Harvard has not won…too many brave students have and will step up. Time for faculty to join them.

Originally published in April 2014.

Harvard Has Not Won

I write to thank my many colleagues, current and former students, and friends for the support extended to me in many venues. Your solidarity lifts my spirits and inspires me. Today I also write to make certain the key issue is not lost in the midst of heated debates and, at times, distraction. This is and has always been about Harvard’s failure to implement adequate sexual assault prevention measures, and Harvard’s failure to respond effectively and compassionately in the aftermath of sexual assault and harassment on this campus [http://ourharvardcandobetter.wordpress.com/].

Yes, I was denied tenure in retaliation for my Title IX protected speech and conduct in support of survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Several of these brave young women were my students. Of course, parents send their daughters and sons to us to educate them. Teaching them has been a pleasure and a privilege for me. But there is also an implicit understanding that as educators we will do everything we can to keep these young people safe. Harvard does not honor that duty.

Over the past 36 hours, I have received numerous emails from Harvard students past and present. Some describe their own experiences of sexual assault, while others express their distress at seeing classmates ground down by the university’s callous indifference to the violence they have endured. Here are two brief excerpts from the emails:

I just wanted to thank you. A friend of mine was treated horribly by the administration when she was raped, and after an exhausting battle of retelling and retelling she eventually was forced to “just let it go”. She says she feels doubly assaulted now.”

“This past year has been a very difficult one for me.  Several friends identify closely with students who have faced sexual harassment, and one of my roommates has been experiencing severe depression.  It has been extraordinarily trying to seek out help and realize it often does not exist.  Thank you for standing up for the women of this college.”

These emails make clear that the experience of one anonymous young woman was not unique (http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/3/31/Harvard-sexual-assault/).

In my case, Harvard will hide behind the vague “standard of excellence” they allegedly apply during their secretive tenure process. That won’t work with me. I met and exceeded the standards applied to the professors previously tenured in the anthropology department. Harvard will also insist on procedural fidelity and rigor. That won’t work either. Earlier this month, President Drew Faust tenured a male colleague in the anthropology department without even convening an Ad Hoc committee. The tenure process at Harvard is arbitrary and, in my case, retaliatory. But I am an established academic. I will move on and Harvard will be just one entry on a lengthy CV. Harvard’s punitive treatment will not mark me for life.

But Harvard’s failure to protect and respond to campus sexual assault certainly marks the lives of the young women and men who have been sexually assaulted on this campus. Their stories and futures are what motivate me. In my written work I have argued that the narrative burden for sexual violence must not be placed solely on the shoulders of survivors, who frequently have the most to lose for speaking out. The responsibility to speak out and demand justice is one we all share. And each time one of us steps forward to demand that our campuses be made safer for students, and for the faculty who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, we prove that courage is contagious.


11 responses to “Harvard has not won…too many brave students have and will step up. Time for faculty to join them.”

  1. LRS Avatar

    I’m sorry this happened to you. I hope you can fight it somehow. Something similar happened to me at The University of Chicago. I really feel that Title IX and Title VII have done more harm than good in many ways as the policies just allow the Universities to lure in innocent women who believe they will get help, and then bully them out of the system. The EEOC is a joke. Women are very much still second class citizens in America. You don’t realize it until something like this happens to you. If you explore other schools, stay away from U of C.

  2. Early Bird Avatar
    Early Bird

    I really think that we handled it on a personal basis with no institutional interference most of us would be better off. Victims would probably still lose their job for confronting their boss or co-worker for harassment, or for speaking out against the institution, but we could at least skip the witch hunt which follows the mandatory institutional complaint needed before we can proceed with litigation. Allowing the institutions to employ Title IX and Title VII specialists just creates an expert skilled in the art of legalizing unlawful termination by playing dirty. Of course litigation is rarely successful under Federal law (some states are better, but not many). And even when the victim has a “successful” suit (as in a case that brings in settlement money) we still have to agree to confidentiality terms–we can never speak of what happened again for fear of being sued for slander. This makes it impossible to hold the perpetrator to justice; should we move up in our field a different institution, there are no social repercussions for the men because we can’t ever talk of the incident. If we do speak out, we will always be at risk for a second round of harassment or retaliation in our new job down the road, as no one will believe a repeat complainer. You will never win a second suit against a second man who mimics the first, which means we are almost fair game. I returned to my field years after I settled a case, and was accused of accusing someone of harassment, and then fired for accusing. Everyone knew I had the first law suit, and even at a different institution, they wouldn’t let me stay in the field.

  3. Early Bird 2 Avatar
    Early Bird 2

    Some institutions impose hiring bans on women who complain as part of the termination letter. This makes sure you will never return again. Most settlement terms require that women will never work at the institution again anyway. So even if the institution is public, and can’t impose a hiring ban, they can still get you during settlement. Most attorneys will not try these kinds of cases, so women are absolutely pressured into these horrible settlement terms–especially if you are represented on contingency. And let’s face it–you will rarely get enough money to make it work the cost of litigation. Even rape cases settle for nothing. Meanwhile, the men who did the dirty act, as well as their packs of friends who lied, are promoted, praised, or at least left alone to continue their life. The women are accused of everything from having a mental illness to being a drug addict. It’s a modern day witchhunt

  4. kimberlytheidon Avatar

    Thank you for your comments, and for highlighting the retaliatory climate that exists for young women and men who report campus sexual assault and harassment, and for those of us who speak up on their behalf. When I weighed going public with my experience at Harvard, I was warned I would be black-balled, labeled a trouble-maker, smeared in the press, and that this could end my academic career. If I, an established academic with a solid support system,can be made to feel so vulnerable, imagine what it is like for undergraduate and graduate students who are warned that their promising careers are over before they even begin. One allure of earning a degree from an elite institution such as Harvard is that the degree is considered a veritable ticket to a great future and career, in part due to the stature of the university and in part to the extensive alumni network that comes with that degree. To speak out is to put all of that at risk. This is how silencing works, and it contributes to the architecture of impunity at Harvard.

  5. Katie Grant Avatar
    Katie Grant

    Thank you for speaking out. I hope you prevail in your tenure suit. I did my PhD at NYU in the 80’s and 90’s in the Lit Dept – a bastion of old ( and I mean old ) white men and a culture that promoted their politics. I remember our first 2 women professors one 18thc lit and the other a bold and wonderful outspoken woman from Oxford. We started an org called the “Graduate Feminist Forum” in the dept.
    Still a very discouraging experience trying to be equal in that department at that time.
    “Good girls” indeed – were rewarded.

  6. Paul Kanter Avatar

    I am appalled but maybe not surprised by Harvard’s reactions. They probable only see it as creating a PR problem. But journalism is always about writing about the problems of a society.

    Universities offer entire curriculums in which students study the histories and problems of societies. Which departments teach these course everyday?

    History, anthropology, women’s studies, sociology, psychology. Every department teaches Harvard students these everyday. And then for Prevention and creating a culture that addresses both Respect for women, fellow students as human beings, and shows the immorality and illegality of rape and sexual assault, look to the Arts departments, Graphic Designers, Film department, the dance department. Look to the literature department for writers, look to all of the Humanities departments. Create programs, concerts, events.

    Again, universities take students tuition money to provide them with educations, knowledge, and learning regarding societies and their problems. And students gain the knowledge and know-how to create the solutions to problems they see within our societies, cultures, cities and towns. Universities have existed for close to a millennium, close to a millennium. It is absurd, unbelievable that a university administration would punish someone for practicing journalism, Unless you realize they are only practicing a narrow worldview of PR, and not realizing the errors of their thinking and decision-making in punishing the important work of Journalism within our societies and cities.

    The oldest Newspapers in the world date to the beginning of the 1600s. The Boston Newsletter began in 1704. So again, Harvard has lost its mind, literally, for their reaction to the societal issue of sexual assault that needs awareness and prevention. Newspapers report stories around the world everyday, and college students study world events and history everyday, and Universities do not complain about or find fault with any of this. This is a simple argument to make, it’s logic and the illogical response to a single newspaper article when thousands of articles are printed and read every single day. To the problem of sexual assault, it is also a problem similar to many problems that students study everyday. So a solution can be found and the culture can be changed and the problem can be addressed, prevented, and it is within everyone’s abilities, both on campus, off campus, in workplaces, community centers, and within the culture and society to address and prevent sexual assault if it is their wishes and desires to do so..

  7. Paul Kanter Avatar

    I have to note that the Harvard emblem reads “Veritas.” You should be commended for speaking about and addressing the truths of what happens in female student’s lives. I know what Veritas means to me, but what does it mean to others?

  8. Mary Avatar

    This is a very sad commentary for women and higher education in this country. I feel the task force is in no way enough of a start. The problem is too entrenched in the fabric of the schools and title ix will only serve to make things more difficult for students in the long run. This is so much empty talk, and more empty policies. My niece is in a situation now where she has to be quiet to get out law school and no one helped her as a matter of fact the group that hazed, bullied, and molested her are all graduating and she was set up, attacked and emotionally drained and will have to wait till December, because when she reported she was then set up by an instructor. She was requested to be administratively dismissed from class and sited for what? being a liar of course. Why would someone lie in a mock class mediation exercise? This is the end of the semester so what can she do. She had to take a sick leave last week of school, and told if she doesn’t she will get 2 f’s or worst if withdrew she would loose all grades because she would not have been full time anymore. She fought so hard to continue, while facing these people everyday. What did the school care about, protecting themselves in case of a lawsuit. Now she is loosing all that work retaking classes, being held back and the people that hazed assaulted molested, and bullied her are going on with their lives. The schools reps consider their treatment of her help. Yeah, this is a problem that is all too real and we actually have to pay the loans for these tortuous years in her life. The school very definitely conspired against her and if she wants to graduate and sit for the bar she must shut up and do what she has to do to get out , because no one cares what happened. There is no incentive for instructors to help, none. For an instructor to report a school is to bite the hand feeding her, resulting in less federal money, less enrollment, and a bad rep, so why would they. Washington must come up with incentives for schools to fully come aboard with changes needed in policy. I never thought It would be consider whistle blowing to protect our children in schools. We need an integrity law so if someone has a pain of conscience they can report what they need to so our children can get help without reprisals in education period. As a matter of fact if they are within the first three to report a sexual crime they should not have to worry about evaluations for at least 3yrs and should receive a hero stipend in their pay open to all faculty employees. Then if schools can show that they are protecting students by reporting they should be eligible for additional funding for preventative programs and to offset losses. Also students who in the past have filed these reports with the schools and did not receive adequate help should not have to pay loans and should receive financial compensation through the attorney generals office. After all this will affect them for years to come. Why should they have to also go through a long embarrassing court case and many live out of state which further complicates the matter. We didn’t send her away to school for this to happen. The school should have done more to protect her from harm, instead they became a shield for the offenders. This is worst then the crime itself because the school in these cases is protecting these offenders and further oppressing the victims, and with no shame.
    I’m thinking Penn state fiasco .

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    I am so thankful for strong women like you! The process of reporting sexual abuse is in itself traumatic, and US institutions of all varieties perpetuate violence inflicted on victims of all ages.

    I am a survivor of repeated childhood sexual abuse and even won a settlement thanks to a strong women who believed me when others called me a liar. I was 9 years old and in foster care. I was placed in foster care after my mother refused to believe that I was sexually abused in her care, even after a rape kit came back positive. Our case worker placed me in a home with a teenage boy who had abused other young girls in the foster care system and failed to tell my new foster parents. Less than a month passed before I became his new obsession.

    This is all to say that this problem is truly systemic. Perhaps Harvard needs to adopt a new mantra; veritas is apparently reserved for scholarship rather than living, breathing human beings.

  10. […] etc. — but for some, it is more extreme. Harvard denied tenure to distinguished professor Kimberly Theidon after she spoke out about campus rape. The University of Connecticut fired Heather Turcotte after […]

  11. […] In March, former associate professor of anthropology Kimberly Theidon filed a lawsuit against Harvard University.  She contends that she was denied tenure in response to her advocacy for victims of sexual assault: […]

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