Student Trustee Misconduct

Gin Dumcius

A case of sexual harassment and misconduct has been brought against UMass Boston’s student trustee.

Student Trustee Heather Dawood is the subject of an investigation by the Office of Affirmative Action and Multicultural Relations into charges brought forth by Christopher Garner, a yearbook editor and former student senator. The charges are backed up by two witnesses to the events.

The alleged series of incidents started in the first few weeks of October of this year, The Mass Media has learned.

“Ms. Dawood, for quite some time, had been making comments like, ‘When are you going to come into my office and throw it in me? Why don’t you just fuck me and [another student]?’ in the hallway in front of other people. It was going on for some time,” says Garner.

One day near the yearbook office, up on Wheatley’s fourth floor, Garner says, Trustee Dawood grabbed his rear end and asked him to come into the office for sex. “And she repeatedly did it four or five times. Both [witnesses] knew that I was uncomfortable. As soon as she walked away, I said, ‘You know, if she wasn’t the Trustee, I wouldn’t let her get away with it.'” Trustee Dawood had been making jokes of a sexual nature with a group of students right before the alleged incident occurred, the two witnesses said.

One witness, on the condition of anonymity, concurs with Garner’s account of the incident, saying that, “Chris’s face fell and he became immediately horrified.” The witness stated, “[Dawood] took it as a joke. She called him back over and did it again.”

Two days after that, on October 7, Garner went into the Trustee’s Office to hand Trustee Dawood an outline of the ombudsman position, which Garner had been working on as a student initiative, but removed himself from pursuing later in November. Trustee Dawood is on the Senate’s Campus and Community Affairs Committee (CCA), which is currently handling the establishment of an ombudsperson.

Garner says he put the outline on her desk. “She told me she didn’t care about the document. She then made an allegation that I had solicited, and in fact pre-written, a statement for a student who openly supported me in a meeting of CCA the previous week,” he stated in a formal grievance to then-Associate Dean of Students, and current Interim Dean, Angeline Lopes. Garner says he told her to stop making the allegations, at which point she allegedly told him, “Fuck you, and get the fuck out of my office,” allegedly pointing both middle fingers at him. Garner left the room and went into the yearbook office, where she pursued him.

“She proceeded to storm between [the yearbook’s] office and her office four or five times, screaming at the top of her lungs, ‘Fuck you!'” said Garner. At one point, Trustee Dawood told a student, who had also witnessed the exchange in her office moments before, as well as the alleged sexual harassment two days before that, that she wanted to punch Garner in the face, a statement which Garner overheard.

Trustee Dawood then allegedly came into the yearbook office, “closed the door behind her and began to scream at me, shaking violently, and crying.” Garner states that she continued to “insult and abrade” him, using foul language and an elevated voice. “She was screaming at me that she was in financial trouble and claimed I didn’t care. I didn’t know about the situation, didn’t feel it was relevant and didn’t know why she was mad at me for it.”

Garner says he finally yelled back at her, and she threw her book in the air, knocking out a ceiling tile, and then stormed out of the office. One of the witnesses verifies this account, saying they heard Trustee Dawood screaming at Garner from outside the hallway, and then entering the yearbook office, slamming the door. The witness also stated that after they heard objects being thrown, they saw Trustee Dawood storm out of the office. “Dawood was screaming, swearing, and emotionally out of control…” they wrote in a letter of testimony.

Right after the incident, Garner says, he decided to go to Student Life, which is down the hall. Since both the Director of Student Life Joyce Morgan and Associate Director Donna Neal were not there, he went to speak with Bob Cole, the Assistant Director of Student Life. Garner says Cole told him that it was “ultra-important” and advised to ask the witnesses, in front of a third party, to immediately document their stories, in letters of testimony, which The Mass Media has obtained with permission and on the condition of anonymity.

Cole, when asked to comment on the story, stated he could not discuss it because there are formal charges pending. He did say, however, that “Mr. Garner approached me one day regarding the matter and I gave the best possible advice I could.”

Garner then wrote out the formal grievance, with the two testimonies attached, to Associate Dean Lopes.

In a letter addressed to whomever it may concern and dated October 10, Madison Thompson, the Director of Affirmative Action & Multicultural Affairs, confirmed that he had been working with Garner on “the resolution of issues referred to my office by the Dean of Students…. These issues are of a personal nature and may be stressful enough to impact upon his ability to focus his academic efforts.” Thompson stated that he had encouraged Garner to speak with all of his instructors to make sure that the impact is limited.

“Any charges filed through my office would be confidential,” said Thompson, after asked for comment. “Any discussion would be inappropriate.”

In a letter to Garner, dated October 15, then-Dean of Students Stephanie Janey wrote, “Given the charge of sexual harassment and the pending investigation of this matter by Madison Thompson…and of other charges of misconduct, the Office of the Dean of Students is issuing a no contact order, effective immediately,” meaning that Dawood could have no contact with Garner verbally, via telephone, e-mail, or a third party, and the same went for Garner. If either needed to communicate with the other, they would have to do it through the Dean’s Office. She further wrote, “Any violation of this order by either party will result in charges of student misconduct and issuance of appropriate sanctions according to the Code of Student Conduct.”

“I was really upset that they wouldn’t remove her from the floor,” said Garner, “’cause I offered an alternating schedule, meaning that while I was here, she wouldn’t be, and vice versa. And all they did was make a no contact order.” Trustee Dawood pushed the limits of the no contact order as well, Garner alleges. “She stood in front of my door and made jokes about the charges. She told me not to tell anyone and then goes around telling people that people are trying to slander her name. Apparently Ms. Dawood doesn’t understand that it’s only slander when it’s not true.”

On October 28, Garner wrote to Chancellor Jo Ann Gora, complaining that three weeks had passed since he had submitted the charges, and he had not received any official communication regarding them, nor had he been given the opportunity to meet with the Dean of Students Office. “This situation has done nothing but escalate and still I am ignored,” he wrote. He also mentioned that he had contacted both the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in the Civil Rights Bureau, the Massachusetts Commission on Discrimination, and private legal counsel. “I am providing the university with the opportunity to address this issue and meet its obligations to the students involved, which includes myself, before I take action that I feel, unfortunately, necessary.

“I am hoping that we can resolve this matter without the above offices, and/or the corresponding courses of action, being involved, but I am left with no alternative should I continue to be treated in a second-class manner. I am not threatening anyone just making sure that I provide every opportunity to resolve an issue before legal action becomes my only option, as I have been advised,” he wrote in closing.

On the same day, Garner received a letter from Dean Janey, regarding the matter of Student Senator J. Stone Laraway’s charge of harassment against Trustee Dawood. A meeting was going to be held to discuss the issue. “You are expected to participate,” wrote Dean Janey.

Dawood had allegedly started to harass Senator Laraway, approaching him daily, demanding to know what had gone on at the meeting with him, Garner, and the Chancellor. Senator Laraway cited an incident where she allegedly told a student teacher that she wanted to punch Laraway in the face. The student teacher could not be reached for comment.

“Trustee Dawood continues to badger me, load the question, and keeps continuing to mimic the whole process,” said Senator Laraway, when asked for comment. “This is not a professional person.” Last week Senator Laraway went so far as to file a request for a civil restraining order in Suffolk Superior Court Department of the Trail Court. Senator Laraway has frequently criticized the Senate this semester for allegedly violating bylaws, and at one time threatened to sue the Senate if it did not recognize him as Acting CCA Chair.

In the following weeks, two mediation sessions would take place between all involved, as well as the former Dean of Students, the current Dean of Students, an Affirmative Action officer, and the Director of Student Life, the proceedings of which are confidential. A source close to the proceedings stated that Trustee Dawood admitted culpability to the charges in the mediation.

What is known is that Trustee Dawood has offered to write a letter of apology, which Garner says he rejected because she allegedly mocked the charges and he believed it wouldn’t be sincere.

On November 27, Garner wrote to Interim Dean Lopes, “My perspective on the situation is that I filed two very serious charges that were ignored for several weeks, then after threatening legal action and having to waste the Chancellor’s time there was a serious intervention in terms of an additional mediation.

“I was told that the issue of sexual harassment would be dealt with and then the issue of misconduct, when she physically threatened me. Yet, outside of an hour and a half hour meeting to just talk some things out there has been no follow up or visible recourse.”

Hearing no response for several days, Garner wrote again on December 3rd, stating that he was not proud of the tone of his last letter, but he would be making no apologies for it. “My patience has run thin and I feel as if your office provides me with empty rhetoric and lip service to protect its political issues.”

Interim Dean Lopes responded the next day, hours before the issue would be broached in a Student Senate meeting. “It is I who needs to apologize,” she wrote. “As you know, I make it a habit to respond as soon as I can but with the re[c]ent changes in the division, and priorities shifting, your e-mail, along with others, was put aside, but not forgotten.”

Interim Dean Lopes then proceeded to go through Garner’s list of complaints, writing that the issue of misconduct had been addressed, but that he is not privy to it, in accordance with federal law. The mediation session was “the strongest evidence of attempted resolution,” she wrote in the same e-mail, and stressed that she felt Garner was not being ignored.

According to the Code of Student Conduct in the Student Handbook, which is sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, “Both the accused and the accuser shall be advised of the findings at each step of the process involving the adjudication of a misconduct complaint.”

On the same page, it also states, “Both the accused and victim of an alleged sexual offense have the right to advocates at each step of the process…” as well as “…the student…shall have the right to be accompanied… by a member of the University community of his/her choice (except legal counsel) to act as an advocate on the student’s behalf.” In the Guidelines For Campus-Based Disciplinary Procedures, it says, “Complainants should be provided the opportunity to make an impact statement, particularly in cases of assault and harassment. Garner alleges none of those happened.

“It’s a matter of confidentiality,” said Interim Dean Lopes in a quick interview last Monday morning. Lopes declined to comment, citing federal laws in stating that the Dean’s Office is not at liberty to discuss the issue with anyone or anything unless that person gives the university written permission.

Dean Lopes did, however, explain the process. “Typically, when there’s a sexual harassment charge, it goes to the Affirmative Action officer. All such claims of sexual harassment get investigated through the Affirmative Action Office.”

“The Dean’s Office usually waits until the investigation and after the investigation, whatever the outcome is, we try to support the [outcomes] or whatever steps [the Office of Affirmative Action] deem[s] appropriate. We support and enforce whatever the recommendation is.”

The charges and the issue were brought into the public light at the December 4 Student Senate meeting. During the open forum session, Senator Laraway listed what he felt were numerous grievances, which included CCA’s lack of quorum and discussion of Garner’s charges against Trustee Dawood. The room burst into chaos for a brief moment, and soon after the Senate voted to go into executive, or closed, session.

In an interview with The Mass Media several days later, Garner said, “I knew that in doing so, if word got out about this, I thought it would really hurt Heather. So I tried to keep it quiet, and I did the best I could.”

“This wasn’t a political game, man,” he said when pressed as to whether this was part of some strategy on his part. “This is about the fact that Heather’s behavior is and was completely unacceptable. And it needed to be fixed. And when it escalated into me being sexually assaulted and, you know, treated like some piece of shit, and then she comes in here and screams at me?

“I kept it quiet,” he continued. “I wasn’t out to crush this girl. I wasn’t out to politically slander her and get her name smeared all over the newspaper like this has had to come to. I just felt like that her pattern of behavior… you have three people upset; it’s time to get rid of her,” he said, referring to a third student, who had come to the Dean with complaints about Dawood making them uncomfortable. The Dean reportedly told the student she had no case and to keep quiet.

“I’m not aware of any situation like that,” says Dean Lopes, “but at the same time, going back to what I said, unless it’s– I can’t talk specifically about anything and specific cases… I know that any student…obviously me being fairly new within this position… any student that has come to see me I have dealt with accordingly. I don’t think anyone would be told to keep quiet. That’s sort of, not what we do.”

Trustee Dawood declined to comment on the charges brought forth by Garner, and instead offered a quote from William Faulkner’s novel, Light In August: “He believed that the town had had the habit of saying things about the disgraced minister which they did not believe themselves, for too long a time to break themselves of it. ‘Because always,’ he thinks, ‘when anything gets to be a habit, it also manages to get a right good distance away from truth and fact.'” The quote is in reference to the character of Reverend Hightower, an outcast minister who was forced out of his church many years ago after his wife died in a Memphis hotel room, and is obsessed with the memory of his grandfather.

Regarding Senator Laraway’s charges, she stated, “No, I’m not harassing Stone Laraway.”

Trustee Dawood is a non-voting student me

ber of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees. Each student member is elected by their school to serve a one-year term. The trustee also sits on the Student Senate, as well as the Senate’s Campus & Community Affairs Committee and Steering Committee.