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BU investigates professor accused of sexually harassing students in Antarctica

Former BU grad students say the professor and department head sexually harassed them while in Antarctica years ago.
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BU is investigating a professor and department chair who former students have alleged sexually harassed them while on a research exedition in Antarctica. Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

Boston University is investigating claims from former female graduate students who allege that they were sexually harassed by BU professor and Earth and Environment department chair David Marchant during academic trips to Antarctica.

Science magazine reported the allegations and investigation last week and BU’s student newspaper, the Daily Free Press, reported Thursday that the report spurred the BU Graduate Workers Union to hold a rally Wednesday night as a way to speak out against sexual harassment in higher education.

One former graduate student, Jane Willenbring, who is now an associate professor at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, filed her complaint with BU against Marchant last October, decades after the harassment allegedly occurred.

She said in the complaint that Marchant “repeatedly shoved her down a steep slope, pelted her with rocks while she was urinating in the field, called her a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore,’ and urged her to have sex with his brother, who was also on the trip,” Science reported.

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Willenbring waited so long to file her complaint, she said in documents obtained by Science, because she feared retaliation from Marchant that could have ended her career before she was established.

Another complaint was filed by Deborah Doe (a pseudonym, according to Science) and a third by Hillary Tulley, now a high school teacher in Illinois, who said in her complaint that “[Marchant’s] taunts, degrading comments about my body, brain, and general inadequacies never ended.”

BU is aware of the “serious allegations of harassment” concerning Marchant, a spokesperson confirmed to Metro, and said that the school takes these “and any allegations of harassment very seriously, and we are aggressively investigating them.”

The school is a “number of months” into the investigation. Officials said that they regret how long the investigation is taking, but the delay comes from how long ago the harassment allegedly occurred.

“The accusations involve harassment that is alleged to have occurred as long as eighteen years ago in Antarctica, and it is taking time to reconstruct circumstances, identify witnesses, and verify facts. Once we complete this process, we will be able to reach conclusions based on those facts and share them with the complainants,” BU said in the statement. “Boston University is committed to providing an environment for our students, faculty, and staff that is free of harassment.”

 
 
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