Speaker Event to Go Ahead despite Sexual Harassment Allegations, Student Petition

Content Warning: this article contains discussion of sexual harassment.

A talk organised by ANU’s South Asia Research Institute (SARI) will go ahead today despite sexual harassment allegations raised against the keynote speaker, Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty. Students had prepared and signed a letter to SARI urging it to reconsider running the event due to the allegations, which were publicly made by a US academic last year.

The event is entitled “A registrar resigns: a micro-history of an institution in Calcutta, 1948”. The event page explains that “Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty from the University of Chicago will give a talk”, and details Chakrabarty’s qualifications. The talk is scheduled to begin at 1pm today (Wednesday 24 October).

Two students, Rashna Farrukh and Supriya Benjamin, penned an open letter to SARI saying, “we are incredibly disappointed at the choice of this event’s speaker.” “There have been sexual harassment allegations made against Dipesh [Chakrabarty] … We hope that SARI condemns, not normalises such behaviour,” it continues. The letter was shared to a number of groups on social media, and at time of publication, over 150 students have signed their names in support.

The students said that they had hoped that the University would cancel the event. “We really do hope that they do the right thing as we really believe that taking action on this will send a strong message from that this behaviour is neither welcome nor acceptable,” Farrukh and Benjamin told Observer yesterday. However, despite a University spokesperson confirming ANU has “been made aware of student concerns”, the event will go ahead today with Chakrabarty speaking.

The allegations were first made public in a 2017 article written by Dr C. Christine Fair, a US academic who said she had been sexually harassed by Chakrabarty in 1994. Fair told Observer, “I hope he will be asked whether or not he still thinks it’s appropriate to ask his students if they ‘are looking for sexual pleasure’.” She said she was “heartened and moved” by the response from students. She also alleged that she is “not his only victim”, saying that she had been contacted by others.

The ANU spokesperson emphasised that this alleged harassment “occurred outside of Australia”, saying that “The University has not received any specific information or complaint relating to the speaker.”

Farrukh and Benjamin told Observer that if the event went ahead, “given that it is a busy period for assessments … we don’t anticipate being able to protest in person.” They also said they took issue with “burden[ing] students further”, as “the onus should fall on the administration to do the right thing”.

“The reality is that often institutions do not take allegations of these kinds seriously,” the two students said. However, the ANU spokesperson maintained that “Any allegations of sexual harassment are concerning for the University and our chief priority is the safety of our campus community at all times.”

ANUSA will be holding an alternative event at 1pm on Chifley Meadows.

Support is available:

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm)

1800 RESPECT (24/7)

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

 

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