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We Assumed Wrongly

Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez was my freshman seminar professor. He taught me about the complex history of Mexico, a history that I was desperate to finally learn in an academic setting. I was captivated by the idea of learning about the political practices of my native country from a leading expert in Latin American politics.

A Chronicle of Higher Education article from earlier this semester detailed Dominguez’s sexual harassment of a junior colleague in the 1980s. Seventeen more women have courageously decided to speak up over the past year. Harvard took some action against Dominguez in 1983, but they should have done more. He should have never been entrusted to teach again—especially not a freshman seminar, a course that is intentionally supposed to foster an intimate relationship among professors and incoming students.

While the administration at the time failed to implement proper repercussions for Dominguez, this institution should have been more proactive and conscious during the years that followed. They should not have waited until more women came forward before thinking about the severe consequences of their inaction. Moving forward, Harvard must do better for victims of sexual harassment and be stricter with the perpetrators—including prominent professors within their faculty.

Dominguez should have never been allowed to become my professor. Harvard allowed us to look up to him by remaining silent, putting freshman students particularly in a vulnerable position.

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Halfway through the fall semester last year, I found out about the 1983 incident through an old Crimson article while looking Dominguez up online. Understandably, my classmates and I had no idea how to respond or how to interact with him moving forward given the complicated power dynamics of the situation. We were invited into his home for coffee, alone with him over weekly breakfasts, and behind closed doors with him during his office hours. Harvard fostered an environment that potentially placed incoming students in danger.

Harvard not only allowed for this to happen, but encouraged us to actively engage with a man that posed a potential threat. While we had grown to respect him as a result of the seminar program’s intentionally personal structure, Harvard was wrong in allowing freshmen to get close to a professor who they knew to have a history of sexual harassment.

In Harvard’s efforts to reach out to former students, they failed to personally reach out to any of the freshmen that partook in his freshman seminar. I am glad Harvard take some action against him and that undergraduate students are continuing to organize for better administrative responses to cases of sexual harassment. However, several months later, there has been very little administrative reform or concrete action items.

Additionally, it is worth addressing the implications that Dominguez’s actions can have on future efforts to increase the number of Latinx faculty in the Government department and how an inadequate response is to the detriment of the Latinx community.

As a Latino and potential Government concentrator, I am disappointed that the University has cost itself more Latinx representation in a department that desperately needs our perspective. Students spoke about Dominguez's effect on the lack of expertise and representation of Latin American studies in the Government department in 1983—deterring prominent faculty and students alike from staying at Harvard. More than three decades later, nearly nothing has changed.

According to a report by the Office of the Senior Vice Provost, only seven percent of government faculty at the University is a tenured “underrepresented minority.” The exact number of Latinx people is likely too minute to be given its own category.

The importance of Latinx representation in the Government Department cannot be understated. Over half of the students in my freshman seminar were Latinx, a testament to the clear desire for incoming students to be taught by professors who look like them. However, we should have had more than one Latinx professor to choose from.

Harvard should have closed its doors on Jorge Dominguez three decades ago, and his actions should not have deterred them from opening the door for future Latinx professors to enter fields in which such experts are vastly underrepresented. Additionally, just because Dominguez has retired does not mean that Harvard is off the hook. They must be held accountable to ensure the safety of their students and employees.

We assumed that Harvard would never allow for a perpetrator of sexual harassment to continue to teach. We assumed wrongly.

Diego Navarrete ’21, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Weld Hall.

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