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Graduate and undergraduate students sent two open letters to Harvard administrators Wednesday outlining a vision for how the University should move forward in its efforts to combat sexual harassment after Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez leaves Harvard this summer.
Dominguez announced Tuesday he will retire at the end of the semester after at least 18 women accused him of sexual harassment over a 30-year period in articles published by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Though administrators disciplined Dominguez for his behavior in 1983, he remained at Harvard and later rose through the ranks to assume leadership roles within the Government department and University. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences placed Dominguez on “administrative probation” Sunday.
The allegations of sexual harassment have drawn outrage from some graduate and undergraduate students, who wrote in the letters that the issues surrounding Dominguez signal a larger problem with gender discrimination and sexual harassment on campus.
The letter undergraduates sent to Government Department faculty asks department administrators to implement a series of new policies.
Specifically, the letter asks the Department to “denounce and sanction” Dominguez, rather than letting him retire at the end of the semester, and to issue an apology for its “dereliction of duty” in handling the case.
The authors of the letter also request that faculty and administrators solicit feedback from students about how best to reform the department’s culture. The letter also demands the department start mandating its members undergo annual sexual harassment “prevention and response training.”
“The Dominguez case has brought to light what many members of the Government Department have long known all too well: the Department and the University are complicit in perpetuating these issues,” the letter reads.
Since the undergraduate letter was made available online Wednesday morning, it has garnered over 230 signatures. Sarah S. Fellman ’18-’19, who helped write the letter, said around 60 Government concentrators signed the letter.
The undergraduates’ demands grew out of a series of meetings held by Government concentrators, Fellman said. After a meeting with Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild on Friday, a group of students decided to hold a forum open to all undergraduates to solicit proposals for further action.
Fellman added that the letter’s main goal is to allow Harvard affiliates to move beyond Dominguez and to more broadly combat sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination at the University.
“I think that our number one goal is to make sure that this never happens again, that no other student in the future has to choose between their safety and their education and their career,” she said.
Government Department administrators announced a number of steps they are taking to address recent reports about Dominguez in an email Tuesday. These steps include the formation of a standing committee that will seek to gain “a deeper understanding of the conditions” that led to the Dominguez “situation,” a step Fellman said undergraduates cautiously welcome.
“The Department has decided to form a standing committee, which we’re very excited about,” she said. “But we want to see those groups of people have power on that committee and be compensated for their time, so that we don’t continue the problem of marginalized people volunteering their time that they could be used to work on their studies to make the Department tolerable.”
In addition to requesting that the committee include students and staff, the letter asserts the Department should work towards gender parity in its faculty.
“Women and non-binary students feel uncomfortable speaking up in class and feel a sense of imposter syndrome in the Government Department,” the letter reads. “And with so few female professors to turn to, when we do experience situations of sexual or gender-based harassment and violence, we are less likely to trust a professor, let alone a senior member of the faculty, with that knowledge.”
Hochschild did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the undergraduate letter.
Over 800 graduate students and at least one professor also signed an open letter addressed to University President Drew G. Faust, Hochschild, and other administrators on Wednesday laying out a proposed path for the University’s response to sexual harassment.
“When students arrive at Harvard, they are told the University ‘is committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational work environment.’ Over the past three decades, Harvard has failed to live up to this commitment,” that letter reads. “The Chronicle has reported that at least three women informed human resources of misconduct by Jorge Dominguez. In these cases, as in others, Harvard has not kept its promise to protect those most at risk.”
Government Ph.D. student Shanna Weitz wrote in an email that the broad goals of the graduate letter to administrators were similar to those of the undergraduate letter.
“Having both letters communicated the necessary changes at both the Departmental and University levels so that something like this never happens again,” she wrote.
Graduate students also sent a letter to Government Department faculty Tuesday with a more specific set of policy proposals, some of which the Department addressed in its response later that day.
In response to the open letter from graduate students, Faust wrote that she is committed to making Harvard’s response to sexual harassment an administrative priority going forward.
“As I wrote in December, sexual harassment and sexual assault degrade human dignity, and they have no place at Harvard,” Faust wrote. “A central commitment of my presidency has been to ensure that everyone here fully belongs, and I share the sense of hurt, disappointment, and upset that has been expressed so poignantly by students, faculty, and other members of the Harvard community.”
“At yesterday’s FAS meeting, I noted that I will be engaging the senior leadership of the University in the coming days to help address this serious and enduring problem,” she added.
—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.
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