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Gov. Students Discuss Recent Survey, How to Move Forward at Post-Dominguez Town Halls

CGIS
Harvard's Center for Government and International Studies.

UPDATED: Feb. 19, 2019 at 12:33 a.m.

Government students discussed department culture, course offerings, and responses to allegations of sexual misconduct against Government Professor Emeritus Jorge I. Dominguez at consecutive town halls Friday.

The town halls follow the release of a department-wide climate survey that found roughly a third of female graduate students in the department feel their work or study is limited by their gender and 26 percent experienced discrimination. Students discussed possible solutions to issues highlighted in the survey, and faculty members detailed ongoing initiatives, including the recent effort to hire two female professors.

The Government Committee for Climate Change, tasked with investigating department culture in the wake of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against Dominguez spanning nearly 40 years, organized the survey and town hall.

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The University opened a Title IX investigation into Dominguez in April 2018, which is ongoing.

Since the allegations first surfaced, some government students have said they are frustrated with what they perceive as an inadequate response from the University. In March and again in October, graduate students sent letters — the second of which was signed by nearly three-quarters of graduate students in the department — demanding an independent, external review of the Dominguez allegations.

Government Ph.D. candidate Reva Dhingra wrote in an email that though the town hall signaled the department appears to be taking students’ concerns “seriously,” a thorough reckoning with the department’s problems would not come without an independent review.

“The main takeaway from the Domínguez case last year was that, for nearly 40 years, the Government department and Harvard administration failed to protect its students, staff, and faculty from sexual harassment by a faculty member,” she wrote. “Addressing this decades-long failure requires a clear, thorough, and impartial diagnosis of the problems.”

In progress report released alongside the survey results earlier this month, committee members wrote that they drafted a memo calling on administrators to sponsor an external review of “Harvard’s collective failure to respond to problems of alleged sexual harassment.”

They wrote that administrators responded positively to the memo but will not take “public steps” towards an external review until the University completes its investigation of Dominguez.

But with department faculty and students in the dark about the progress of the investigation, some students say they are growing impatient.

“They have tied this review to the completion of the Title IX investigation into Dominguez, a process which is highly opaque with an unclear timeline,” Dhingra wrote. “Nearly a year after the Domínguez story broke, there has therefore been no concrete progress on understanding and preventing sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in the department.”

Government Ph.D. candidate Manuel A. Meléndez-Sánchez ’15-'16 wrote in an email that graduate students’ efforts have been and will continue to be “critical” in order to effect change in the department.

“A handful of faculty—including Professors Cammett, Enos, Hochschild, and Levitsky—have been largely proactive in addressing the concerns of students,” Meléndez-Sánchez wrote. “Their efforts have been laudable, but the main impetus for change has come from dozens of graduate and undergraduate students who have worked tirelessly over the past year.”

Undergraduates at the town hall also took issue with the department’s lack of identity-centered course offerings.

Government department chair Jennifer L. Hochschild said she decided to again teach a course focusing on race, ethnicity, and immigration after hearing students’ concerns.

Hochschild acknowledged that more long-term solutions, such as increasing the diversity of the department’s faculty, would take years, if not decades. She said the department recently offered jobs to two early-career female political scientists — though one has declined the offer and the other has not yet accepted — and that their gender was “part of the consideration” in the decision.

“There’s a need for more faculty in the arena of gender, in the arena of sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, immigration, class, first-generation,” she said. “I totally, completely agree with that.”

Undergraduates at Friday’s town hall also called for more cross-listed courses — classes jointly offered by more than one department — to allow students to engage with identity-related topics that would ordinarily require forgoing concentration credit to pursue.

“If you’re a gov concentrator and you want to study issues of identity, issues that speak to you, and there’s not that offering in the gov department, you’re conflicted between fulfilling requirements and taking a course that speaks to you,” said Sarah S. Fellman ’18-’19, a member of the Committee for Climate Change.

Hochschild added that many of the suggestions that students offered at Friday’s event “weren’t new,” indicating that steps the department has taken so far — including those implemented by the subcommittees to the Climate Change Committee itself — were not sufficient.

“That’s an indication that we haven’t really done our work yet efficiently and effectively,” she said.

Correction: Feb. 20, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that FAS spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven declined to comment on the investigation into Dominguez. In fact, The Crimson reached out to the wrong spokesperson.

Correction: Feb. 19, 2019

A previous version of this article misspelled Meléndez-Sánchez's name and incorrectly stated his graduating year was '15. In fact, he was off-cycle and his graduating year was '15-'16.

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at jonah.berger@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at molly.mccafferty@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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