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Anthropology Prof. Gary Urton Abused Power During Sexual Advance Toward Student in 2012, University Investigation Finds

The Tozzer Anthropology Building and Peabody Museum house offices for Harvard's Anthropology department.
The Tozzer Anthropology Building and Peabody Museum house offices for Harvard's Anthropology department. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By James S. Bikales, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s Office for Dispute Resolution determined that Anthropology professor Gary Urton made a sexual advance toward a student and abused his position as a teacher when he solicited then-graduate student Jade d'Alpoim Guedes to join him in a hotel room in 2012.

While ODR found that Urton violated Faculty of Arts and Sciences rules on interpersonal relations and unprofessional conduct, it did not investigate whether his conduct constituted sexual harassment because FAS policies in place in 2012 did not explicitly prohibit faculty from engaging in sexual relations with students under their supervision.

Only in 2016 did FAS begin to explicitly prohibit such conduct; the 2012 policies only noted that faculty members who did so were “liable for formal action against them.”

Using a preponderance of the evidence standard, ODR found that Urton subjected Guedes to a “sexual advance and/or liaison when he exercised power over her as a student,” which violated the FAS rules on interpersonal relations with students, according to a portion of the draft final report provided to Guedes that she posted on Twitter Wednesday.

ODR also determined that Urton had “abused or seemed to abuse the power with which he was entrusted as a teacher or officer of the University at a time when he had a professional responsibility” for Guedes, which violated the unprofessional conduct provisions of the FAS sexual harassment policy in place at the time.

Guedes and another former student, Carrie J. Brezine, accused Urton of sexual harassment in June after an investigation by The Crimson found that a different former student had accused Urton of pressuring her into “unwelcome sex” before writing her a recommendation letter in 2011.

In June, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay placed Urton on paid administrative leave following The Crimson’s investigation. Urton announced plans last month to retire at the end of August, though it remains unclear whether he has followed through with those plans.

He did not respond to a request for comment on the ODR findings Wednesday.

Gay or a designee will ultimately review ODR’s findings and determine sanctions. If Urton retires, Gay retains the ability to strip him of his emeritus distinction, as step she took after former Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez retired while facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

FAS spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment.

In her Title IX complaint against Urton, Guedes wrote that she had agreed to go to lunch with Urton in July 2012, believing that he wanted to discuss her research.

The following morning, Urton emailed her from his FAS account asking if she wanted to “plan a time to have a tete-a-tete, daytime or nighttime, rather than leaving it to chance?”

Later that day, she received an email from Urton’s personal email account asking if she “would be interested in something more intimate.”

“I mean, lunch is still on offer, and would be quite pleasant, but, well, what if I got a hotel room and then we got a bottle of wine and spent an afternoon in conversation and exploration?” Urton wrote in the email.

Urton quickly followed up with an email asking Guedes to disregard his second message, calling the offer a “bad and inappropriate idea.” Guedes wrote in the complaint she was upset and shocked by Urton’s solicitation, but decided not to report it because she feared professional retaliation from Urton, who chaired the Anthropology department at the time.

Guedes said Wednesday that she was heartened that ODR had substantiated her allegations against Urton, but she felt the investigation revealed pitfalls of Harvard’s Title IX policies and procedures, particularly those that were in place prior to 2016.

“Even an egregious example like this of what is clear sexual harassment, they wouldn’t call it sexual harassment,” she said of the former policies. “They’ll say it was a violation of professional conduct, so I would wonder where they would draw the line — is rape not sexual harassment?”

“The way that they defined this in their policy really makes it extremely hard for any victim to seek justice,” she added.

Guedes said she hopes Harvard will consider taking action to retroactively change the policy, which it still uses to investigate allegations of conduct that occurred before 2016.

“It was really backwards of Harvard to define the sexual harassment in the way it did up such a late date,” she said. “That is something they should be ashamed and embarrassed of, and that they should actively be thinking about how to retroactively rectify that.”

“This is why institutions shouldn’t be allowed to determine what constitutes sexual harassment and what doesn’t,” she added.

Guedes said ODR asked her to participate in an interview during the investigation, but she said she refused because other women told her it was a “huge trauma” for them.

“Throughout these interviews, [the investigators] are questioning everything that they said — there was no way I could handle sitting through those interviews,” she said. “I consider them an intimidation tactic from ODR to try to get people to drop their claims.”

Guedes also said investigations into Title IX complaints should be handled by third party investigators not affiliated with the University, a step Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers has pushed for several years in negotiations with the University.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment.

Reva Dhingra, a grievance officer with HGSU-UAW, wrote in an emailed statement that Guedes’ case reflects “just how inadequate Harvard policies were in protecting student workers from harassment and the threat of retaliation.”

“With the Trump administration actively undermining Title IX, it is extremely important for student workers facing harassment to be able to obtain recourse through a neutral third party grievance procedure codified in the next union contract,” Dhingra wrote.

She added that it took years of activism to force the University to prohibit faculty sexual relations with students, and the union would continue to work to “fight for better definitions such as affirmative consent provisions instead of the ‘unwanted’ conduct standard.”

“Sadly, this case is by no means unique at Harvard,” Dhingra wrote.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamepdx.

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FASGSASAnthropologyFacultyFaculty NewsTitle IXODR