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Harvard Students Occupy University Hall to Protest Harassment Policies, Comaroff’s Continued Employment

Harvard students crowded into University Hall for eight hours to protest the school's harassment and conduct policies and employment of embattled professor John L. Comaroff.
Harvard students crowded into University Hall for eight hours to protest the school's harassment and conduct policies and employment of embattled professor John L. Comaroff. By Julian J. Giordano
By Darley A.C. Boit and Charlotte P. Ritz-Jack, Crimson Staff Writers

Dozens of Harvard students occupied University Hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday in protest of the school’s sexual harassment and professional conduct policies.

Organized by Our Harvard Can Do Better — a campus group that advocates against campus rape culture — the demonstration follows a wave of protests this semester, including a walkout, an email campaign, and a march, against Harvard’s sexual misconduct policies and its continued employment of professor John L. Comaroff, who is under fire for sexual harassment allegations levied by graduate students.

Comaroff has denied all allegations of harassment and misconduct.

University Hall — located in Harvard Yard — houses the offices of several of Harvard’s top administrators, including the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and dean of the College.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana spoke with and listened to the demonstrators for roughly 50 minutes in the middle of Wednesday’s demonstration. Protesters voiced concerns about Comaroff’s continued employment as a professor, as well as what they see as the University’s lack of action on sexual assault and harassment.

Khurana agreed to reach out to organizers to set up meetings, but he did not share any concrete plans in response to their demands.

On Twitter, Our Harvard Can Do Better is also circulating an email template for supporters to prompt Khurana to make a public statement.

“I am writing in solidarity with the student protestors currently occupying University Hall, and asking you to send a college-wide email stating sexual violence is a crisis on campus,” the email template reads.

Students held signs and chanted outside University Hall following an hourslong occupation of the building.
Students held signs and chanted outside University Hall following an hourslong occupation of the building. By Claire Yuan

Wednesday’s demonstration comes after Harvard released its first University-wide anti-bullying and non-discrimination policies last week. The University is waiting until after the release of new regulations from the Department of Education to publish its updated Title IX policies, Garber announced in an email to University affiliates last week.

In an emailed statement, University spokesperson Jason A. Newton pointed to new hires by Harvard’s Office for Gender Equity: three new Sexual Harassment/Assault Resources and Education employees in spring 2022 and Restorative Practitioner Jonathan Berry in January 2023.

Newton declined on specific criticisms made during the demonstration.

The protesters sat in University Hall’s bottom floor, sharing speeches, chanting, and playing music. They held signs with phrases reading, “Time’s Up,” “No More Complicity,” and “Justice for Survivors.”

In various speeches and chants, students pointed to recent developments in a federal lawsuit filed by three Anthropology graduate students against the University for allegedly ignoring reports of sexual harassment and retaliation by Comaroff, a professor in the African and African American Studies and Anthropology Departments.

In particular, they condemned Harvard’s recent request for summary judgment on the last count of the suit, which alleges that the University illegally obtained one of the graduate student’s therapy records and shared them with Comaroff.

“Stealing health notes can’t be done, legal ethics 101,” they chanted.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean and Harvard President-elect Claudine Gay placed Comaroff on a semester of unpaid leave in spring 2022 after two University investigations found that Comaroff’s verbal conduct had violated Harvard’s sexual harassment and professional conduct policies. Comaroff returned to teaching non-required courses in fall 2022.

Comaroff’s lawyers — Ruth K. O’Meara-Costello ’02, Janet Halley, and Norman S. Zalkind — wrote in an emailed statement that Comaroff “is not a ‘sexual abuser,’” saying that the University only found him responsible for an instance of verbal harassment.

“The protesters would have Harvard make decisions based upon rumor and manufactured outrage instead of the facts its own investigation found. All members of the Harvard community should find that demand disturbing,” they wrote in the email.

They added that Comaroff “should not be fired.”

“The idea that Harvard should fire him based on unsupported allegations, ignoring the final results of its own very thorough investigation, is disturbingly incompatible with basic values of fairness and due process,” they wrote.

In its press release Wednesday, Our Harvard Can Do Better reiterated calls for Comaroff to resign from his position. The campus group’s demands do not include Comaroff’s termination.

Harvard students' Wednesday occupation of University Hall is the latest in a series of demonstrations against embattled professor John L. Comaroff.
Harvard students' Wednesday occupation of University Hall is the latest in a series of demonstrations against embattled professor John L. Comaroff. By Julian J. Giordano

Rosalie P. Couture ’26, a member of Our Harvard Can Do Better, said she was frustrated with the suggestion of more conversations and the lack of administrative action.

“We’ve talked to everybody in the Title IX office. We can talk to talk all day, but at the end of the day, we need to be speaking with decision makers who have the power to actually act on any proposals that we put forth,” Couture said.

“Harvard themselves have experts that have laid out very clear ways for them to address sexual violence on campus and Harvard just is not doing anything,” she added.

Clarification: March 30, 2023

This article has been updated to clarify that Our Harvard Can Do Better is calling for John L. Comaroff’s resignation, not his termination by Harvard.

Correction: March 30, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the University president’s office is located in University Hall. In fact, the president’s office is located in Massachusetts Hall.

—Staff writer Darley A.C. Boit can be reached at darley.boit@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Charlotte P. Ritz-Jack can be reached at charlotte.ritz-jack@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @charrittzjack.

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