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NH News

Report Clears Dartmouth Professor Accused Of Harassment By Student Who Went On Hunger Strike

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External investigators retained by Dartmouth College after a graduate student went on a hunger strike last summer, claiming that a computer science professor had sexually harassed her, have cleared him of wrongdoing, noting that he was not in the Upper Valley when she said one of the incidents occurred.

The investigators’ report also found that Maha Hasan Alshawi, who is no longer a graduate student at Dartmouth, did not disclose that she had made nearly identical claims against a former professor of hers in Egypt.

“We find that there is insufficient evidence to support ... a finding that (professor Alberto Quattrini Li) engaged in any conduct that would constitute Sexual or Gender-Based Harassment or Retaliation,” reads the eight-page executive summary of the report, issued on Friday.

The report is from Maureen Holland and Peter Lim, of the Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor, and who work with institutions dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.

Alshawi, who was a first-year Ph.D. student from Bahrain, first alleged in February 2020 that Li touched himself inappropriately in front of her and then retaliated against her in several ways including not inviting her on a research trip and letting another student access her office.

Dartmouth opted not to pursue a formal Title IX investigation at the time, saying her claims could not be substantiated.

Alshawi’s case drew widespread attention last July when she waged a 24-day hunger strike. She said at the time that she started the strike in an effort to pressure the college to change a low grade she claims to have received in retaliation for making the claims against Li.

As the weeks wore on, protesters organized demonstrations for Alshawi in Hanover and national news publications wrote stories on her hunger strike and her allegations against Li.

Alshawi ended the strike in August after Dartmouth officials agreed to appoint an outside attorney to investigate her allegations.

In her two sexual harassment claims, Alshawi said Li grabbed himself inappropriately during two one-on-one meetings with her; one in November 2019 and the other in December of that year. During both incidents she claimed that he looked at her in a “challenging” and “What are you going to do about it?” way, the report said. Following the December incident, Alshawi claimed that she stayed in her room for the next three weeks, crying.

Li denied ever touching himself in front of Alshawi and provided travel receipts that showed he was in Washington, D.C., and in China during the period of time in November that Alshawi claimed the first meeting happened. He also said that following their meeting in December 2019, he and Alshawi kept in constant communication about her work with computer coding, the report said.

The investigators found no evidence of wrongdoing in either alleged incident and wrote in the report that Alshawi and Li’s communications on Slack reflected a “positive” and “supportive” relationship.

Li also told investigators that Alshawi had made similar allegations to him about a former professor she worked under at the American University in Cairo. However, investigators noted in their report that Alshawi never disclosed those claims to them, which they wrote reflects “negatively upon the credibility and reliability of her report.”

Alshawi also made four retaliation claims against Li, including that he unlocked the door to her office to let another student enter without her permission in November. Li told investigators that Alshawi shared the office with a colleague and that he only opened it briefly to let the other graduate student pick up a robot the two were working on, the report said.

In another retaliation claim, Alshawi said Li excluded her from an underwater robotics research trip to Barbados in the 2019-20 winter semester, despite inviting other graduate students. Li admitted that she was not invited on the trip, but said it was because Alshawi had not completed the necessary research and “would not have benefited from the opportunity to conduct field experiments,” the report said. Additionally, he said he took only four graduate students on the trip and partly decided not to include Alshawi because she had said she was considering dropping out of the Ph.D. program.

Alshawi also claimed that Li acted “aggressively” toward her, made her uncomfortable and discouraged her from interacting with her peers, all of which Li denied.

In every instance, investigators found no evidence to support Alshawi’s allegations of retaliation or unfair treatment.

Li took “extraordinary steps to support Maha and to assist her in continuing to access Dartmouth’s education program,” the report read.

Calls and messages to Alshawi, who is no longer enrolled at Dartmouth, and her adviser, attorney Wendy Rogovin, were not returned Thursday.

A message to Li for comment on the findings was not returned Thursday.

Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence, when asked for comment, referred to passages in the report that exonerated Li and noted that it also found that the college had “followed its procedures, reached reasonable and factually supported conclusions in evaluating the information available at the time, and took reasonable action in response to Alshawi’s allegations at the time.”

The report is the first in a handful of findings the school plans to publish, responding to claims Alshawi made of sexual or gender-based harassment or retaliation against eight Dartmouth employees, including Li.

“The number of reports that will be issued is to be determined,” Lawrence wrote. “The external investigators will be issuing the reports on a rolling basis.”