A previous version of this story misquoted FAS Dean Claudine Gay. She said harassment and discrimination are “destructive to the culture and mission,” not “disruptive to the culture and mission.”

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at meimei.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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FASAnthropologySexual AssaultFront Middle FeatureClaudine Gay

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