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Supporters rally for Dartmouth student on hunger strike over sexual harassment claims

Valley News Staff Writers
Published: 7/31/2020 9:57:47 PM
Modified: 7/31/2020 9:57:43 PM

HANOVER — Equipped with pots, metal mixing bowls and large cardboard signs reading “Justice for Maha” and “What are you hiding, Dartmouth,” about 60 supporters marched through downtown Hanover late Friday afternoon in another rally to support a Dartmouth College graduate student who started a hunger strike more than two weeks ago.

Maha Hasan Alshawi started the strike on July 14 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 is seeking to have the college reopen its investigation into her harassment claims.

“This is a pervasive Dartmouth problem,” graduate student Sara Vannah said at the protest.

She said she hopes the school will take Alshawi’s claim seriously and open an external investigation.

“Dartmouth seems to care a lot more about optics,” Vannah said.

Nancy Welch, an English professor at the University of Vermont, spoke at the protest and said the issues of sexual assault and inadequate investigations are not confined to Dartmouth. Students at UVM who have come forward with claims of sexual assault or harassment have been turned away at the Title IX office because their cases don’t “rise to the level of an investigation,” she said.

“I have no bloody idea what rises to the level of an investigation anymore,” Welch said.

Dartmouth officials have said the school did “carefully review” Alshawi’s complaint but did not substantiate her claims of harassment. Almost a week into her hunger strike, citing concerns for her health and safety, Dartmouth said it would “take the extraordinary measure” of bringing in an outside investigator to review her claims and to make the results of that investigation public. But before launching the external investigation, Dartmouth first asked that Alshawi seek medical attention and demonstrate that she is no longer in danger because of the hunger strike.

Alshawi said on Facebook on Wednesday that she was down to 36 kg — or 79 lbs — as she continues the strike.

Reached by phone and email on Friday, Alshawi declined to comment. She has said on her Facebook page that the school ought not to require that she provide medical information before it launches the investigation.

“As I said before, I already have the hospital report, and I am willing to send it to anyone if they want to check it,” she said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “I am not rejecting to release my confidential medical information for myself, but for all the other students who reached out to me about their experience when the school coerced them into releasing their medical records. This really broke my heart.”

On Friday, Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said via email that college officials “continue to be very concerned” about Alshawi’s health and well-being and “again ask her to end the hunger strike and seek medical attention.”

“To be clear, we have not requested that she provide us with her medical records, but have asked that she undergo a medical evaluation, take any steps the medical provider recommends, and provide us with documentation to show that she has done so. This is to ensure that she is safe,” Lawrence wrote.

Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence, an advocacy group that was created to support the plaintiffs in a class-action recently settled lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by three former Dartmouth professors, issued a statement last week calling on the college to begin its external investigation. More than 18,000 people as of Friday had signed an online petition calling on the college to do the same.

Some students have also expressed concern for Alshawi’s health and safety during the hunger strike and urged her to get help in posts on Facebook.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com. Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com.




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