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Harvard puts anthropologist on leave amid allegations of sexual harassment

Gary Urton, 71, an expert on Andean culture and one of Harvard University’s most renowned anthropology professors, has been put on paid leave while the institution investigates allegations of sexual harassment filed by former students. The scandal broke on May 30, when the online edition of the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson published the testimony of a former Harvard student. The woman, who chose to remain anonymous, claimed that after asking Urton for a letter of recommendation, he invited her to a hotel near the university, where they got drunk and had sex. They maintained a consensual relationship between 2011 and 2013, which she described as “very traumatic.”

In 2016, the former student sought advice from the university and filed a harassment complaint, but no further action was taken. It turns out that until 2015, Harvard did not formally prohibit teachers from having sex with students. The Harvard Crimson discovered the testimony when investigating a parallel case: a lawsuit filed against Harvard by forensic anthropologist Kimberly Theidon. She claims the university’s anthropology department unfairly dismissed her at the end of her probationary research period because of her support for students who were victims of sexual harassment. To corroborate her account, she showed the court the testimony of a former student she had helped—which has now been made public by the student newspaper.

After the complaint was published, other women came forward. One of them was anthropologist Jade Guedes, who received an email from Urton in June 2012, when she was a PhD student at Harvard and he was head of the department. Urton had suggested meeting to discuss her research, and Guedes, 32 at the time, accepted. It was then that she received the email, which she has now posted on Twitter: “I wonder if you would be interested in something more intimate? What if I got a hotel room and then we got a bottle of wine and spent an afternoon in conversation and exploration? I do hope this is not shocking to you, or disturbing.” The student declined the offer, but decided to file a formal complaint now, upon discovering that others had also suffered harassment. Urton says he has done nothing wrong. “As much as I would love to respond to the false allegations that are circulating and destroying my professional reputation, I have been advised not to do so at this time. I hope that someday I will have the chance to clear my name,” he said in a statement. He did admit to sending the email to Guedes and apologized to her for his behavior.

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