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More than 240 people have emailed top Harvard administrators as of Thursday night to demand that the University fire John L. Comaroff — the embattled Harvard professor who returned to teaching this academic year after the school placed him on leave for violating its sexual harassment and professional conduct policies.
The emails come after more than 100 students staged a walkout Tuesday from Comaroff’s class, African and African-American Studies 172X: “Colonialism and its Postcolonial/Decolonial Afterlives: Critical Readings.” As students gathered at the Barker Center, which houses his office, organizers encouraged everyone to take out their phones and send the email.
Comaroff, a professor of African and African American Studies and Anthropology, has been the subject of national controversy since an eight-month investigation by The Crimson in 2020 found that at least three female graduate students had filed complaints with Harvard’s Title IX office alleging he engaged in verbal and physical harassment and professional retaliation.
Following the allegations, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean and University President-elect Claudine Gay placed Comaroff on paid administrative leave in August 2020. After a pair of internal investigations found that Comaroff’s verbal conduct violated Harvard’s policies around sexual and gender-based harassment and professional conduct, Gay placed him on unpaid administrative leave for the spring 2022 semester.
Upon his return to campus in fall 2022, Comaroff’s first class also elicited a walkout and student protest.
The emails — sent through an EveryAction form created by Rosalie P. Couture ’26, an organizer for the student activist group Our Harvard Can Do Better — call Comaroff a “known sexual abuser” and demand his immediate termination.
According to Couture, the emails are addressed to a slew of top Harvard administrators including Gay, University President Lawrence S. Bacow, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Emma Dench, and Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana — as well as Comaroff himself.
“He is a danger to students,” the email script reads. “His employment creates a culture that accepts sexual violence on Harvard’s campus and globally. Harvard has a responsibility to protect its students and use its influence to create a more equitable, just, and safe world for all. We demand Comaroff is fired.”
The email script also says that Comaroff has “multiple well-documented allegations of sexual abuse from both UChicago and Harvard students.”
In February 2022, Anthropology graduate students Margaret G. Czerwienski, Lilia M. Kilburn, and Amulya Mandava filed a federal lawsuit against Harvard alleging that the school repeatedly and continuously mishandled their complaints of alleged harassment and retaliation by the professor. The plaintiffs filed an amended suit in June 2022 detailing three more allegations of sexual harassment during Comaroff’s time as a professor at the University of Chicago.
In an emailed statement, Comaroff’s attorneys — Janet E. Halley, Ruth K. O’Meara-Costello ’02, and Norman S. Zalkind — wrote that the claim that Comaroff was a sexual abuser was “simply false.”
The attorneys said allegations of sexual misconduct from the 2022 amended lawsuit were “completely untested, anonymous, and second-hand at best” and that no requests were ever made to investigate alleged misconduct at UChicago.
Comaroff’s legal team has consistently denied claims of sexual harassment against the professor and continues to highlight that the results of Harvard’s investigations did not confirm that Comaroff engaged in physical sexual harassment.
“The idea that Harvard would fire him based on unsupported allegations, ignoring the results of its own very thorough investigation, is disturbingly incompatible with basic values of fairness and due process,” they wrote.
“All members of the Harvard community should find that disturbing,” they added.
Annabelle J.L. Finlayson ’23, an organizer with Our Harvard Can Do Better, said she feels optimistic about the number of people who have used the form to send emails.
“The whole point of the email form was to help put pressure on administration, because obviously they’re not doing enough,” she said. “We are pretty excited about the number of people who have been interested.”
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the email campaign.
Our Harvard Can Do Better is planning another protest for next week.
—Staff writer Darley A. C. Boit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Charlotte P. Ritz-Jack can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @charrittzjack.
—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.
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