UC Santa Barbara kept misconduct findings against an archaeological couple--a sexual predator and his enabler--secret from students, faculty, and the scientific community, allowing further episodes of misconduct (including sexual assault) and new victims. Did a leading archaeological institute fail to do due diligence as well? [Updated June 10: UCSB cops out and drops Title IX case against Kurin]

Sexual predator? Enmanuel Gomez Choque
Last month, I posted a report concerning two archaeologists, Danielle Kurin of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Enmanuel Gomez Choque, a Peruvian archaeologist based in Andahuaylas, Peru. Based on documents I had received from UCSB, and corroborating evidence from witnesses, I was able to determine that this couple had been found guilty in June 2016 of Title IX offenses by the university.

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:

Hi Michael,
I can tell you a bit more, but there really is a lot of time missing.  We started at a karaoke bar and after that I tried to go home. I remember Manuel saying no no we are staying out and putting me in a cab with him. I believe we went to a different night club after that but I’m not really sure. It goes pretty blank after that. The last thing I remember is being put into a cab by Manuel and him telling me “not to tell anyone” and when I got back to the field house everyone was panicking and scared about where I had been. If I’m being honest with you, there’s no doubt in my mind non- consensual acts happened. I had bruises and aches the next morning but the fact is that I do not remember more than the kiss and then being put in the cab by Manuel.

In a final email, Student No. 3 told me:  "I've prevented myself from attending other field schools because I felt so jarred from the experience with the two of them."

The students confront Kurin, who gaslights them and blatantly lies about past events.

A number of students involved in this episode talked to me about it, including the ones already named. They say that after Student No. 3 got back into the house, Gomez, very drunk, continued to try to get at her. Gomez was confronted by a male student, Ruben Garcia Diaz, who almost got into a fight with the Peruvian as the group tried to get him to leave. (Garcia Diaz was a former student at the University of Puerto Rico, who graduated in 2013 with a BA in anthropology. He told me that had to quit archaeology after he injured himself doing paid archaeological field work to pay his bills for the Peru trip.)

Finally Kurin heard the noise and came into the student house (Gomez and Kurin lived together in a home nearby that belonged to Gomez's family.) There was an angry exchange between Kurin and the students, which one of them surreptitiously recorded, in which she blamed the students for what had happened, arguing that Student No. 3 was a "consenting adult" and had to take equal responsibility for what happened. Finally it was agreed that they entire group would meet later that afternoon.

During that meeting, the students say, Kurin kept her cell phone in her hand, and claimed that her sister, a lawyer, was on the other end of the line. Johnston then began recording the session on her iPhone as well, not trying to hide it from Kurin; the session was also surreptitiously recorded by another student, creating two digital files, both of which I have listened to.

During this meeting, Kurin made a number of notable and contradictory statements:

--Kurin at first apologized, and announced that Gomez had been banned from the archaeological project, even though she had not heard all the evidence. "I am taking your side," she told the students. (This statement would turn out not to be true, as sources say that the couple were still working and living together in Peru as of late last year.)

--Kurin implored the students to reflect upon their positive experiences, and asked them what more she could have done. "He is being punished," Kurin said. "He is banned from the project, forever! What do you want me to do, cut off his dick?"

--When the students told Kurin that they heard rumors about previous incidents of misconduct, she blatantly lied and said that this was "defamation" and not true. Later she said that any allegations had been "investigated and resolved." (As we know, in June 2016 both Kurin and Gomez were found guilty of Title IX charges.) The vehemence of Kurin's denials on the recording are remarkable, given their untruth.

Nicole Fiorino, the curator at the Sitka Historical Society & Museum in Sitka, Alaska, was also present at this meeting. "I can tell you about the fear everyone experienced that night," she told me, "and I can tell you about the aftermath and how Danielle tried to sweep it all under the rug. I can speak to how she blamed the entire event on us and on the victim [Student No. 3]. I can tell you how she screamed at us... she and Enmanuel are predators and I need to make sure she never has the opportunity to hurt more people." (Nearly all of the students who have described their experiences to me at field schools run by Kurin over a number of years have remarked on what they viewed as her extreme mental instability.)

That same afternoon, some of the students, led by Garcia Diaz, began composing a letter of complaint to send to IFR executive director Ran Boytner. Garcia Diaz believes they sent the letter to Boytner the following day, which would have been July 15, 2018. "We were afraid of Danielle retaliating, "he told me, "so we sat down for hours listening to [the] recording and taking notes to send them to IFR." But while Boytner quickly acknowledged the communication, IFR did not interview any of the students for more than two months, leaving them frustrated and feeling ignored. Nevertheless, the institute did appoint a committee of inquiry, made up of board members Willeke Wendrich of UCLA, Julie Stein of the University of Washington, and Fred Limp of the University of Arkansas.

Finally, on September 20, 25, and 27, 2018, the committee interviewed three of the students who were witnesses to Gomez's behavior with Student No. 3 at the club. They declined to interview Garcia Diaz, who was a witness to the aftermath and Kurin's handling of the situation, on the grounds that he had not been at the club. Why it took them so long to interview the witnesses is not clear. But on October 17, Boytner wrote to the students to tell them the findings:

We have completed our investigation into complaints of alleged inappropriate behavior during the night of July 13-14 at the Peru-Wari field school. Our investigation was conducted promptly, thoroughly and confidentially, as is our practice.  In our investigation we did substantiate that inappropriate behavior occurred. Such conduct violates IFR policy and standards of conduct.
The IFR will no longer work with Dr. Danielle Kurin, the director of the field school.    
At this point, we consider the investigation closed.
Ran Boytner
Executive Director

On March 4, as part of our email exchange, Willeke Wendrich told me the following:

"...we took a very public stance when we terminated the field school and ended all collaboration with Kurin and Gomez. Other than that, we have a duty towards our students to keep their information and privacy protected."

I then asked Wendrich where that public stance had been taken, and, if it had been published somewhere, if she could send me a link or copy of it. I asked her that because no one I have talked to had ever seen or heard of the "public stance."

At that point, Wendrich lost her temper, and responded:

"I've addressed your barrage of questions promptly, in spite of my overstuffed schedule. Let's agree that I will read any piece you want to publish to check on factual inaccuracies and leave it at that."

We did have one more email exchange, in which Wendrich reiterated IFR's anti-misconduct policy. On receiving that I again asked her if she could clarify her statement about the public stance. Again, she did not respond.

So where does this leave us? I've discussed the issues in some detail in the earlier report, so I will not repeat them all here. Suffice it to say that we have public university, UCSB, which for reasons of its own has kept its own faculty and the archaeology community in the dark about serious misconduct by one of its faculty members and her partner--thus leading to more victimization of students who were not warned about the earlier abuses. (Recall that neither UCSB nor UCLA extension would tell IFR why Kurin was on administrative leave; other than providing me with the Title IX documents under the California Public Records Act, which they were required to do by law, UCSB has refused to make any other comment about this situation.)

We also have the IFR, whose failure to raise serious questions about Kurin's administrative leave contributed as well to the continuing abuses. In other words, we have institutional failures all around; or, should I say, institutional negligence, because prioritizing the safety of the students would have led to very different decisions about how all this should have been handled.

Kurin is now up for tenure. But her days at UCSB may be numbered. Last month, she was scheduled to speak at the Stanford Archaeology Center about her work in Peru; but when faculty there learned about the 2016 Title IX findings and read my report, they cancelled the talk. Then, earlier this month, a student who was planning to work with Kurin on her PhD starting this fall changed her mind after being warned by anthropology department faculty and after reading my original story. That is good, but this student's time, and possibly her dreams, have been wasted.

Now there are no excuses, because there are few remaining secrets. All of UCSB's attempts to guard Kurin's reputation, and protect its own, have evaporated into thin air--thanks to a number of brave young researchers, who, frustrated by the failure of the community they are part of to protect them, turned in desperation to a reporter willing to help them tell their stories.

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:

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.

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, 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.

Update April 8: Despite the pandemic, UC Santa Barbara is now interviewing witnesses in multiple new Title IX cases against Danielle Kurin.

Update June 10, 2020: In the above post, I told the story of Student No. 3, who was sexually assaulted by Danielle Kurin's partner, Enmanuel Gomez Choque. In April, Student No. 3 filed a Title IX complaint against Kurin, alleging that she had enabled the assault and was complicit in it (recall that Kurin was found guilty by UCSB in 2016 of retaliating against students who were harassed by Gomez, but was allowed by IFR to conduct the 2018 field school under its auspices nevertheless.)

The UCSB Title IX has now made a cowardly decision in this case: It has decided that because the assault took place away from UCSB, and at a site not controlled by the university, that it had no jurisdiction. This is a strange interpretation of Title IX, if not outright wrong, because the law applies to faculty members no matter where they are operating in the world, including at field sites.

I will let Student No. 3 speak for herself about what happened:

"I got the news about Title IX last Friday. I have taken a couple of weeks to digest. Essentially, because the incident occurred in a program (through IFR) that was not sanctioned or ran by USCB, it is out of their jurisdiction to take any action. I pressed and mentioned that surely two filings against Kurin is enough to at least reevaluate her as a professor, but the woman I spoke to simply repeated the information about jurisdiction."

She adds further:

"I have...expressed my utmost concern about Kurin continuing to use her position to lure unsuspecting students to Peru with her and her husband...Kurin and Emanuel are predators who use the trust that students put in them as professionals against them (the students)."

I have to share Student No. 3's anger about this resolution. As I have described in this and previous reporting about Kurin, UCSB has turned a blind eye to Kurin's personal misconduct and enabling of repeated sexual misconduct at her field site. Members of the UCSB anthropology department have been largely kept in the dark, and those who do know about it have had little say about the situation--the university administration has called all the shots.

In conclusion, I can only condemn the UCSB administration in the strongest terms for failing to protect students from sexual predation and for allowing Kurin to continue to mentor students and teach in the department (she is on the schedule to teach again this fall.)

Updates as they are available.

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Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
This is indeed sad and outrageous, but the crucial point here is that UCSB did not concluded that the case did not have merit, but that it fell outside their jurisdiction “because the incident occurred in a program (through IFR) that was not sanctioned or ran by USCB”.
In this case, the spotlight is back on the IFR. Since there is enough evidence to suspect that this had happened because of cover-ups at the IFR, an external investigation into the organization is needed in order to give justice to the student and other survivors.
Anonymous said…
This is very disheartening and sad to learn. I wonder if new changes to Title IX (which take effect on August 14) impacted UCSB's decision to drop the case. As explained in this Insider Higher Ed piece: "The new rules clearly state institutions are not obligated to investigate reports of sexual misconduct in their study abroad programs or provide support to those who report misconduct outside the U.S." https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/05/12/new-title-ix-regulation-sets-location-based-boundaries-sexual-harassment-enforcement

It seems universities were not legally required to extend Title IX to study abroad situations prior to these new changes anyway. Although, I am confused as to how this would change if it was a faculty member who was the one committing the violation. As you state, how could Title IX not apply to faculty in this case?