2 UC Berkeley Grad Students File CA Harassment Complaints

(Photo: Charlie Nguyen, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Charlie Nguyen, Creative Commons)

This week, two graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley took their allegations of sexual assault to the state agency that investigates discrimination claims. They claim that the campus failed to discipline a faculty member who they accuse of harassing them.

“We have a right to pursue an education in an environment that supports our well-being,” says grad student Erin Bennet, one of the charges’ filers. She and her fellow student, Kathleen Gutierrez, accuse the school of taking far too long in its reporting process and are calling on the university to implement a zero tolerance policy.

Elizabeth Harrington, a journalist for ABC, reports that the two women are filing charges against Professor Blake Wentworth for making unwanted passes at them and touching them inappropriately. Bennett says the problem became so bad that she needed to leave school on medical leave. “It’s completely detailed my future career, my education.”

According to Meg Wagner of the New York Daily News, the school allowed the South and Southeast Asian Studies lecturer to keep his tenure-track position and continue his work with the alleged victims month after the students’ filed allegations. In October, school officials found that Wentworth had violated the school’s anti-sexual harassment rules, but never disciplined him. Five more students came forward to accuse him of making unwelcoming, creepy advances.

Reportedly, he would complain to students about his wife, called one his “poor little lamb,” and alluded to things he would do with students if they were his wife. Only when the students threatened to take their complaints to the state did the university order the professor to stay away from the girls. He is also accused of touching their hands, rubbing their shoulders, and clasping his hands over their eyes as a practical joke.

A report made public last week found that 19 staff members at UC Berkeley had violated the school’s harassment policies, including renowned astronomy professor Geoffrey March, who resigned. The Dean of the Law School, Sujit Coudhry, is currently being sued. He has resigned from his position and has been asked to stay away from campus.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof released a statement, saying “The University of California, Berkeley is committed to ensuring that the campus is a welcoming, safe, respectful, and inclusive community for everyone. Although we cannot comment on the reported complaint or litigation at this time, the campus has taken several steps to protect the interests and well-being of our students. Most recently, the department chair has reassigned this faculty member’s classes to other instructors.”

The Daily Mail reports that Wentworth vehemently denies all the allegations against him, but also says he cannot currently be on campus for undisclosed reasons. The most recent complaints could open the door for a possible lawsuit against the California school.

“So we call on other who have been impacted by this culture of intimidation, harassment, silence, and fear of retaliation to come forward and speak out against a failing system that protects abusive faculty members.”