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In Wake of External Report, Dominguez Victims Call For Changes in How Harvard Investigates Sexual Misconduct

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Four women who were victims of sexual misconduct by former Government professor Jorge I. Domínguez penned a letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow Friday in response to an external review committee report published last week on the circumstances that enabled Domínguez’s misconduct.

In 2019, Bacow charged the external review committee with investigating the conditions in the Government department and across the University that protected Domínguez — who had a history of sexual misconduct involving at least 18 victims over the course of four decades — and others with track records of misconduct.

In their letter, the women — former Government assistant professor Terry L. Karl, Government Ph.D. graduate Suzanna E. Challen, and Government concentrators Charna E. Sherman ’80, and Nienke C. Grossman ’99 — thanked Bacow for the public apology he issued to Karl alongside the report, but took issue with the review committee’s finding that existing procedures to investigative sexual harassment allgeations at Harvard are “adequate to redress faculty misconduct.”

“Harvard is unwilling to take upon itself the burden of holding powerful faculty members accountable,” the women wrote. "Simply, we have watched Harvard’s staff and procedures silence and harm victims, especially those who have suffered the most egregious conduct, including quid pro quo sexual harassment and sexual assault.”

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University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain confirmed that Bacow had received the letter, but declined to comment further.

The women also wrote that given Harvard’s recent handling of sexual harassment allegations — including within the Anthropology Department — they feel “unable in good conscience” to encourage women to use current procedures in the Title IX Office and Office for Dispute Resolution to report misconduct by tenured faculty members.”

“The challenges the Anthropology complainants have confronted in pursuing their claims are appalling,” the letter reads. “[Harvard] fails to provide basic supportive measures to community members risking their professional futures to expose harassment and misconduct.”

In their letter to Bacow, the women acknowleged that the recent formation of internal committee and working groups composed of current students, faculty, and staff to review the University’s sexual misconduct, discrimination, and bullying policies are “a step in the right direction.”

“However, the direct input of individuals with personal knowledge and interaction with its procedures, including Title IX and ODR, is critical to their legitimacy and success,” the letter reads. “Allow our lived experience to help Harvard effectuate real change.”

Last fall, 12 women who accused Domínguez and two Anthropology professors of sexual misconduct requested seats on a new committee being formed to review the FAS’s interim sexual harassment policy.

In a separate emailed statement, Grossman — one of the women who requested a seat on the FAS committee — wrote that while she is grateful for the external review committee’s “important and thoughtful recommendations,” she believes that the report “misstates the reality of the current Title IX and ODR processes, which are wholly unsatisfactory in relation to tenured faculty misconduct.”

“I urge the University to include women who have been failed by these procedures in its efforts to improve them,” Grossman wrote.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay said in an interview Monday that the FAS Title IX committee has begun soliciting feedback from Harvard affiliates, aiming to issue a final report later in the spring.

The external review committee report issued Thursday found that “pronounced power disparities” and “inadequate reporting mechanisms,” amongst other institutional failures, allowed Domínguez’s sexual misconduct to persist for decades until his retirement in 2018. An investigation ultimately led Gay to strip Domínguez of his emeritus status and bar him from the FAS campus in 2019.

The report also laid out 10 policy recommendations to foster a more inclusive and safe working environment. The recommendations included encouraging reports of misconduct, ensuring more effective responses when misconduct is reported, and vetting candidates for leadership positions.

Karl, in a separate emailed statement Monday, urged the University to take immediate action in addressing past failures and preventing future sexual misconduct on campus.

“Change is pushed by the bottom when it is not carried out by the top. Apologies, remedies to victims, justice, and memory are essential in building a better future at Harvard and in our world,” Karl wrote. “But if the past is to prove instructive, it must be fully revealed — or institutional cover-ups will continue.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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