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Comaroff Controversy Reignites Union Calls for Sexual Misconduct Recourse

The HGSU-UAW has been outspoken about the lawsuit filed against Harvard alleging the university ignored complaints about professor John L. Comaroff.
The HGSU-UAW has been outspoken about the lawsuit filed against Harvard alleging the university ignored complaints about professor John L. Comaroff. By Pei Chao Zhuo
By Sophia C. Scott and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

Several Harvard faculty members gathered in a lecture hall last Friday — but not to teach a class. Rather, they were there to learn about graduate students’ calls for changes to Harvard's sexual harassment reporting process.

The Feminist Working Group of Harvard’s graduate student union hosted the teach-in, which aimed to engage faculty in the union’s calls for reforms to sexual misconduct complaint procedures. The union has long petitioned for the University to allow third-party arbitration for discrimination and sexual harassment complaints.

Koby D. Ljunggren, president of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers, co-led the event with legal experts and Jade d’Alpoim Guedes — an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, who alleged former Harvard Anthropology professor Gary Urton sexually harassed her while she was a graduate student.

“Faculty have expressed a lot of confusion surrounding our demands around improvements on University processes that deal with cases of identity- and power-based harassment and discrimination,” an event description said.

“The protections and procedures the University currently offers are inadequate and do not provide justice for survivors,” the event description said.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment.

Following a lawsuit challenging the University's handling of sexual misconduct complaints against Harvard professor John L. Comaroff, the teach-in aimed to offer Harvard faculty a chance to learn about the union’s push for revised Title IX procedures.

“One of the big deficiencies in our campaign is that it’s always been very difficult to engage faculty,” Ljunggren said. “It’s always been one of our goals to bring faculty into the fold and help get faculty up to speed in this conversation.”

Ljunggren also offered an overview of different campus groups’ demands, highlighting Our Harvard Can Do Better, an undergraduate advocacy group dedicated to ending “institutional and cultural enablers of sexual violence at Harvard.”

Ljunggren said the union hopes to take its demands for third-party arbitration beyond small-scale faculty outreach.

“I think the next idea now is to go to the department level and try to do departmental teach-ins as well,” they said. “Because some faculty might not be super comfortable coming into an everyone-invited space, and at the local level, they might feel more comfortable.”

Now away from the bargaining table after HGSU-UAW ratified a four-year contract in November, Ljunggren noted that the union is moving towards broader reforms to how the University deals with sexual harassment complaints.

“Since our contract isn’t up for negotiation, what we’re really pushing for is independence and transparency in the Title IX process,” Ljunggren said. “We’re hoping that, by pushing for those things, down the line we will also be able to achieve things like third-party arbitration.”

Ljunggren added that the union hopes to build a broader “campus-wide coalition.”

“In terms of our demands from this campaign, we're really trying to focus on the whole campus community and not just ourselves,” they said.

Correction: March 3, 2022

A previous version of this story misattributed a statement to a spokesperson for the teach-in hosted by the Harvard graduate student union’s Feminist Working Group. In fact, the statement was from a description of the event.

—Sophia Scott can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ScottSophia_.

—Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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