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.