Last week, over 100 students, activists, and labor leaders surged into Northwest Building classroom B108 — before walking right back out again.
They were protesting professor John L. Comaroff’s return to teaching. Years ago, multiple graduate students accused the African and African American Studies and Anthropology professor of sexual harassment, provoking intense uproar. For the second semester in a row, Comaroff is back in the classroom, while students chant in unison, fervently hoping that their voices — loud as ever — might just induce the administration to act.
Last semester, it was graduate students; this time, it’s undergrads too. In the long fight against this alleged abuser, we must all continue to beat the drum until justice is won.
To Margaret G. Czerwienski, Amulya Mandava, and Lilia M. Kilburn:
Thank you for your strength. You are an inspiration to us all in the ongoing quest for justice.
To every student who has persisted in efforts to remove Comaroff from campus, especially organizers with Our Harvard Can Do Better, Student Labor Action Movement, and the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers’ Feminist Working Group:
Thank you for your determination. When our supposed role models in the administration and faculty fail, the project of creating a safe campus regrettably falls on you. As you’re fighting an uphill battle, feeling dejected about the change that never seems to come, your fingers numbing from protesting outside during a frigid Boston winter, know that your fellow students appreciate — no, need — your activism. Maintaining a years-long battle for accountability for sexual harassment and discrimination in the public conscious takes strength and perseverance, which you have wielded powerfully against our institution.
To John Comaroff, the man who allegedly leveraged his formidable status to traumatize the lives of three young graduate students, whose decades-long record of alleged sexual harassment is impossible to ignore, we have one word for you:
To our teachers and faculty:
As educators, you have a dual obligation to both teach us and keep us safe. Students have made it clear that they feel Comaroff’s position on campus poses an active threat to their safety. They need your support. Call for Comaroff’s resignation. Take a stand. Use the power of your position — that same power Comaroff supposedly abused to harass students — to foster a safer campus and a more just world.
To the Harvard Corporation:
Your silence reeks of negligence and lends tacit approval to Comaroff’s actions. Instead of disregarding the voices of the hundreds of protesters and the staggeringly low enrollment in Comaroff’s courses, perhaps listen to student voices when they feel unsafe.
Revoke Comaroff’s tenure. When tenure rules render professors unfireable, what purpose do Title IX and other accountability measures even serve? While this undoubtedly lengthy process unfolds, also ensure that the College offers alternatives to Comaroff’s courses, so that no African and African American Studies concentrators are stuck between two terrible options: either navigating the unwieldy schedule-change process, or worse, taking a course with an accused sexual predator.
To President-Elect Claudine Gay:
This is an opportunity to set the tone of your new presidential administration. Show us that President Gay’s Harvard is no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind. Comaroff is part of a larger culture of harassment on campus; it is high time we reckon with this pervasive problem. Students and faculty, partnering hand-in-hand with university leadership, must come together to implement a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct.
We urge your incoming administration to pursue every avenue of change necessary to ensure this vision. Demand Comaroff’s immediate resignation. Hire other academics who study Comaroff’s areas of expertise. Scholarship in these areas is valuable, but we need not compromise our safety to gain his knowledge.
As you prepare to begin your new role, we are similarly preparing to engage in the timeless tug of war between idealistic student protesters and wary university administration that influences all action taken on this campus. But it’s not push and pull if you never budge. In your upcoming term, we hope you will find yourself swayed by student protesters as they raise critical consequential issues, including this one — student safety is at stake.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
Correction: February 2, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that John L. Comaroff was accused of sexual assault. In fact, Comaroff was accused of sexual harassment.
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