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Accused of Sexual Harassment, Anthropology Prof. Gary Urton Files Retaliation Complaint Against Accuser

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Harvard Anthropology professor emeritus Gary Urton filed a retaliation complaint against a former graduate student on Aug. 31 for publicly sharing the preliminary findings of an investigation which found Urton abused his power by making a sexual advance towards her.

The Office for Dispute Resolution in late August determined that Urton violated multiple Harvard policies by propositioning then-graduate student Jade d'Alpoim Guedes to join him in a hotel room in 2012. Urton is facing allegations of sexual harassment — which were first reported by The Crimson in May — from multiple former students. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay placed him on administrative leave in June.

Guedes tweeted the concluding section of ODR’s draft final report on her allegations, which included the investigators’ findings, on Aug. 26.

In Urton’s complaint, which ODR sent to Guedes Sept. 9, he alleged Guedes violated confidentiality rules and retaliated against him by sharing the preliminary results of the investigation.

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The confidentiality clause in ODR’s investigative procedures does not explicitly prohibit a participant in an ODR investigation from sharing information they learn during the proceedings, but it notes that doing so opens up that party to a retaliation complaint.

“Retaliation can take many forms, including the dissemination of information in a manner intended to pressure or shame participants and witnesses in connection with the ODR process (such as, through social media) or to discourage participants or witnesses from assisting with that process,” a Frequently Asked Questions pamphlet about the ODR procedures reads.

Urton declined to comment on the specifics of his ODR complaint.

“I will simply state that ODR has a policy of confidentiality for a reason and I believe it should be adhered to,” Urton wrote in an email.

The FAS accepted Urton’s retaliation complaint and forwarded it to ODR to begin an investigation, according to a letter ODR sent to Guedes Sept. 9. ODR will conduct an investigation separate from the one into Guedes’s original complaint and issue findings of fact that it will forward to the FAS.

If ODR substantiates Urton’s allegations, Gay or her designee could decide to sanction Guedes. It is unclear, however, what sanctions the FAS could levy against Guedes, who graduated from the University in 2013 and now holds a tenured professorship at the University of California, San Diego.

In a response to ODR Thursday, Guedes wrote that her tweet did not constitute retaliation and that Urton’s complaint amounts to an attempt to silence her.

“Mr. Urton seeks to intimidate, further harass, and retaliate against me for stating facts about his inappropriate conduct toward me,” Guedes wrote in the response, which she shared with The Crimson. “Asking for my silence after a decision is made on an already public case infringes on my first amendment rights.”

“In now accusing me of retaliation for sharing my experiences after the formal investigation had concluded, Mr. Urton has grossly distorted, and it seems, weaponized an anti-retaliation policy clearly intended to protect victims and witnesses from this very type of retribution from the accused,” she added.

Guedes wrote that Harvard’s decision to accept the complaint could have a chilling effect on complainants, especially those who still attend the University and could be subject to sanctions.

“I am surprised you accepted his complaint,” Guedes wrote. “In doing so, Harvard is sending a very clear (and quite chilling) message to would-be reporters, that Harvard will not protect them from intimidation and harassment by those they accuse.”

Guedes wrote that the policy should be interpreted “in the spirit of the law with which it was intended” — to protect complainants from harassment by the accused party.

“Such provisions are not designed to help protect the confidentiality of the accused and do not apply after the accused is found to be at fault as Dr. Urton was,” she wrote. “My tweet which shared the conclusion of the decision constitutes the sharing of a fact and it is difficult for me to understand on what grounds this could possibly be construed as retaliation.”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment.

The ODR procedures’ confidentiality policy, which includes the anti-retaliation provision, has drawn criticism before from those considering filing a Title IX complaint.

In 2018, 15 women who accused former Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez of sexual harassment sent a letter to then-FAS Dean Michael Smith stating they would not participate in an ODR investigation into Dominguez unless the office changed its procedures. Their seven demands included a guarantee that the University would not investigate retaliation complaints against those who shared information unveiled in the investigation.

As in Guedes’s case against Urton, media outlets had already publicly reported details about some of the complaints against Dominguez, and the women argued in their letter that sharing findings that were “part of a public discourse” would not constitute retaliation.

Administrators ultimately declined to alter the ODR procedures to meet the women’s demands. In an April 2018 response to the 15 signatories, which was obtained by The Crimson this month, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 wrote that the anti-retaliation provision of the ODR procedures is “essential to the fairness of the process to everyone involved.”

“A person who has experienced sexual harassment may elect not to participate in a process — and to leave a problematic situation unaddressed — if any statement they make might then be shared publicly by the respondent,” Garber wrote.

Garber added that if the confidentiality provision was not in place, both witnesses and respondents — ODR’s term for those accused of sexual misconduct — might be discouraged from participating in the process.

Suzanna E. Challen, a former Government Ph.D. student and one of the 2018 letter’s signatories, wrote in an email that Urton’s retaliation complaint against Guedes illustrates why she chose not to participate in the ODR investigation into Dominguez.

“By keeping these processes private, there is no accountability,” Challen wrote. “No one knows if allegations are properly handled and if sanctions are appropriate, or even if sanctions are issued at all.”

“I did not file a complaint with ODR because privacy does not protect students, it protects the predator,” she added.

Challen wrote that Guedes’s case echoes her own.

“I am appalled that, after our years of advocacy, Harvard is still resorting to the same old tactics—this time turning ‘retaliation’ on its head again, to protect the alleged abuser, instead of the victims,” she wrote. “How many victims is it going to take before Harvard values its future over its past?”

Clarification: September 14, 2020

This article has been updated to clarify that Jade d'Alpoim Guedes shared a draft, not final, report.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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