When the accuser is male and the accused is a feminist scholar

Amid sexual harassment cases in higher education with a male perpetrator and a female victim, the lawsuit filed by Nimrod Reitman, a gay man and a graduate student at NYU, against his advisor Avital Ronell, a queer woman and a world-famous scholar in German and ComLit, is quite unusual.

According to a New York Times article, Reitman said Ronell had harassed him for three years, including inviting him to her bed, kissing him, touching him, appearing at his apartment uninvited and insisting on sleeping with him for a few days. And uncommon in other sexual harassment cases in higher education with a female accuser, Reitman had to follow her order because of her overarching power and reputation in academics. This might not be the most powerful evidence against Ronell because there was not witness to it, but Reitman did also provide email correspondence between Ronell and him in which Ronell was clearly not behaving appropriately as an academic adviser.

However, a group of feminists, including my former academic idol (yes, former) Judith Butler and the chair of Department of German at New York University Christopher Wood, wrote a letter to the president and provost of New York University to testify for Avital Ronell. In the letter they said, “although we have no access to the confidential dossier” (WOW), they “have all seen her relationship with students”. At the same time, Andrea Long Chu, a former teaching assistant of Ronell, wrote in an article supporting Reitman that anyone in the Department of German knows that Ronell is abusive. Some of these feminist scholars also know “this individual who has waged this malicious campaign against her”, aka, the victim Reitman. They also mentioned Ronell’s “grace”, “keen wit”, “intellectual commitment” and “international standing and reputation”, all of which have nothing to do with Ronell being a potential sexual predator to her graduate student.

When the accuser is a female student and the accused is a male advisor, people in the #metoo movements know not to blame the victim. But apparently it is not the case when the scenario is reversed. When the accused is a feminist scholar (worth noting that Chu in article made this distinction, other female scholars teamed up and defended her, and this is no different from people defending male scholars with a high academic standing and power in other #metoo cases in higher ed.

Well, unsurprisingly, Avital Ronell returned to NYU to teach after the Title IX investigation and last time I checked, she is still on NYU’s website and a university professor.

Probably just like other male scholars with a high academic standing and power in other #metoo cases in higher ed.

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