|Sexual predator? Enmanuel Gomez Choque|
Kurin was found guilty of retaliating against students who had filed Title IX complaints against her partner (and later husband), Gomez, in connection with sexual harassment that took place during a 2015 archaeological field school directed by Kurin in Peru. Gomez was found guilty of the sexual harassment charges. In addition, I talked to victims of serious sexual assault at the hands of Gomez who were not part of this particular Title IX case.
I also reported that UCSB had kept the matter almost entirely secret, even though Kurin was put on three years' administrative leave as a sanction for the misconduct. As a result, very few faculty in the university's anthropology department, where Kurin is based, knew why she was on administrative leave, including the fact that it involved Title IX charges. Those who did know were sworn to secrecy by the university.
Within 24 hours after my February 28 report, a number of students and teaching assistants who had participated in Kurin's 2018 field school in Peru contacted me to describe misconduct which took place during that season--including, again, sexual assault and harassment by Gomez. They also detailed the efforts by Kurin to cover up these events, including telling the students blatant lies about the past history of misconduct. Some of these students have bravely decided to go on the record, despite Kurin's long history of retaliation against anyone who has reported misconduct involving her and Gomez.
My updated reporting also raises troubling questions about the role of the sponsor of Kurin's 2018 field season, the Los Angeles-based Institute for Field Research (IFR.) IFR officials knew, prior to sponsoring the 2018 field school, that Kurin had been on administrative leave beginning in 2016. Those officials claim, however, that they did not know why, and after reviewing positive evaluations from students who attended her 2017 field school, decided to underwrite the following year's season. My reporting, however, suggests that they did know, or should have known, raising troubling questions about whether IFR did all it could to protect students. As for UCSB, the facts leave little doubt that protecting students was not the university's highest priority.
What follows is based on interviews with direct witnesses and participants in these events. As always in my reporting, I do not rely on rumors or second hand information. Where I speculate or editorialize, I have made that entirely clear. (Gomez's defenses against the 2016 charges were outlined in the previous post; Kurin has not responded to multiple requests for comment.)
|Sexual predator's enabler? Danielle Kurin|
Secrecy at UC Santa Barbara and misjudgments (or outright negligence?) by IFR created still more victims.
Kurin and Gomez were found guilty of Title IX offenses in June 2016. Kurin had been put on administrative leave a few months earlier, and that was extended until last year after the findings against her. There is no indication that Gomez, who is based in Peru, was sanctioned in any way, and he remained on the UCSB anthropology department's bioarchaeology Web site until shortly after I began this investigation last year. He then disappeared, although I have retained a printout of the page.
I've communicated with a number of members of Kurin's department. They tell me that the anthropology faculty were kept in the dark about the reasons for Kurin's administrative leave, including the fact that it was due to Title IX charges. When anyone would ask, they would simply be told that it was something being handled by the UCSB administration and not the department; on occasion there would be a mention that "lawyers were involved," as one colleague put it. (Kurin did sue the university, unsuccessfully, for denying her a promotion.)
That something might be amiss did, however, come to the attention of IFR officials in 2016. Willeke Wendrich, director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA and chair of IFR's board of governors, tells me:
"In summer 2015 UCSB offered a field school (nothing to do with IFR). In 2016 Kurin requested that the field school would be offered through IFR. At that time UCLA extension was the school of record providing academic credit for IFR field schools. Ten days before the 2016 field school was supposed to start, UCLA extension cancelled the field school, with no reason given."
It would be fair to surmise, from the timing of events (Kurin's Peru field school normally began in July) that UCLA extension cancelled the field school because it had been informed about the June 2016 Title IX findings by the UCSB administration, or by someone in the UCSB anthropology department. I do not claim to know. Wendrich continues:
"In preparation of IFR's 2017 field school season we asked UCLA and UCSB to give some information on what the reason of the 2016 cancellation was to determine whether IFR would offer the Peru field school. We only received information that this was an 'administrative leave'. We decided after a long discussion to offer the field school (without UCLA extension credit, which was withheld by UCLA for reasons they would not share). During that year two IFR academics visited the site to check on the quality of the living circumstances and the education, as we do with all our field schools from time to time. The reports were good. In 2018 the field school was, therefore, offered again."
As it turned out, the students at the 2018 ended up reporting allegations of serious misconduct by both Gomez and Kurin to IFR, which eventually launched an investigation. After some months, that investigation led to IFR severing its ties with Kurin. As Wendrich describes events:
"Then, in the last week of the 2018 field school, we received word that there was a problem at the Peru field school. This was the first time allegations of improper conduct at the Peru field school came on our radar and it was the reason to terminate this field school indefinitely and discontinue IFR's relationship with the [Principal Investigator, ie, Kurin.]"
I asked Wendrich if the "adminstrative leave," and the fact that neither UCSB nor UCLA would tell IFR the reasons for it, should not have been a red flag for the institute's sponsorship of Kurin's field school. Wendrich replied that the Peru field school was very popular with students, there was a lot of disappointment when the 2016 season was cancelled, and that two IFR representatives had visited the field school in 2017 with no indications of problems. "If we had known that 'administrative leave' in this case represented a Title IX complaint and sanction our decisions would have been different," Wendrich told me, "but it's always easy to decide what should have been done in hind sight."
There are several problems with this stance, and it's true that some of them might have the benefit of hindsight. Some might argue that no matter how good the reviews of Kurin's field school, they should not have sponsored it without knowing why Kurin was on administrative leave. By 2018, reports of misconduct in field situations was very well known, thanks to a widely distributed study by a team of anthropologists and reporting by myself and other journalists. Wendrich and other officials and board members of IFR would certainly have been aware of this evidence. Also, if they had insisted on knowing the reasons, and been provided the details of the Title IX findings, they would have known that Kurin's habit was to retaliate against students who reported misconduct. Indeed, after she and Gomez were charged with misconduct, Kurin made a big plea to her current and former students to produce statements defending her. It is quite possible that participants in the 2016 and 2017 field schools would have put a positive face on things. But in fact, as I relate below, in 2017 a student was again harassed by Gomez, even though she did not report it at the time.
Yet there is an even more important reason to question this excuse by IFR. My reporting indicates that IFR did almost certainly did know about the 2016 Title IX allegations. Sources tell me that IFR board member Kevin Vaughn, an Andean archaeologist and dean at the University of California, Riverside, was tipped off about the accusations at the time (he was then a dean at UCLA Extension.) It stretches credulity that he would not have told other IFR board members and officials, including IFR executive director Ran Boytner. Unfortunately, Vaughn has not responded to multiple messages asking him to confirm or deny whether he was told about Kurin and Gomez and who in IFR he might have relayed the information to. Nor has Wendrich responded to multiple queries about this.
I can only speculate about why IFR officials are now denying that they knew what my sources tell me they did know. "Bullshit," says one UCSB faculty member, when told of IFR's denials. One possibility is fear of legal action from the students who were victimized during the 2018 field school. As I relate below, IFR's investigation of the 2018 events took an extended period of time, suggesting that lawyers might have been involved.
Whatever the case, it seems clear that UCSB, UCLA, and IFR let the students down badly, and put them in a position where a sexual predator was free to prey again.
But now, in the light of this background, let's have the students tell their stories.
The 2018 field school at Wari, Peru: Multiple incidents of sexual harassment and assault by Gomez.
In the course of this investigation, I have heard from women who were harassed or assaulted by Gomez going all the way back to 2011, and very often in the same way (see the previous report for some of those details from 2015.) Those students (or former students) who wish to remain anonymous I have identified by numbers.
Student No. 1: "Hi Michael, I've thought a lot about reaching out after I saw your article about Danielle Kurin and Manuel Gomez. I was on their project in Andahuaylas in 2011 and Manuel forcibly kissed me in a club on that trip. There were also several witnesses, whose names I've blurred [on a contemporaneous messenger thread she attached] since I don't know how they feel about being involved."
Student No. 2: This student describes going to a club with Gomez and a group of students during the field school in 2017 (the year after the Title IX findings.) "We were dancing in a group when Enmanuel came over and started dancing with me, pretty close up onto me. I thought he was showing me how to dance a particular dance, but he was way too close and touchy...I felt uncomfortable and asked another woman from the program if I could dance with her because he kept pushing himself at me....The rest of the program I felt very uncomfortable being alone with Enmanuel and and tried to avoid being alone with him as much as possible."
These are just some examples of the kind of behavior which I have tracked between 2011 and 2018, thanks to witnesses who nevertheless fear retaliation by Kurin and want to keep their identities as hidden as possible. But during the 2018 field school, now two years after the Title IX findings, things seem to have hit a new level of misconduct, and some students finally took a stand.
Taylor Johnston is a student at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. She told me that early in the 2018 field school, which began in June of that year, she had a lot of contact with Gomez. "Manuel was always around me and trying to get me alone," she recalls. At first she thought it was because she speaks Spanish well, and Gomez speaks English very poorly. About 10 days into the field season, Johnston says, Gomez took a group of students to an archaeological site called Tukri. "None of us brought alcohol," Johnston says, but "Manuel was pushing that we needed to go into town and buy beer. He was pushing all of us to drink." Johnston says that Gomez told them it was disrespectful to refuse, just as he did during the 2015 field season.
Johnston says that they were accompanied by another academic from a university in Peru, and that both of them behaved towards her in ways that were "totally inappropriate," including "grabbing my ass." After they returned to Andahuaylas, Johnston says, Gomez would drunkenly try to get into the house where the students were staying, banging on the door and asking for her early in the morning. After that she began to distance herself from Gomez, she says.
Johnston also told me about a day trip the group took to some nearly ponds, where the students went bathing despite the cold of the Peruvian winter (which is summer in the Northern Hemisphere.) In an incident reminiscent of one described by the 2015 students, Johnston says she was wearing a sweater over her bathing suit to keep warm. "Take off your sweater, I want to see your body in your bathing suit," Johnston recalls Gomez saying.
After Johnston began to keep her distance from Gomez, she and other witnesses say, Gomez began to take an interest in another young researcher I will call Student No. 3. On the night of July 13/14, shortly before the end of the field season, the students and Gomez went out to a club (Kurin normally did not join these outings.) According to several witnesses, Gomez began plying the students with drinks, especially Student No. 3. "He was bringing us shots every twenty minutes," Johnston says. "He kept pushing them on [Student No. 3.] He was with her all night at the club, dancing with her." Suddenly, around 1:30 am, the students realized that Gomez and Student No. 3 were no longer there. They began a frantic search for her, calling Gomez's cell phone and leaving messages but getting no answer.
At 5:30 am, Gomez returned to the field house with Student No. 3 in a taxi.
When Student No. 3 saw my initial report from last month, she contacted me directly.
Hello Mr. Balter,
I saw your article on the bio anthropology Facebook news page. I’m saddened and dismayed to learn Daniel[le] Kurin still works at UCSB. I attended the 2018 Wari field school and was personally assaulted by Manuel. Two days before leaving on a night out Manuel fed me drinks all night and then forcefully kissed me. There’s time missing from that night where I was with him alone and other members from the field school could not find me. This is very painful for me to write and think about, but I cannot fathom not saying something. Daniel[le] victim blamed me for the situation saying I was a consenting adult. Manuel came to the field house later in the night once I had returned, banging on the door demanding to see me and the other students sort of hid me away in a room. The whole situation was very traumatic and I wish I had pressed charges, however this all happened two days before we were leaving and I wanted to get away as soon as possible. I’m hoping the more people speak out the higher the chances of her not working with students are.
Thank you for bringing attention to this.
In a followup email, Student No. 3 added:
Important update, March 12, 2020: Did IFR officials lie when they said they did not know that Kurin and Gomez were subject to a Title IX proceeding at UCSB?
Before I posted this updated story, I did a few social media posts in which I suggested that IFR officials knew about the 2016 Title IX allegations. I received the following email from IFR board chair Willeke Wendrich, questioning my journalistic ethics:
Michael,I am thoroughly disappointed with your lack of journalistic ethics. You are publishing falsehoods. IFR was not aware of any title IX investigations and accusations prior to the 2018 field school. I made this very clear in our email conversation.Willeke
As we know from the above report, board member Kevin Vaughn did know about this (at the time he was UCLA Extension's Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.)
The email below, sent to the students who had signed up for the 2016 field school and citing "a health and safety issue," was sent on June 16, 2016, which was two days after the Title IX findings were secretly published.
The only remaining question is whether Ran Boytner lied to Wendrich about the reasons for the cancellation, or whether Wendrich lied to me. Meanwhile I have submitted a California Public Records Act request to UCLA for all correspondence between Kevin Vaughn and Ran Boytner about the cancellation of the field school.
Further update March 12: I am now starting to hear from archaeologists who tell me that Ran Boytner told them that Danielle Kurin had been cleared by the UCSB Title IX proceeding. That was a flat lie, and, as indicated above, Boytner had to have known it was.
Late update March 12: Based on new information, I now have reason to believe that the chair of IFR's board of governors, Willeke Wendrich of UCLA, is lying about what IFR knew about the 2016 Title IX findings, along with Ran Boytner who has lied repeatedly to colleagues about it.
Update March 24: New Title IX complaint against Danielle Kurin. One of my sources from the UCSB anthropology department has recently disclosed making an anonymous report to the UC Santa Barbara Title IX office, citing the details I reported about the 2018 IFR field school as information sufficient to require mandated reporting. The fact that reporting misconduct is mandated by law and university policy makes it very likely that other UCSB anthropology department members have done so as well.