Lawyer: Harvard Wants Students to 'Shut Up' About Harassment

3 students sue, alleging university ignored complaints about professor John Comaroff
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2022 7:35 PM CST
Lawyer: Harvard Wants Students to 'Shut Up' About Harassment
A gate opens to the Harvard University campus, on Dec. 13, 2018, in Cambridge, Mass.   (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Harvard for years ignored sexual harassment complaints against a renowned professor who threatened to derail the careers of those who reported him, according to a new lawsuit. The suit, brought by three graduate students, claims officials failed to remove John Comaroff, a professor of anthropology and African and African American studies, after complaints about "rampant" sexual harassment as early as 2017. "He kissed and groped students without their consent, made unwelcome sexual advances, and threatened to sabotage students' careers if they complained," the document reads, per NBC News. One of the students, Lilia Kilburn, says Comaroff kissed her on the mouth during a 2017 campus visit before she had even enrolled. She also says he groped her.

She filed a complaint with Harvard's Title IX officers in 2019. Two other students, Margaret Czerwienski and Amulya Mandava, had reported Comaroff's behavior toward others in 2017, though Harvard didn't launch an investigation until 2020. In the meantime, Comaroff was able to retaliate against the women, according to the suit. Comaroff, who is not named as a defendant, "categorically denies ever harassing or retaliating against any student" in a statement from his lawyers, per the AP. "Regarding Ms. Kilburn, professor Comaroff did not kiss her or touch her inappropriately at any time," the statement continues. It also defends Comaroff for warning Kilburn that she could face rape or other violence while studying in Africa because she was in a same-sex relationship.

Comaroff argues this advice came out of concern for Kilburn's wellbeing. But Harvard's investigation found he "engaged in verbal conduct that violated" a "sexual and gender-based harassment policy" and a "professional conduct policy." Comaroff was placed on unpaid leave in January as a result. But the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in US District Court in Boston, claims the university only acted when "spurred to do so by the media" after demonstrating "an institutional policy of indifference." Comaroff had also been put on leave in August 2020, but was allowed to continue teaching "after a slap on the wrist," the suit alleges. As attorney Russell Kornblith puts it, per the AP, the message is that "students should shut up. It is the price to pay for a degree." (Read more Harvard stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.