Fearing Career Damage, Women Did Not Report Alleged Professor Harassment

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In their reports to an investigator with Ohio University’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance, women who allege they were victims of sexual harassment by English Professor Andrew Escobedo say they feared for their professional and educational careers when choosing not to fight his “advances” or report him.

Andrew Escobedo. Photo courtesy of Ohio University

The ECRC released a Memorandum of Findings in December that concluded Escobedo had “engaged in a pattern of exploiting females who are subordinate to (him) by virtue of their student status or their junior employment status,” investigator Jessica Cook wrote in the document.

The findings have triggered responses not only from university officials debating if disciplinary action should be taken, but also from faculty and  students within the English department.

Escobedo is awaiting a decision by Executive Vice President Pam Benoit on whether she will accept the recommendation of Robert Frank, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who agreed with a majority of English Department faculty in saying the ECRC findings warranted consideration of his termination and/or loss of tenure.

“A serious breach of student trust has occurred, and it is difficult to imagine how we will be able to confidently assure our students that they can be free of concerns about sexual harassment with Prof. Escobedo on our faculty,” Frank wrote in a letter to Benoit on Feb. 14.

In its memorandum, ECRC investigated claims from six different individuals claiming to be victims of actions by Escobedo, ranging from “inappropriate touching” to sexual harassment, nonconsensual sexual conduct and hostile workplace accusations.

Two of the complainants reported sexual conduct from Escobedo at an end-of-the-semester gathering they both attended. Both gave reports to ECRC in March 2016.

Both said they attended the event as part of a group of graduate students, along with Escobedo and some “co-instructors” of Escobedo’s classes. The gathering began at one bar on Court Street and ended at another, the women said.

One student told ECRC that she was touched without consent by Escobedo on the face, neck, hands, legs, inner thighs, outer thighs, knees, back, lower back, arms, buttocks and vagina during the course of the December 2015 night. That student also said he kissed her without her consent after the gathering had dispersed.

The woman acknowledged that she was intoxicated and therefore “lacked the capacity to consent to sexual contact because she was impaired,” according to ECRC documents.

But she, along with several others in the investigation, said she didn’t feel she could do anything about Escobedo’s actions.

“(She), because she was a graduate student in (Escobedo’s) class, perceived that refusing (his) advances would impact not only her grade but also her educational opportunities at Ohio University,” the memorandum stated.

The student told investigators she “felt pressure to socialize with faculty outside the classroom as she sensed that there was a link between these social outings and a graduate student’s support and success in the academic program.”

The second graduate student who filed a report about the night said Escobedo touched her inappropriately under the table, including allegedly touching her vagina, and did not catch multiple attempts by both women to avoid contact with him. Both women said they made eye contact with other attendees of the gathering, made it known that they were “uncomfortable,” and even moved book bags and purses onto the seat where Escobedo had been sitting “in hopes that (he) would find another seat.”

“…But instead, he moved the items and sat back down in the same seat when he returned to the table,” they told the investigator.

When Escobedo allegedly touched her, the second complainant said she contemplated pushing his hand away, but “she was worried that grades had not been submitted.”

She also said she sent multiple texts to her then-boyfriend after she left the bar expressing how uncomfortable she had been.

“I inwardly raged all night long about what a f**king wilderness it is to be a woman in academia,” one text wrote, according to documents.

Both women said they went to the Athens Police Department and spoke to a victim’s advocate before ultimately deciding not to file a criminal complaint.

While investigating the two complaints from December, ECRC investigators said they received information about other incidents allegedly involving Escobedo, including two reports from 2003. One woman said she was inappropriately touched at a bar by Escobedo while she was a student in his class. Escobedo produced a witness, also a relative of his, who said she had not observed any contact with the student, but ECRC found that sexual harassment had happened based on another woman’s corroboration of the story.

“However, complainant three said that the culture in the department at that time tolerated such conduct by (Escobedo) and the department culture expected a student to ‘be flattered’ and ‘move on’ if (he) made advances to them,” the investigation documents stated.

When asked for a response to the claim, OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood told WOUB the department “does not comment on individual allegations.”

The witness that corroborated the story filed her own report of inappropriate touching at a birthday party while she was an adjunct instructor for the department in July 2005. She didn’t report the alleged incident until July 2016, telling investigators she waited until Escobedo was “no longer a threat to her professional career.”

In her complaint, the former adjunct instructor said Escobedo had put his hands up her skirt and touched her legs and upper thigh.

Two complaints filed to the ECRC against Escobedo were found to be unsubstantiated. In one case, a witness was told by a woman that “inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature” had occurred during a fraternity gathering in 2004. When contacted by the ECRC, the woman denied wrongdoing and said she did not recall relaying the incident to a witness.

In the other unsubstantiated case, ECRC received an anonymous email from “Jane Doe,” who said the professor had made “physical sexual advances,” but did not provide any other detail about the date of the incident or the conduct that occurred.

Despite the two cases, Cook wrote that the “totality” of the events led to conclusive “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning the events Escobedo is accused of “more likely than not” occurred.

“In light of the severity of the acts and multitude of acts, the investigator finds that this conduct is not an isolated incident of bad judgment on the part of (Escobedo),” Cook wrote in the findings.

Escobedo has called the investigation and the accusations in it the result of a “social justice crusade to get him fired from his job,” he told investigators.

In a letter to faculty regarding the investigation, he laid out specific arguments for some allegations against him, and blamed intoxication for his actions.

“I had no business socializing so late with those graduate students,” Escobedo wrote, in reference to the December event.

He added that he had been told he was intoxicated to the point of stumbling during the December event.

“And if I were that intoxicated, I cannot draw on my memory to offer a certain account of what happened that evening,” he wrote.

Escobedo discredited the women’s claims from that night, and said the ECRC finding “ignores or sidelines crucial pieces of counter-evidence.”

“I did not intentionally coerce anyone or abuse my authority,” Escobedo told colleagues. “The complainants’ behavior at the scene strongly suggests that they remained at the bar without coercion or, in other cases, that they did not witness what they claim.”

Further on in the letter, he offered that females in academia are “undoubtedly vulnerable to sexual harassment and to coercion from their male colleagues and teachers.”

“All I am doing here is questioning the Memorandum’s aggravated interpretation of intentional coercion and threatened quid pro quo retaliation,” Escobedo said.

Benoit has 30 days to respond to the dean’s recommendation for Escobedo. Escobedo has been on paid administrative leave since March 2016.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said Escobedo is not criminally charged with any offense, and no reports of investigations against Escobedo are available from the Ohio University Police Department or the Athens Police Departments, according to officials at the departments.