Why is the Most Liberal Ivy League University Turning a Blind Eye to Sexual Misconduct? Ask Harvard.
Written by Bonnie Chapman
Photo courtesy of Harvard Press Kit
Harvard’s spring semester has already hit a rocky start. On January 24th, professors John Comaroff returned to Harvard after he was found to have violated the sexual harassment and professional conduct policy last year. Comaroff is a tenured professor and teaches anthropology. Protests ignited after his return all stemmed from a lawsuit filed by three previous students of his.
The lawsuit alleged that Harvard officials knew about Comaroff’s behavior. Comaroff allegedly would threaten the students’ academic records if they spoke out about his abuse.
The plaintiffs Margaret Czerwienski, Lilia Kilburn and Amulya Mandava alleged that they had made complaints to Harvard and nothing was done.
The Harvard Crimson, a student run newspaper, reported on Comaroff’s classroom was plastered with calls for his resignation. In photos taken by Christopher L. Li you can clearly see the passion behind the students call. Signs on the door and walls say “Stop protecting sexual predators”, “abusers have no place on campus”, “no more comaroff no more compicity” “even dogs understand the word no” “wew deserve safety from abuse” and many other empassioned calls for change. Along with the sins, a repeating image is spread across the room with comaroff’s face with the word creep on his forehead.
The editorial team at the Harvard Crimson released a lenghty letter to those who were involved with the walkout. “Last semester, it was graduate students; this time, it’s undergrads too. In the long fight against this alleged abuser, we must all continue to beat the drum until justice is won.” The editoral team thanked Czerwienski, Mandava and Kilburn for their strength.
To the students who were participating they had to say “As you’re fighting an uphill battle, feeling dejected about the change that never seems to come, your fingers numbing from protesting outside during a frigid Boston winter, know that your fellow students appreciate — no, need — your activism. Maintaining a years-long battle for accountability for sexual harassment and discrimination in the public conscious takes strength and perseverance, which you have wielded powerfully against our institution.” Their letter continues on addressing Comaroff with one word: Resign.
They call for teachers tro take a stand, reminding them that their dual obligation is to teach and make sure the students feel safe. To use the position of pwoer — the one comaroff used against his students — “to foster a safer campus and more just world.”
In June of 2022 Harvard filed a motion asking a federal judge to dismiss 9/10 counts in the lawsuit against Comaroff. “the University called the complaint brought by the three plaintiffs misleading and said it creates “misimpressions” of Harvard’s response.” The harvard crimson reported. In their motion, “The complaint makes it clear that Harvard repeatedly took appropriate action..” Responding to the motion, Plaintiff Kornblith said “Instead of asking what it can do to ensure that faculty are not allowed to wield their influence to sexually harass students, silence them, and derail their careers, Harvard’s message seems to be, ‘the system worked,.”
The responses surrounding Comaroff are mixed. In a video from Harvard Crimson, we can see where some of the public stands. Ronald Barone commented “Harvard was a University everyone wants to study, nowadays I don't think people wants to be part of such a group of whiners. If a teacher tells you not to go to a place where is dangerous to be yourself, he is totally wrong because that was the obligation of your parents, not his. And if your parents are not responsible enough to take care of you, I feel bad for that professor who cares about his students.”
Bob Dan, an avatarless user said “Fail the students and call it a day.” Another faceless user GarandLuvr commented “All those students should be rounded up, officially be flunked, and kicked out of Harvard.” Along with three angry emotes. Megan D’Olimpio wrote “He probably said women have vaginas or something like that.” The misinformation within the comments comes from a singular user who minimized the allegations of sexual harassment that included groping of students.
The alleged actions of Comaroff read as an abuse of power dynamics of a tenured professor and a student trying to make their place within the classroom. In a research article titled “Resilience following emotional abuse by teachers: Insights from a cross-sectional study with Greek students” stated“Intimidating, threatening, isolating or/and humiliating are some teachers’ behaviours that inflict emotional abuse on students.
Such behaviors not only undermine the trust that should encompass student-teacher relationships, but also degrade students’ sense of connection with their school (McEachern et al., 2008).” It’s also stated that “Hyman and Perone (1998) noted that students who experienced abuse by teachers reported feelings of isolation and alienation towards their school.
Poor academic performance, disengagement from social activities and even drop-out are some of the negative consequences encountered by students that feel disconnected from their academic environment (Hascher & Hagenauer, 2010). Thus, emotional abuse by teachers may contribute to students’ social withdrawal and loss of connection with their school, which in turn may result in school denial or even drop-out (Krugman and Krugman, 1984, McEachern et al., 2008).”
Breaking Through reached out to the college to find out what exactly are their next moves. Harvard public relations has no emergency numbers to be contacted, only an email to be reached. When reaching out to their journalism lab, we were met with the same barrier. Harvard's media site is completely silent about this issue. When checking Harvard Business Reviews Breaking Through found there was no mention of this incident. We reached out to Harvard’s media department for comment along with their Neiman Journalism Department. We have yet to receive a comment.