In a 65-page civil complaint, filed with the federal court in Boston, three women denounce the “deliberate indifference” of Harvard University. These doctoral students claim to have reported, several times over the past five years, acts of sexual harassment against them, on the part of John Comaroff, a 77-year-old professor of anthropology.
“He kissed and groped the students without their consent and threatened to sabotage their careers if they complained,” accuse Margaret Czerwienski, Lilia Kilburn and Amulya Mandava. Asked by the New York Times, they believe that the professor has “used his power and his pedestal for years at Harvard to exploit apprentice researchers”.
A “sexist and misogynistic” atmosphere at Harvard
The court document goes into detail on certain facts alleged against John Comaroff. Thus, according to the plaintiffs, he allegedly “repeatedly forcibly kissed Miss Kilburn, groped her in public and spoke aloud about her imaginary rape and murder”, which would take place if she had relations with same-sex people in some African countries. With the New York Times, the young woman specifies that the professor was aware of his homosexuality.
Concerning Margaret Czerwienski and Amulya Mandava, John Comaroff would also have “felt authorized to threaten them, to sully their reputation and to disrupt their career”. According to the New York Times, the facts began to be made public only a year ago, in the Harvard student newspaper. Previous and anonymous accusations, dating from the time when John Comaroff taught at the University of Chicago, were also relayed there.
The professor has been put on leave and should not be able to teach next year. An internal investigation found him guilty of verbal harassment, finding that he had “violated policies on sexual and gender-based harassment and professional conduct”. But the facts of sexual assault were not recognized. According to his lawyers, John Comaroff “categorically” denies these accusations.
The plaintiffs point out that a recent Harvard committee “examined the atmosphere of the anthropology department” and concluded “there was a ‘sexist and misogynistic atmosphere there’. […] in a predominantly white and male faculty”. Their complaint thus targets “an abuse of power” and directly targets the university and its president. The complainants are claiming financial compensation, before a possible civil lawsuit.