Harvard Campaign: No More Comaroff, No More Complicity


No More Comaroff, No More Complicity

By Austin Siebold

            On Wednesday, March 29th, I sat in the doorway of the (men’s) basement bathroom in University Hall, a central administrative building in Harvard Yard, where the Dean of the College, Dean of Faculty, and Dean of Students all work.

            As I sat there, the door propped open, I couldn’t help listening to everyone upstairs. Activists across schools, from different unions, different causes, and even a couple faculty members were keeping each other updated on the police presence outside, getting to know one another, sharing music, art, food, and legal strategies. Every so often, someone would spot an administrator who works in the building, the music would stop, and the group would chorus “shame on Harvard,” until the administrator disappeared – at which point the music, and friendly chatter, would continue.

            We knew that the Harvard University Police Department’s playbook for protests includes locking the bathrooms in hopes of forcing people to leave. So, in order to occupy the space for the entire day, we took 15 minute shifts guarding the bathroom. At times the environment inside the building was so warm and welcoming, I almost forgot we were there protesting. But the NLG phone number on my arm in permanent marker, the green hats of our dedicated LO’s, and the regular presence of plain-clothes officers roaming the building served as frequent reminders.

We were there to protest two things. One was the continued employment of John Comaroff, a professor with a decades-long history of sexual harassment. Harvard found him guilty for violating its sexual misconduct policy, yet they still allowed him to return to teaching after only a semester of leave. The second was Harvard’s complicity in sexual violence more broadly. Three graduate students are currently suing Harvard for grossly misconducting Title IX investigations, including by illegally obtaining a student’s private therapy records and providing them to their abuser (Czerwienski et al v. Harvard). We were calling on Comaroff to resign, with the knowledge that this will no longer be a campus where he is welcome — and for the university to end its pattern of enabling injustice.

Both the Dean of the College (Rakesh Khurana) and Interim Dean of Students (Lauren Brandt) came to speak with us. They asked to set up a meeting to hear our concerns and listen to our policy suggestions. They also asked us to trust that they care about this issue and are working on it. However, after years of meetings with students and committees of professionals commissioned by Harvard– which produced many policy changes Harvard has refused to adopt – Harvard is still getting worse. They quietly dissolved the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response in 2020, despite the fact that 1 in 3 undergraduate women will be sexually assaulted in their time at Harvard. We told them we’d be there all day and were happy to talk to anyone with the power to make the changes we’d laid out clearly for them.

While we planned to be there until 5pm, we informed Dean Khurana we would be willing to leave as soon as he sends a college-wide email declaring sexual assault on campus to be a crisis – something he told us he did not have the power to do. “If not you, then who?” a question he could not answer. Our other demands include an independent rape crisis center, robust prevention efforts, independent investigators, and comprehensive survivor-centric healthcare. The call goes further. Harvard pays experts to study these processes and make recommendations, yet refuses to implement these changes. We demand an explanation.