Calling on NYU to fire Professor Avital Ronell — who returned this semester after a year-long suspension for sexually harassing a student — around 20 graduate student workers protested outside of Bobst Library on Tuesday.
The demonstration was held by the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, a union of graduate student workers, which has been at odds with the university since NYU’s Title IX office found Ronell guilty of sexually harassing her student in the summer of 2018. GSOC has maintained that suspending her for one year without pay was not a sufficient response. Instead, they demanded that NYU fire Ronell, a measure supported by NYU’s student government.
After multiple back-and-forths, NYU has promised to start making annual Title IX reports and pilot a restorative justice option for victims, fulfilling one of GSOC’s demands. However, Ronell has still not been fired, spurring protestors like GSAS student Alysha Kundanmal to come out on Tuesday.
“She is found responsible for sexually harassing one of her students,” said Kundanmal, who is also a member of GSOC. “This behaviour is indicative of an endemic problem across academia; this case is just the tip of the iceberg.”
GSOC has previously stated that the graduate student-advisor relationship has an inherent and harmful power imbalance due to students’ dependence on advisors for future career prospects. When it comes to Ronell, NYU no longer allows her to advise or meet with students on her own. She also is not allowed to teach undergraduates.
“What kind of professor cannot advise their own students?” GSOC organizer Zach Rivers said. “NYU already tacitly acknowledges that she poses a threat to her graduate students. Why else would these conditions be applied?”
NYU has also assigned security guards to Ronell.
“Her students are the ones who are in most danger,” Kundanmal said. “They are going through so much effort to keep her here and not enough effort in protecting students.”
As part of their petition, GSOC has also demanded NYU increase its funding and staff for the Student Health Center and Title IX, have regular in-person training for faculty, staff and students and offer anonymous reporting of offenses, among other things.
Rivers also called upon NYU to create a peer training program in self-advocacy and bystander intervention, and update the websites of resources such as the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Sexual Misconduct Prevention, Assistance, Counseling and Education program. As of now, GSOC says these resources are hard to find and difficult to navigate.
NYU has yet to respond to many of these asks, including GSOC’s main call for Ronell’s termination, which has been the primary impetus for the union’s mobilization.
“The response overall is lazy,” Rivers said. “Lazy because they are not taking action. They basically are telling us that Ronell will not be fired. We disagree and will continue to mobilize until she is gone.”
Email Victor Porcelli and Mina Mohammadi at [email protected]