Officials investigate complaint of harassment and bias in anthropology department

Media Credit: File Photo by Eric Lee | Staff Photographer

Alexander Dent, the chair of the department, said department leadership met Monday to begin work on a Diversity and Equity Task Force in the department, and they are planning to hold bias trainings this fall.

Officials are conducting a review of the anthropology department over a complaint of harassment and bias brought to Paul Wahlbeck, the dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Alexander Dent, the chair of the department, said the dean’s office contacted him July 1 about an anonymous complaint in regard to a graduate program, and he met with members of the office the next day to discuss the issue. He said that officials will administer a survey to the department’s graduate students, faculty and staff to gather opinions on the department’s “culture.”

Dent said conversations about diversity and equity within the department had begun “years before this,” and the department put out a statement in June supporting anti-racist movements following the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

“I’m deeply troubled to hear that some of our graduate students feel as though issues of diversity and equity are a problem,” Dent said in an email. “I’m looking forward to addressing these concerns with rigorous and detailed work.”

Dent said department members met on June 2 to discuss racial justice within the department and compiled suggestions into a report, which was released to department students, faculty and staff for public comment on July 10.

Dent said department leadership met Monday to begin work on a Diversity and Equity Task Force in the department, and they are planning to hold bias trainings this fall. He said the culture survey will advise the department’s leadership on how graduate students, faculty and staff feel and guide them on next steps for the department.

“Nonetheless, across these various efforts, my hope is to address questions of social justice in our teaching, research and day-to-day activities,” he said. “This work is important and overdue.”

University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said CCAS leadership is working with the anthropology department to address concerns from a group of former and current students about bias and harassment in the department.

“CCAS and the department are taking this matter very seriously and are actively assessing the current climate and implementing a number of steps to create a positive and inclusive environment for graduate education, research and mentoring,” Nosal said in an email.

She said department leadership are also working with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement to grant graduate students and faculty access to workshops on inclusive classroom design, unconscious bias, conflict management and Title IX.

“CCAS supports and encourages these initiatives, as well as the ongoing endeavors of our colleagues in ODECE to create spaces for BIPOC students currently enrolled in the program to continue sharing their concerns about the department as part of our ongoing assessment of the program and our future planning,” Nosal said.

Nosal declined to say what the complaint was in reference to.

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