Student Denied Degree After Sexual Assault Allegations Opposes Harvard’s Motion to Dismiss His Lawsuit


Former Harvard undergraduate Damilare Sonoiki ’13 opposed Harvard’s motion to dismiss his lawsuit last Friday, alleging the College unfairly refused to grant him his bachelor’s degree.

On Oct. 21, 2019, Sonoiki filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts arguing Harvard should not have withheld his degree after three fellow students accused him of sexual assault. The Administrative Board — which adjudicated complaints of sexual harassment in 2013 — ultimately found the allegations against Sonoiki credible and recommended his dismissal.

Sonoiki did not receive his degree because of the pending Ad Board review of the first two allegations, though he spoke as the Harvard Orator on Class Day and walked at graduation. Five days after Commencement, a third woman filed an additional complaint against him.

The Administrative Board eventually found Sonoiki responsible for the conduct he was accused of on Nov. 19, 2013 and recommended that the Faculty Council dismiss him from the College. The Council later assented.


The University filed its motion to dismiss Sonoiki’s suit in December. On Jan. 17, Sonoiki’s lawyers opposed the motion.

Sonoiki’s lawyers wrote in the opposition that Harvard subjected him to “a byzantine process without jurisdiction” as they reviewed the allegations of sexual misconduct and decided whether he would receive his diploma.

“Rather than addressing the crux of the Complaint, Harvard misrepresents not just Damilare’s claims, falsely suggesting that he seeks criminal trial-like rights, but even its own documents. As discussed below, these misrepresentations should leave the Court exasperated,” they wrote.

Sonoiki expected to receive his degree and for the Ad Board to lose jurisdiction. He alleges that the University denied him his choice of personal advisor, according to the opposition to the motion.

“This Court should deny the Motion because the Handbook required the Ad Board to issue charges against Damilare prior to his graduation,” it reads. “Although it is unclear when the student-Harvard relationship first forms, the Handbook shows that it ends upon graduation.”

The handbook stated at the time that “a degree will not be granted to a student who is not in good standing or against whom a disciplinary charge is pending,” according to the opposition.

“While a complaint is a claim of wrongdoing brought to Harvard’s attention, a ‘disciplinary charge’ is an affirmative act by the Ad Board,” it reads. “The Ad Board may issue disciplinary charges following a preliminary investigation, or it ‘may independently initiate a charge against a student,’ without investigation. The Ad Board could conceivably issue disciplinary charges even a minute before a student’s graduation.”

College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an email to The Crimson that the College does not comment on pending litigation, but that College policy forbids students subject to pending disciplinary action from graduating. She added that the College does not tolerate sexual misconduct.

"Harvard College is deeply committed to providing a supportive and inclusive environment for members of our community and will not tolerate sexual misconduct including rape and other forms of sexual assault,” Dane wrote.

A hearing in the case — and on the motion — is scheduled for Feb. 25.

—Staff Writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.