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Dartmouth College names outside investigator for hunger-striking student’s case

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2020 9:29:53 PM
Modified: 8/6/2020 9:29:43 PM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College on Thursday evening said it has hired a Philadelphia-based attorney with Title IX experience to investigate a graduate student’s allegations that she was sexually harassed by a computer science professor and then faced retaliation for reporting it.

The move comes in an effort to also convince Maha Hasan Alshawi to end a hunger strike she started on July 14.

The investigator, Maureen Holland of the law firm Cozen O’Connor, is a former prosecutor who works with institutions dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse and other misconduct. She served as the interim Title IX coordinator at Baylor University in 2017 when working for another law firm that was helping the West Texas university respond to allegations it had mishandled rape accusations involving members of its football team.

Title IX is the federal civil rights law intended to protect people from sex-based discrimination in schools and related activities.

Dartmouth on Tuesday had said it would launch the external investigation and make the results public, in part to “promote our community’s confidence in the outcome and to fulfill Ms. Alshawi’s calls for transparency.” College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said Thursday that Dartmouth would have no further comment on the case until the investigation is complete and the findings are published.

Alshawi started the strike last month in an effort to pressure the college to change a low grade she says she received in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment claims against a professor in the computer science department, where she is a first-year graduate student. She also has sought the external investigation into her harassment claims.

Dartmouth officials have said the school did “carefully review” Alshawi’s complaint but did not substantiate her claims of harassment. A week after she began her hunger strike, the school announced that it would open an external investigation only if she ended the strike.

Alshawi earlier this week said she was continuing her hunger strike and a “thirst strike” that she announced on Monday, according to posts on her Facebook page. Some of her supporters and other commenters expressed concern, asking her to stop the strike after Dartmouth agreed to the investigation, but Alshawi wrote on Tuesday that she wanted more details about the inquiry.

Efforts to reach Alshawi on Thursday were not successful, but hours before Holland’s hiring was announced, Emma Bippart-Butler, one of Alshawi’s supporters, spoke on her behalf and said she was still on the hunger strike pending more details about the investigation.

And on Tuesday, a group of seven supporters gathered in the lawn in front of Dartmouth College Provost Joseph Helble’s house in Norwich. Under pouring rain and heavy winds, they carried signs wrapped in clear tape and chanted in support of Alshawi, calling for the school to announce details about the investigation, including a date and time.

Alshawi was not present at the protest but she had asked the group to organize the demonstration on her behalf, and gave them statements to include on the signs, according to Bippart-Butler.

“Survivors deserve to be heard,” Bippart-Butler said Tuesday, adding that she grew up in the area and said the “waves of Dartmouth’s abuse of power are felt beyond the campus.”

A police officer from Norwich and another from Hartford responded to the house that evening and asked protestors to stay off Helble’s property but did not make any arrests, according to Norwich Police Chief Jennifer Frank.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727- 3216.

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