Know Her Name

NPR calls Know My Name, published September 23, a “devastating, immersive memoir” of a sexual assault and its aftermath—about a crime that took place on the campus of Stanford University after a fraternity party in 2015.

Chanel Miller, after accompanying her sister to the party, was sexually assaulted behind a dumpster by Brock Turner, a member of the Stanford swim team. Two Swedish grad students came on the scene and accosted the assailant. In a trial that received national attention, Turner was convicted of three charges of felony sexual assault and faced up to 14 years in prison. He served only three months of a six-month sentence in a county jail.

At Turner’s trial, Miller was known only as Emily Doe, although her eloquent “victim impact statement” to the court went viral—it was a pre-#MeToo movement act that dramatically highlighted the horror of sexual assault.

Miller says that #MeToo helped her decide to end her anonymity. “Before, I wanted the assault to not be a part of my life, and that was the goal,” she told the New York Times. “Now it’s accepting that it will always be a part of my life, and I just figure out where it lives inside my life.”

Miller says she has no problem with the word “victim,” but in writing about her full life in Know My Name she refuses to let it define her. As NPR’s review of her book notes, “If you want to know her name, you also need to know that her Chinese grandfather pronounces it like xiao niao — ‘little bird.’ That she does stand-up comedy, that she likes to cook, that she has a little sister and that on the night she was attacked, her dad made her quinoa and she made fun of the way he pronounced it. In other words, that she is a full person, a loved person, a named person.”

Miller’s bravery is all the more striking put up against the powerful institutions she confronted that minimize the trauma of rape, whether they be a legal system that makes it almost impossible for victims to get justice, or a university that strives to sweep sexual assault under the rug.

In its review, NPR says that “Stanford emerges as a sharp example of institutional cowardice: its failure to meaningfully follow up after it became clear she was not a student, and an offer of money for therapy on the condition that she not sue the school.”

Stanford did create a garden near the place where Miller was attacked, but negotiations about a possible plaque quoting lines from her victim impact statement went nowhere.

“I finally understood I was visible not as a person, but a legal threat, a grave liability,” Miller writes.

“I encourage you to sit in that garden, but when you do, close your eyes and I’ll tell you about the real garden, the sacred place. Ninety feet away from where you sit is a spot, where Brock’s knees hit the dirt, where the Swedes tackled him to the ground, yelling, What the f–k are you doing? Do you think this is okay? Put their words on a plaque. Mark that spot, because in my mind I’ve erected a monument. The place to be remembered is not where I was assaulted, but where he fell, where I was saved, where two men declared stop, no more, not here, not now, not ever.”

knowmyname

“This Would be a Nice Place for a Rape”

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are widespread occurrences at American universities and colleges. Student outrage over a case at Harvard University is spotlighting an equally disturbing problem: how some campus administrators have tolerated sexual abuse by powerful academicians, and thereby perpetuated broadly unsafe conditions for students, staff, and even junior untenured professors.

Harvard’s handling of the case of political scientist Jorge Domínguez, a leading expert in the Latin American studies field, was exposed in an important February 27 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle reported on the stories of women who charged that Domínguez exercised his power as a star tenured professor over three decades to physically harass and/or pursue sexual relationships with them.

In one chilling incident, as Domínguez and Terry Karl, an untenured female professor in his Government Department, walked through a wooded campus area returning from an event, Domínguez allegedly told Karl, “This would be a nice place for a rape.”

The Chronicle reports in detail on how Domínguez’s constant advances eventually forced Karl to leave Harvard in the mid-1980s for Stanford University, where she earned tenure and served as director of the Center for Latin American Studies for more than a decade.

Karl reported the harassment to Harvard administrators, who at one point actually found Domínguez guilty of serious misconduct and imposed temporary penalties—stripping him of administrative duties. Yet, afterwards, Harvard kept promoting Domínguez—to vice provost for international affairs, and director of the prestigious Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

According to the Chronicle, a total of 18 female professors, students, and staff members have now come forward with allegations of Domínguez’s sexual misconduct. On March 4, more than 35 years after Karl first reported Domínguez’s behavior to Harvard administrators, the university placed Domínguez on leave and announced an investigation into the allegations. On March 6—a week after the Chronicle story appeared—Domínguez resigned from Harvard, ending a 45-year career on the faculty.

Harvard President Derek Bok, and Henry Rosovsky, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, expressed concern and sympathy for Karl, but the university’s handling of Domínguez at the time struck her as inadequate and laughable.

The Chronicle reported on how Karl’s problems at Harvard had generated serious concerns among fellow Latin American-studies scholars. In 1984, a dozen of them from various universities wrote to Bok and Rosovsky, saying they could not recommend that any of their students attend Harvard until there was “absolute assurance that they will not face undue risk of harassment.”

In his dismissive response, Rosovsky told the scholars that their letter “displays a degree of moral arrogance that is unusual even by the unfortunate standards prevailing in the academic profession. It pretends to a detailed and objective knowledge of what happened here that you plainly do not have.”

In a 1991 essay in support of Anita Hill, who accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, Karl argued that filing a sexual harassment complaint often “pits a person against an institution that is predisposed to defend the accused.” Referring to her own harassment case, without mentioning Domínguez by name, she wrote that she had felt “forced to choose between pleasing this man or losing everything I had worked for.”

As the Chronicle reported:

Karl believes Harvard administrators played down her many complaints, attempting to mollify her rather than dealing with a difficult situation head-on. Harvard refused, as some universities still do, to publicly name the person responsible. They also let him stay, and promoted him, which sent a signal that Karl believes discouraged others from coming forward. If they hadn’t done that, “then these women who experienced harassment in the 1990s and 2000s, it wouldn’t have happened, or they would have known that someone would be punished if they were harassed,” she says. “That’s the great enabling. It’s why the silence is so terrible.”

The Chronicle report on Harvard’s handling of the Domínguez case stirred immediate outrage among alumni, faculty, and students. Hundreds signed an open letter to Harvard President Drew Faust demanding that the university apologize:

When students arrive at Harvard, they are told that the university ‘is committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational work environment’. Over the past three decades, Harvard has failed to live up to this commitment. The Chronicle has reported that at least three women informed human resources of misconduct by Jorge Dominguez. In these cases, as in others, Harvard has not kept its promise to protect those most at risk. The burden of responsibility to hold abusers accountable does not lie with the victims. It lies with those in positions of authority. We feel an apology is necessary to rebuild trust and to show that the university unequivocally supports those who come forward.

We have all been shocked by the allegations against Jorge Dominguez. Now we call on you to take bold and immediate action to address the power structures that have left junior faculty, students, and staff vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The signatories expressed their solidarity with Karl and other women who came forward and spoke to the Chronicle: “We respect and admire the courage it requires to share your story.”

More than 200 undergraduates led by 59 students in the Government Department wrote an angry letter to the Government faculty, calling the university administration’s failure to take appropriate action against Domínguez “reprehensible” and making a series of demands addressing the underlying problems:

We feel deeply betrayed by the fact that he was allowed to continue teaching at this university, putting students, faculty, and staff at risk for so long despite the fact that he was censured for sexual harassment thirty-five years ago.

Both Domínguez’s crimes and the department and the administration’s failure to take action for years are reprehensible. But they are also telling signs that the Government Department (and Harvard at large) are home to misogyny, rape culture, and exploitative power dynamics– problems that run much deeper than any single perpetrator of sexual or gender-based violence or any single failure to act to keep our community safe.

More than 100 Government graduate students, in their own letter to the faculty, expressed anger over the administration’s response to the Chronicle story. The letter followed a meeting between graduate students and Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild:

“We went into the meeting hoping for answers. We left disappointed, disillusioned, and, for many of us, angry. The meeting communicated a message of equivocation, powerlessness, and an unwillingness to commit to addressing this issue or instituting any significant changes within the Department.”