Dartmouth Student On 12th Day Of Hunger Strike Over Handling Of Sexual Misconduct Allegations | New Hampshire Public Radio

Dartmouth Student On 12th Day Of Hunger Strike Over Handling Of Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Jul 25, 2020

Credit Flickr Creative Commons / Brave Sir Robin

Maha Hasan Alshawi, a graduate student in Dartmouth’s computer science department, is on her twelfth day of a hunger strike in response to how the school has handled her allegations of sexual misconduct and retaliation.

In her complaint, Alshawi says she brought up the misconduct to her department, but then received retaliation from other faculty, specifically, one giving her a failing grade on a final exam and, she says, withholding answers for lab assignments she needed as a teaching assistant. 

Alshawi is asking Dartmouth to reopen her case and change her grade.

Earlier this week, Dartmouth and Alshawi were in talks to negotiate next steps.

As part of the negotiations, Alshawi says the college asked her to refrain from public comment or social media posting, and that she would ask her supporters to do the same.

The college asked Alshawi to sign off on several conditions before it would open an external investigation: end the hunger strike, seek medical attention, agree to a release  that would allow the college to confirm Alshwai has undergone an evaluation and obtains recommended treatment, and according to a college spokesperson, agree to "complete transparency in the external investigation." 

Alshawi said she considered these conditions, but ultimately disagreed. She says she's told the college she wants an external investigation with no preconditions.

“I don’t want any other emails from their side," she said. "I just want them to send me an email that we have opened an external investigation of your case. Then I will end the strike and everyone will be fine.”

An advocacy group made up of alumni and students sent a letter to Dartmouth’s president and board of trustees on Friday calling on the college to "immediately engage an external investigator in this case."

In the letter, sent by the Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence, the group writes, "The College's response in this case tends to follow its long-standing practices of minimizing sexual harrasment and resisting even modest actions to ensure transparent responses." 

As far as her physical condition goes, Alshawi says she is "holding on." Earlier in the week she had a check-up with a doctor because of back pain she was experiencing. 

"The back pain was because my body starts to use muscle protein to make glucose," she wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday, July 23. 

Alshawi said she is continuing to drink liquids. 

In a statement on Friday, Dartmouth said that members of the community have asked the college to disclose details of its previous reviews of Alshawi's complaints and explain their conclusion from last week that "no further action was warranted" when it came to Alshawi's case. 

"Ms. Alshawi's legal privacy rights do not allow us to release these details unless she agrees to their disclosure, which she has so far declined," the statement says. 

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Alshawi responded to Dartmouth's statement. 

"I declined to share the fake report that Dartmouth sent it [sic] to me, in which they fabricated everything, even the harrassment incidents," she wrote. "They reported the harassment as the following: "Maha's supervisor once touched himself near her in a class". When I told them that this is not what I reported, they told me that they are aware of what I reported and they are only changing the wordings." 

Dartmouth says it has offered that it will engage in an external investigator and make the findings public, if Alshawi agrees to their conditions.  A spokesperson for Dartmouth says the college hopes "that she accepts this offer and does not put her health and well-being at further risk." 

In her social media post this weekend, Alshawi said, "I have the right to ask for unconditional, public, fair and transparent investigation." 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include more information on Dartmouth’s requests of Alshawi.