Student continues hunger strike, declines College’s offer to investigate claims due to preconditions

by Gigi Grigorian | 7/27/20 11:31pm

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by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Computer science Ph.D. student Maha Hasan Alshawi has entered the 14th day of her hunger strike after declining the College’s offer to investigate her harassment claims if she ended her strike and sought medical attention.

In a public Facebook post on Thursday, Alshawi wrote that she did not accept the College’s offer, in which an external investigator would re-review her allegations of sexual misconduct and retaliatory academic action against two computer science professors, because it required her to agree to several conditions. The College’s offer stipulated that she seek medical attention, provide certification that she has done so, cooperate with the investigation and agree to the public release of the investigator’s findings. 

Alshawi said in an interview with The Dartmouth that she would end her hunger strike if the College opened an investigation without the conditions outlined in its previous offer.

“Every student at Dartmouth has the right to ask for a fair and transparent investigation without any preconditions,” she wrote on Facebook. 

Alshawi also claimed on Facebook that the College asked her to refrain from commenting publicly and ask her supporters to do the same, as a precondition of the offer. 

However, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence stated that the “moratorium on public comment” was temporary and only applied during the time that Alshawi considered the College’s offer.

“It was not one of the parameters in our letter,” Lawrence wrote. 

In a statement on Friday, the College said it is “deeply distressed” by Alshawi’s decision to remain on her hunger strike and repeated its call for her to accept its offer.  

The College’s statement added that earlier this year, Alshawi’s case was reviewed with the appropriate procedures by the Title IX office, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, the Department of Safety and Security, the Office of the Dean of the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity.

The statement also reiterated support for the College faculty and staff involved in Alshawi’s case.

“Dartmouth stands behind the faculty members in the Department of Computer Science and the many administrators who have worked so hard on Ms. Alshawi’s behalf,” the statement said.

Earlier today, Alshawi wrote in a Facebook post that her medical condition has taken “a turn for the worse.” She wrote that she is experiencing abdominal pain, difficulty breathing and vision problems. Alshawi added that she believes the College’s precondition of providing certification of medical care is “unethical” and an “abuse of power.”

On July 14, Alshawi wrote on Facebook that she began the strike because “the Title IX office conducted [an] unfair assessment” of her case. She alleges that her supervisor, computer science professor Alberto Quattrini Li, sexually harassed her on two occasions in the fall of 2019. Alshawi also claims that former computer science department chair Prasad Jayanti retaliated against her for reporting the incidents by giving her a “low pass” grade for her performance as a teaching assistant in his class. 

According to a July 16 statement from the College, previous reviews of Alshawi’s case have determined that “no further investigation or other action [was] warranted or appropriate.”

The College has offered to publicly release the details of the previous reviews of Alshawi’s case, but has stated that it requires Alshawi’s consent to do so. 

Alshawi said she has decided not to consent to the release of the report because she claims that it does not accurately represent the harassment she reported. She described the Title IX report as a “fake report” and instead publicly released her own account of events. Alshawi claimed that the Title IX report changed the “nature” and location of the harassment incidents she reported. For example, while Alshawi claims that she was sexually harassed by Quattrini Li in his office when no one else was present, she said the Title IX report stated that the harassment took place in a class. Alshawi said that Title IX coordinator Kristi Clemens told her that the discrepancy between the Title IX report and Alshawi’s report was due to changed wording.

Alshawi added that she has asked the College to revise the reports “according to the truth,” and she said that she would consent to the release of reports if they were revised. Alshawi also said that she would give consent for the findings of any future investigation to be made public.

On Friday, advocacy group the Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence sent a statement to College President Phil Hanlon and the Board of Trustees calling upon the College to “immediately and unconditionally engage an external investigator in this case.”

The group wrote in its statement that there is a “longstanding history” of “minimizing sexual harassment and resisting even modest actions to ensure transparent responses” at Dartmouth. DCGHSV was formed in the wake of a 2018 class-action lawsuit against Dartmouth alleging failures to address sexual misconduct allegations against professors in the Psychological and Brain Sciences department.

The Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault also criticized the College’s response to Alshawi’s report and to her hunger strike. 

“Dartmouth has a responsibility to address harm within our community immediately and with care,” SPCSA’s statement read. “No one should have to risk their life in order for the College to take the harm they’ve experienced seriously.”