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Comaroff, Domínguez, Urton Accusers Call for Title IX Reform at Harvard

Harvard's Office for Gender Equity is located in the Smith Campus Center.
Harvard's Office for Gender Equity is located in the Smith Campus Center. By Angela Dela Cruz
By Ariel H. Kim and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

Nine students and alumni who reported sexual and professional misconduct by Harvard faculty members demanded the University reform its Title IX and Office of Dispute Resolution procedures in a letter Tuesday.

Addressed to University President Lawrence S. Bacow, the letter calls on Harvard to include victims’ input in improving its procedures for reporting and investigating misconduct. The signatories previously filed complaints against John L. Comaroff, Jorge I. Domínguez, and Gary Urton — all of whom the University found in violation of faculty conduct policies.

“After all, who better to contribute to reform than the women who had suffered most from its failure to protect them?” they wrote.

Tuesday’s letter follows a September 2020 letter sent by some of the same signatories to Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay requesting representation on a committee formed to review the FAS’ interim sexual harassment policy.

“As we have now repeated for years, we stand ready and willing to help – in revising the Title IX and ODR process or even in the search for a new ODR Director,” the Tuesday letter reads.

The ODR currently operates under interim director Nicole Newman following William D. McCants’ departure earlier this year.

Of the nine students and alumni that signed the letter, three current Anthropology graduate students — Lilia M. Kilburn, Amulya Mandava, and Margaret G. Czerwienski — filed a federal lawsuit in February alleging Harvard ignored years of sexual harassment and retaliation by Comaroff, an African and African American Studies and Anthropology professor. They filed an amended suit in June, which included additional allegations of sexual misconduct by Comaroff before he joined Harvard.

Last week, the United States Department of Justice filed an amicus brief backing the plaintiffs after Harvard argued it should not be held liable for its employees’ retaliatory actions.

“Even in [Harvard’s] response to our lawsuit we’re also seeing indifference or an argument that they’re not obligated to act in any way,” Czerwienski said. “This University has a problem with systemic abuse, and the culture is set from the top down.”

Letter signatories also included three alumni — Charna E. Sherman ’80, Suzanna E. Challen, and an anonymous graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School — who reported sexual harassment by Domínguez as early as 1978. Three alumni — Carrie J. Brezine, Jade D’Alpoim Guedes, and Nenita Ponce de Léon Elphick — who reported sexual harassment by Urton in 2008 and 2020 also signed.

In a response to the letter Tuesday evening, Harvard Deputy Provost Peggy Newell encouraged the signatories to submit their comments to the University working group reviewing proposed changes to Harvard’s sexual harassment and misconduct policies.

“Although I disagree with a number of the characterizations in your letter, I have valued the input that you’ve provided over the course of those discussions,” she wrote. “I regret that despite this engagement, you feel that you have not ‘been really listened to.’”

Newell pointed to the University’s investigations and sanctions of the accused senior faculty members, writing that administrators “share a concern” for the “well-being of the Harvard community and the ongoing improvement of our policies and procedures.”

A May 2020 investigation by The Crimson found that three Anthropology professors — including Comaroff and Urton — faced allegations of sexual harassment. Just days later, Brezine and D’Alpoim Guedes came forward regarding years of sexual coercion and emotional abuse by Urton.

Within a week, Gay placed Urton on administrative leave before he retired in August 2020. A year later, Gay stripped his emeritus status after a University investigation found he violated sexual misconduct policies.

In 2018, Domínguez retired after 18 women accused him of repeated sexual harassment over nearly 40 years. One year later, Gay revoked his emeritus status.

Comaroff declined to comment on the Tuesday letter. Domínguez and Urton did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Correction: September 15, 2022

A previous version of this article misstated the nature of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvard professor John L. Comaroff included in an amended lawsuit filed in June 2022. The amended suit included new allegations of misconduct against Comaroff, but they were not based on court testimony.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ArielH_Kim.

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

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