Over 100 Harvard students walk out of accused professor’s class, claim he threatened ‘corrective rape’

Harvard University anthropology professor Dr. John Comaroff had over 100 students walk out of his first class of the semester after being accused of forcibly kissing and groping three graduate students who have now filed a lawsuit.

(Video Credit: The Harvard Crimson)

According to The Harvard Crimson, “Students flooded Comaroff’s classroom in Northwest Building classroom B108 — overflowing into the hallway — to protest the first lecture of his class African and African-American Studies 172X: ‘Colonialism and its Postcolonial/Decolonial Afterlives: Critical Readings.'”

As Comaroff started to speak, students rose from their seats and filed out of the classroom, chanting, “Justice for survivors,” and “No more Comaroff, no more complicity.”

As students walked out, Comaroff smiled and nodded at the protesters. One of the last students who left the classroom reportedly told the professor, “Smile in hell, asshole,” according to The Harvard Crimson.

The professor was put on administrative leave in the wake of a university investigation into his alleged conduct, according to the Daily Mail. He returned to Harvard last fall and was also faced with a walk-out at that time.

The lawsuit has been backed on Title IX grounds by the US Department of Justice. It contends that Harvard ignored sexual harassment allegations against the tenured professor.

Following the reported incident, the professor was put on unpaid leave in January 2022. University investigators determined that he had engaged in verbal conduct that violated both the school’s sexual and gender-based policies as well as professional conduct.

Comaroff has denied the accusations. His attorneys told the Daily Mail at the time the lawsuit was filed that he “categorically denies ever harassing or retaliating against any student.”

The walkout was organized by a number of activist organizations on campus, as well as the graduate student union’s Feminist Working Group.

“John Comaroff has spent his career silencing and retaliating against students — thereby undermining Harvard’s value of creating an equitable, safe learning environment for all,” first-year student Rosie Couture proclaimed in a statement. “For the good of the university community and Harvard’s academic mission, it’s past time for Harvard to act.”

“He does not belong at Harvard,” she intoned and then called for those who “agree” to walk out “because enough is enough.”

The three plaintiffs in the suit include Margaret Czerwienski, Lilia Kilburn, and Amulya Mandava. They claim Camaroff “kissed and groped students without their consent, made unwelcome sexual advances, and threatened to sabotage students’ careers if they complained.”

In one alleged incident, he is accused of forcibly kissing and groping Kilburn and telling her that she could undergo “corrective rape” or murder if she were seen in a same-sex relationship while doing fieldwork in Africa. Comaroff is an expert on South Africa.

She told the New York Times in an interview the comment was made with a “tone of enjoyment.”

The suit asserts that Kilburn was subjected to “a continuing nightmare that included more forced kissing, groping, persistent invitations to socialize alone off-campus, and coercive control.”

“Regarding Ms. Kilburn, professor Comaroff did not kiss her or touch her inappropriately at any time,” the statement from the professor’s attorneys claims.

The lawsuit also alleges that in 2017 when Kilburn met with the professor to discuss plans to study in Cameroon, he repeatedly informed her that she could be subjected to violence in Africa because she was in a same-sex relationship.

“Ms. Kilburn sat frozen in shock, while professor Comaroff continued for approximately five minutes,” the suit alleges.

Comaroff issued a statement through his attorneys that said “this was a necessary conversation for her safety” and that “he was motivated only by his concern for Ms. Kilburn’s well-being and had no romantic or sexual intention.”

Czerwienski and Mandava claim that when they reported Comaroff’s behavior to university administrators, he retaliated against them by threatening to derail their careers.

Oddly, Comaroff has not been named as a defendant in the case according to the Daily Mail. The lawsuit is seeking a jury trial, unspecified damages, and a judgment that Harvard violated the women’s rights.

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