Indian-origin brain scientist, 6 others, sue Dartmouth University

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Vassiki Chauhan, one of seven women to file a class-action lawsuit against Dartmouth College Nov. 15, that the university did not respond adequately to complaints of sexual misconduct by professors. (Photo: Twitter account of Vassiki Chauhan)

Seven women, including one of Indian origin, are suing the New Hampshire-based, Ivy League university, Dartmouth College, for not responding adequately to their complaints of sexual misconduct in cases involving three faculty members in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences who have now left the institution.

The class-action suit filed Nov. 15, in Concord federal court, by Vassiki Chauhan, 27, a Cognitive Neuroscience graduate student at Dartmouth; Andrea Courtney; Annemarie Brown; Kristina Rapuano; Marissa Evans, and Sasha Brietzke, is seeking $70 million in damages. Attorneys from Concord, New York City, and Baltimore are representing the women in the case which involves three faculty members, William Kelley, Paul Whalen, and Todd Heatherton. Both Kelley and Whalen resigned their tenured positions this July and June respectively, and according to the Dartmouth, they did so after recommendations rom the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Healtherton retired in June following the same recommendations, according to the university which offered its explanation Nov. 15, following the filing of the class-action suit (news.dartmouth.edu).

News India Times reached out to Dartmouth with a focus on getting a response on Chauhan’s case. Dartmouth spokesperson, Justin Anderson, the vice president of communications, repeated the position taken by the university president on the day the lawsuit was filed.   “Sexual misconduct and harassment have no place at Dartmouth,” Anderson said in an email response to News India Times. “As a result of the misconduct we found earlier this year by the three PBS faculty members, we took unprecedented steps toward revoking their tenure and terminating their employment. They are no longer at Dartmouth and remain banned from our campus and from attending all Dartmouth-sponsored events, no matter where the events are held,” Anderson added.

“We applaud the courage displayed by members of our community within the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) who brought the misconduct allegations to Dartmouth’s attention last year. And we remain open to a fair resolution of the students’ claims through an alternative to the court process,” Anderson said. “However, we respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the characterizations of Dartmouth’s actions in the complaint and will respond through our own court filings,” he said.

However, Chauhan et al, in their lawsuit, claim that “Dartmouth warned the victims that the accused professors would likely retaliate against students who discontinued working with them by disparaging them and revoking their academic support, actions which could result in the victims being expelled or placed on academic probation. … Thus, at Dartmouth’s suggestion, the victims continued working with their harassers for nearly four months,” The Washington Post reported.

In his Nov. 15, statement, University’s President, Philip J. Hanlon, said the University conducted “a rigorous, thorough, and fair review” of the allegations involving three investigations led by an external investigator who interviewed 50 witnesses and reviewed “extensive” documentation.

The lawsuit contends that for more than a decade, female students at PBS, “have been treated as sex objects by tenured professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen. These professors leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated, and even raped female students.”

According to a report in Thecut.com, Chauhan alleges Whalen assaulted her in April 2017, after pressuring her to drink with him and then going to his home where he forced himself on her despite her protests, blocking her from leaving. This was 20 days after some 8 women had contacted the Title IX office about Whalen, Heatherton, and Kelley. According to The Washington Post, more than two dozen complainants participated in the Title IX investigation.

“I tried to get out of the situation as soon as possible. It was only when he started reaching for more intimate parts of my body that I was unambiguous about the fact that this is not something I wanted,” Chauhan told CBSNews, which interviewed the women just hours after the lawsuit was filed.

On her Twitter account, Chauhan posted this message the day after filing the lawsuit —

Vassiki Chauhan‏ @batssiki  — Reporting a road accident did not make me feel ashamed, but sexual violence resulted in over a year of trauma and humiliation. I am finally putting the shame where it belongs: with the perpetrators. #MeToo #MeTooSTEM https://bit.ly/2FsWZ9m 

Vassiki’s co-accuser, Sasha Brietzke, tweeted back –

Sasha Brietzke‏ @sbrietz Nov 16 Replying to @batssiki, said, “Many people, many administrators, many bystanders, should feel ashamed about what happened to you. But not you. You are my hero, a champion of women, and a light for good in the world.”

Chauhan has taken a leadership position in the group, calling on all new applicants and even faculty members from Dartmouth and other higher education institutions, to apply to her school to diversify student and faculty.

#Dartmouth7 would like to take some “unprecedented” steps to fix the representational crisis @dartmouth . We are advocates for inclusivity. Please RT. @kristinarapuano @andreawcourtney @anniebrowen @sbrietz @risss_evans and Jane Doe.

10:02 AM – 18 Nov 2018

Also, this one — Vassiki Chauhan‏ @batssiki Nov 18  If you are on the job market for a faculty position, consider applying to @dartmouth. There are open positions left vacant by old white men who were also sexual predators. We can do better.

The hashtag Dartmouth7, has become a calling card for the plaintiffs.

The University admitted however, that it does not have a “unified policy” on sexual misconduct.

“Dartmouth is working to create a unified policy on sexual misconduct applicable to all members of the College community. Currently there are different policies for faculty, students, and staff. A unified policy would provide clarity and consistency across the institution, setting uniform expectations and processes for the three groups.”

The date for the first hearing in the case has not yet been set.

According to WGNTV.com, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced a joint law enforcement investigation into the claims back in October 2017, and that investigation is ongoing.

 

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