Afghanistan vet Ricky Nelson found solace in archaeology from his injuries and his PTSD. But his dreams were dashed and he felt forced to give them up. Now he is gone. Here is his story.

Ricky Nelson (photo courtesy of Derek Miltimore)

Last August 30, Ricky Nelson, an Afghanistan veteran who had tried to find comfort from PTSD and war injuries through his dream of becoming an archaeologist, passed away in Aurora, Colorado. He was 29 years old. Out of respect for his family, I will not discuss the cause of death, other than to say that it was almost certainly avoidable. By all accounts, Ricky was not an easy person--his war experiences saw to that--but everyone I have talked to about Ricky is still in mourning for a man whose positive qualities made a mark everywhere he went. Some of them, including students and faculty who knew him, agreed to talk to me on the record; others have preferred to stay anonymous, for fear of retaliation from the researcher some blame for driving him out of archaeology.

I never met Ricky in person. But last March 5, out of the blue, Ricky wrote me an email in which he explained why he had left archaeology. I have reproduced below. In that email he blamed Danielle Kurin, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for his decision to leave the field. As he explained in that message, a friend had shown him my reporting about Kurin, which included documented allegations that she had retaliated against students who reported her partner (and later husband) for sexual harassment in 2016, and also allegations that she had tried to cover up a sexual assault by her husband during her field school in Peru in 2018.

Last June, Kurin sued me for defamation as a result of my reporting, asking for $10 million in direct damages. She is now up for tenure at UCSB. Whether she gets it is very much up in the air right now.

When things were still going well for Ricky, he was the subject of an inspiring article in the Mesa, Arizona publication, entitled "Mesa veteran found hope and a new life through archeology." Just a few months later, however, things begin to go badly downhill. This is Ricky's story.

To get Ricky's earlier history, I spoke at length to one of his best friends, Derek Miltimore. Miltimore, who is now a graduate student in archaeology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, went to high school with Ricky in Chandler, Arizona. Miltimore says that Ricky graduated when he was 17, and soon afterwards joined the U.S. Army. "He admitted that he was sucked in by a recruitment video," Miltimore says. "It promised action, and he said, 'I want to do that.'" Ricky soon deployed to Afghanistan, doing "door to door stuff. He was right in the thick of things." Ricky was badly injured, but his exact injuries are not entirely clear. He spoke to some friends and colleagues about a brain injury, although Miltimore says that back injuries were the most obvious effects of Ricky's war experiences. But all agree that he suffered from PTSD.

Derek and Ricky (courtesy of Derek Miltimore)

Ricky and Miltimore reconnected after Ricky got out of the Army. Miltimore had begun his archaeology and anthropology studies at Arizona State University (ASU) in 2013. They saw each other again after Ricky began taking courses at nearby Mesa Community College (MCC.)  "We had lost contact" while Ricky was in the Army, Miltimore says. "But one day I showed up at a friend's house, and there was Ricky in the backyard." That coincidence rekindled their friendship, especially when it turned out that they were both studying archaeology.

By all accounts, Ricky's time at MCC was the high point of his love affair with archaeology.

"He took two classes with me," says Annalisa Alvrus, chair of the Cultural Science department at MCC, which includes anthropology. "He was a joy to have in class. He did great. He interacted with the other students" and infected others with his enthusiasm, Alvrus says. 

Kirk Costion, an archaeologist at MCC, agrees. Costion says that he first met Ricky when he took his Old World Archaeology class. "He was really into it," Costion recalls. "He was very talkative in class and kept conversations going." Costion adds that Ricky was "really naive" about archaeology at first. But since few students who take archaeology and anthropology classes at MCC, a two-year college, are planning to major in the field, he encouraged Ricky in his interests. Ricky also attended Costion's local field schools in Arizona, where he was joined by Miltimore one year.

"Ricky had a voracious appetite" for learning about archaeology, Costion says. He would constantly ask Costion to send him articles about various archaeological topics. While participating in the field school, Ricky "would get into these big archaeological debates with the grad students" when they would all go out to socialize. "No matter what the topic was, he always had an opinion about it. I never had a student that gung ho."

Ricky in the trench (Photo courtesy of Derek Militimore)

A major step for Ricky came in 2016, when Costion asked students if they wanted to travel to Peru for a field school run by the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. It was a Wari culture site located near the southern city of Moquegua, where Costion served as the ceramics analyst. Ricky jumped at the chance, and ended up being the only student from MCC who went. "He was enthralled," Costion says. "He said he was in love with archaeology, that this is what he wanted to do."

Costion and Alvrus say that Ricky showed a very early interest in the archaeological specialty called bioarchaeology, which focuses on human and animal bones and all the things that can be learned from them about past societies. For an honors class at MCC, Ricky excavated a couple of pigs that a former student hard buried on the campus, and took tissue samples for biochemical analysis. Ricky also loved Peru. So the following year, 2017, through the Los Angeles-based Institute for Field Research (IFR), he signed on for a field school at the archaeological site of Sondor, near Andahuaylas. The site was run by bioarchaeologist Danielle Kurin of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB.)

"We searched together to find him a site," Costion says, "because it's rare to find bioarchaeology field schools and he wanted to stay in Peru. We found it on the IFR Web site."

What Ricky and his mentors at MCC did not know at the time was that the previous year, 2016, Kurin's field school in Peru had been cancelled at the last minute after the IFR found out that she and her partner had been subject to a Title IX investigation at UCSB. Kurin's partner, Peruvian archaeologist Enmanuel Gomez Choque, was found to have sexually harassed female students at her 2015 field school, while Kurin herself was found to have retaliated against students who filed Title IX complaints against Gomez.

Although IFR allowed Kurin to run the 2017 field school, it was without college credit; no explanation for that decision was ever made public. Ricky apparently had a reasonably good experience at Kurin's field school that year, although it got off to a rocky start. Everyone who knew Ricky attests that he had a very strong ethical compass, a passionate sense of right and wrong. Costion says that after two weeks at Sondor, Ricky wrote to say that the team was "looting graves" at the site. Costion explains that at Las Penas, the team excavated very slowly, whereas at some sites in Peru the excavators--many made up of Peruvian workers hired by the archaeologists--dug much faster, even if that sometimes destroyed archaeological context. "That made it look like looting" even when it really wasn't, Costion said. "I tried to calm him down. I told him to tell Kurin of his concerns." After that, Costion recalls, Kurin agreed to let Ricky excavate a grave more slowly.

                                              (IFR uses Ricky Nelson in promotional recruiting video)

"Ricky definitely was not someone to let things slide," Costion says. "We had to explain to him that as an outsider, he can't tell the Peruvians what to do." And once Kurin gave Ricky his own area to dig, Costion says, "he really seemed to like that."

Miltimore agrees that Ricky had little tolerance for anything he thought was not right. "I knew Ricky and I knew his temper when something he saw was wrong. He went into that soldier mold. I'm sure he could be belligerent but his heart was in the right place."

But when Ricky returned to work at Kurin's site in 2018, things ended up going very differently. Let's let Ricky tell it in his own words, in the email he wrote me on March 5 of this year after seeing my reporting on the events at the 2018 field school--which included a sexual assault on a student by Kurin's then-husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque. 

A note on this email: As part of the lawsuit Kurin has filed against me, my attorneys and I produced this email to the plaintiff and her attorney, at their initiative; as part of a request for documents from us, Kurin asked for all documents in my possession relating to Ricky Nelson. That request was apparently prompted by an October 19, 2020 Twitter post on my feed, which said simply, "RIP Ricky Nelson." I had only found out about Ricky's death the previous month, from two of his friends.

Note also that Ricky apparently got my email address wrong in his first try, which is why it is in this forwarded form; I have also redacted the names of a couple of archaeologists who helped Ricky, to protect their privacy.)

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Darth Dubzin <>
Date: Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 6:44 PM
Subject: Article about Danielle Kurin
To: <mbalter[REDACTED BY MB]>

Dear Mr. Balter,

A friend and colleague I worked with in Andahuaylas showed me your article since I worked with Danielle in the summer of 2017-2018 for my undergrad thesis. Unfortunately, that all fell apart as I became closer to Enmanuel and Danielle. My name is Ricky Nelson and I reported Danielle and Enmanuel to my department chair at Arizona State University last year to Dr. Kelly Knudson and literally saw no actions taken or some type of investigation into this matter to stop other students from going to the IFR field school she runs. Danielle retilated when I spoke up fabricated lies to Ron the director of IFR and had me removed and stranded in Andahuaylas for 4 weeks. Thankfully [REDACTED BY MB] and [REDACTED BY MB] helped me throughout those weeks and my return back to states to report to Mesa Community College, Arizona State University, and the State Department about the sexual assault that took place in 2018 as well as Danielle's behavior. But Danielle's behavior goes far past then covering for her now soon to be ex-husband. For instance, I was awaken around midnight during the 2016 field school by Enmanuel brother saying Danielle needs my help. I wasn't sure what she needed help with in the middle of night and I was battling a cold at the time. Another field student name Jacob was also tagging along. We stepped in the back of land rover and drove to an unknown location to find Danielle with a machete trying to go after a peruvian who stole her bag with her iphone and money. Danielle sister was there who is a lawyer even warned Danielle that having us there puts her career in danger and us in danger. Danielle said I wouldn't talk because I am loyal and also I am veteran (she refers to me being a veteran quite a bit and uses my service against me by saying I was removed from the project because I have PTSD to Ron and her father) and she needs muscle. When the peruvian police came I witnessed Danielle pay the police to do "tough integration" to get her phone back she bragged about paying the cops off to beat up an old man and his son who stole her personal possessions. I want to inform you that sexual assault is just the tip of the iceberg. Danielle has on multiple occasions has done drugs with students and given alcohol to underage students. 
I wish things could be different now since I am not pursuing archaeology anymore because of my time with Danielle has left a sour taste in my mouth about the world of Archaeology. I have stayed silent for the past year because the time I did inform anyone nothing was properly done. But feel free, to message me or call me at 720-270-7518.  I am more than welcoming to show you that I have worked with Danielle closely those years and often stayed Peru longer to help her out with field schools and excavations. Lastly, pretty much everyone in her net knows about the assaults going back to 2016 and a close friend to one of the victim/survivor and Danielle retaliation towards students. I hope some good comes out this and thank you for shedding light on the dangers of working with Enmanuel and Danielle Kurin.

All the best,

Ricky Nelson

A few notes on Ricky's email to me:

1. "Ron" refers to Ran Boytner, then executive director of IFR, to whom the field school students and their teaching assistants initially reported the alleged sexual assault on a female student by Gomez.

2. Ricky refers to Kurin giving "alcohol to underage students." It is not entirely clear what he is referring to here. But the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) in Peru and many other countries where archaeologists work is 18, in contrast to the United States where it is 21. Since IFR field schools require all students attending to be 18 or over, it seems unlikely that Peruvian drinking laws were broken. Nevertheless, multiple witnesses have told me that Gomez constantly pushed alcohol on young students, telling them that it was disrespectful of Peruvian culture if they refused.

3. Ricky's statement that Kurin "has done drugs with students" is also unclear, because he does not specify which drugs. However, evidence that Kurin procured marijuana for the students, both during the 2017 and 2018 field schools, is provided by multiple other witnesses, as I reported in an update to one of my earlier blog posts. Students at the field schools also attested that Kurin herself smoked marijuana at times, and expressed concern to me that this could have gotten all of them in serious trouble with the local police.

Nevertheless, there is evidence that the overall situation concerning Ricky was a bit more complicated than suggested in his email. At one point, for example, Ricky gave the other students a presentation on his research, and for reasons that are not clear made some rude comments. This was apparently at least one trigger for Kurin kicking Ricky out of the field house in Andahuaylas where the students were living. "Danielle spread the rumor...that Ricky expressed that he wanted to kill himself," says one student on the project, "and that he was not stable." But this student says they did not believe it because Kurin was also spreading rumors about others as well. 

Another student witnessed the night that Kurin tried to round people up to help find the thieves who had stolen her purse, including the contention that Kurin had wielded a machete and tried to get some of the students, including Ricky, to go help get her belongings back. On another occasion, this student says, Ricky was locked out of the field house early in the morning--apparently after drinking with some others--and yelled at the students to let him back in. This, too, formed part of Kurin's stated reasons for kicking him out of the house, the student says, even though he had nowhere to go. "I think the situation could have been handled differently," this student says.

As discussed above, Ricky was a complicated person, and his experiences in Afghanistan had left him with a short fuse. Not everyone liked him personally, and he was known to be arrogant at times and sometimes expressed sexist attitudes towards women. But no one I have talked to felt there was justification for Kurin to have kicked Ricky out of the field house. Several students and faculty chalked this up to Kurin's by then well-known reputation for retaliating against colleagues she felt had crossed her, as she did in 2015 and 2016.

Ricky later tried to tell his side of the story to friends and more senior archaeologists. Ricky told them that he returned from drinking with some local people about 2:30 am, but did not enter the house because the door was locked with a dead bolt and he did not want to wake anyone up (he had the key but it would not open the door with the deadbolt in place, he wrote.) Ricky insisted that he waited outside the house until 6 am before he yelled to be let in, because he knew the students were getting up early to go swimming.

Ricky also told others that Kurin cited him for violations of the project's code of conduct that evening, allegedly on the grounds that he was endangering the students by trying to get into the house.

Whatever the case, Ricky, stranded in Peru and speaking little Spanish, was in a bad way. "He called me distraught and crying," says Derek Miltimore. "He was sleeping at the bus stop. He had been kicked out of the program, but he was supposed to be running his own research project." Two other archaeologists then in Peru tried to help Ricky find a place to stay during the following month while he waited for his flight home and continued to try to do his research; for a lot of time that time, he reportedly had to pay his own room and board at a local hotel.

In terms of chronology, Ricky did not learn about the sexual assault committed by Gomez until somewhat later, when some of the other students at the 2018 field school told him about it. But Miltimore says that this, combined with his experiences with Kurin, had a lot to do with Ricky's decision to leave archaeology. "He was devastated, crushed," Miltimore says. "He saw that the code of ethics was not followed. He and I discussed this for months. I tried to convince him not to leave the field, to find other sites to work on. But he was so distraught, he had decided that archaeology was his path." Another factor, Miltimore says, is that Ricky's Afghanistan injuries were catching up with him, and it was becoming harder for him to excavate and do fieldwork.

But Ricky also told friends that Kurin had spread rumors about him and badmouthed him to his professors at ASU, where he had transferred from MCC in the fall of 2017. His advisor at ASU was archaeologist Kelly Knudson. She declined to discuss Ricky's story on the record. But Ricky did enlist her aid to try to get Kurin to help export botanical samples from Ricky's research project, which apparently Kurin either failed or refused to do.

Arizona State University

After returning to ASU from Peru, Ricky arranged a meeting with Knudson in her office, on July 25, 2018. By that time, Ricky had learned of the sexual assault committed by Gomez; that formed the major part of what he wanted to talk to her about. Although Ricky suggested in his email to me that Knudson did not pursue the matter, there is evidence that is not entirely true. In fact, on August 14, according to source familiar with the details, Knudson had a telephone conversation with Ran Boytner, then executive director (now terminated) of IFR. Boytner reportedly told Knudson that Gomez was not involved in the IFR field school and that UCSB had investigated both Gomez and Kurin during the 2016 Title IX and found them "not guilty."

Neither of these alleged statements by Boytner were true, as my reporting has shown. Gomez was an integral part of the field school--indeed, Kurin was very dependent on him and his family for the infrastructure of her archaeological project--and both Gomez and Kurin were found to have committed misconduct. But for Knudson and ASU, the matter appears to have ended there. And according to Miltimore, that was when Ricky decided to leave archaeology.

Miltimore says he suggested to Ricky that he try to do some data analysis, a more armchair approach to archaeology, and that Ricky did make an effort to do that. He left ASU and moved to Colorado, and got involved with a group of veterans who were interested in archaeology, Miltimore says. "The last  time I saw him he was living in Denver, and trying to regain his love for archaeology. But the drive had been taken from him." Another complication for Ricky, Miltimore says, is that while he had been hoping to get a full disability pension from the Army, he then would have been prevented from working--a sure killer for his dream to be an archaeologist.

Costion recalls that not long before Ricky left ASU, he and other faculty at MCC invited former students to talk about their field experiences. Ricky came, as did Miltimore, who knew Costion through his field school. "Ricky was walking with a cane," Costion says. "I was taken aback, but he was still very enthusiastic and gave a talk to the students about how awesome fieldwork was."

That was last time that Costion or Alvrus heard from Ricky, they say.

"I tried to get him to move out to Missouri with me," Miltimore says. "He said he was living vicariously through me." But the pain from Ricky's injuries had become "excruciating," Miltimore says. "He could not even drive anymore. The last thing I heard is that he had surgery on his back, and was on a lot of medication." Miltimore found out about Ricky's death from a mutual friend who called him on the phone.

"I loved that dude," Miltimore says. "He was a phenomenal friend. He found solace in pursing archaeology, but when that was taken away from him, he was lost. He had this glow to him, and then he went dark."

Ricky's friends say that no one factor can be blamed for his death, but that his PTSD almost certainly contributed to it. So did, they all agree, his feeling that he had to leave archaeology. Exactly what role Danielle Kurin played in that decision is a matter of opinion, although Ricky has left behind his own judgement about that. "He was always so enthusiastic," says one archaeologist who knew Ricky well. "If she did anything to diminish that light..."

Any more than that, I will let readers decide for themselves.

One thing is clear: We have lost an archaeologist, with a burning passion for the past. Let's hope we don't lose any more.

(Photo courtesy of Derek Miltimore)

Post a Comment


Anonymous said…
I am heartbroken for Ricky and all the anguish he had to live with.

I'm also heartbroken by the archaeology community as we continue to protect and abet bullies and abusers. No one capable of these cruelties should be in a position of power over students. What are those of you wielding institutional power going to do about this toxic culture we have?
Anonymous said…
Depressing. A career in archaeology is challenging enough without having those failed faculty push you over the edge.
The creepy part is that in the Mesa article Kurin and Boytner speak so highly of Ricky, but a couple of months later after he challenged her in the 2018 field school, Kurin completely trashes him and Boytner lies to Ricky’s professor to cover up for her misconduct. I am sure that having two PhD’s contradict his story also reflected badly on Ricky and sent him spiraling even deeper. Normally one may be tempted to think that he brought it on himself, but those two have such a long documented history of lying, bullying and retaliation that it all fits the MO.
It is too late for Ricky, but everyone who reads this story should make sure that neither of them can cause further harm to students.
Michael Balter said…
Re the last comment: Yes, Ricky told friends that he didn’t think he had a chance against Kurin’s badmouthing of him in the archaeological community.
Anonymous said…
“In terms of chronology, Ricky did not learn about the sexual assault committed by Gomez until somewhat later, when some of the other students at the 2018 field school told him about it.”
No, he didn’t know about it because Danielle kicked him out before it all unraveled. But stories of her previous misconduct circulated among the students, and Rickey was also a student in the 2017 trip where another student was harassed. Ricky was aware of her bad record perhaps better than any other student in the program, which may have played into Danielle’s decision to get rid of him.
Anonymous said…
What is also creepy is that despite how horribly Danielle Kurin mistreated Ricky, she must have been keeping a close eye on him because she posted on his funeral memorial page guestbook and left a saccharine tribute to him shortly after he passed (signed DSK): "Ricky is celebrated for his generosity of spirit, soulful service to his country, contributions to archaeology & treating all with dignity & kindness"

I can't imagine what his close friends think seeing that, knowing what she did to him and tried to coerce him into doing (being the muscle to rough up poor Peruvians who allegedly stole from her). Someone with Ricky's PTSD from being in the army and seeing what he saw would have been retraumatized by this coercive request.

This saga gets sicker and more depressing with every new revelation. I sincerely hope that Danielle recognizes she needs to get professional help to stop causing so much harm and destruction.
Anonymous said…
As for peddling booze to “underage” students, even if the MLDA in Peru is 18 it still sounds to me like Rickey had a better sense on how to run a field school than the Kurin and Gomez duo ever did. Exactly because it is illegal in the U.S., college students abroad cannot be trusted to responsibly handle their alcohol consumption where there are no legal limits and where they may not be fully aware of the dangers. It is the job of the field school director to ensure their safety at all times.
Anonymous said…
Re the commenter saying “This saga gets sicker and more depressing with every new revelation.” Yes it does. We already knew that the Kurin-Gomez family was aiding and abetting, and now we hear about this clandestine episode where GOMEZ’S BROTHER wakes up students in the middle of the night to help Kurin and HER SISTER chase thieves with machetes. As a reminder, that same lawyer sister was listening in on phone calls when students complained to Kurin about mistreatment. Her provost father was in it too. Gomez’s sister was administering sedatives to those students who were too vocal about the abuse. And his father evacuated the distraught students from the field house.
These students were not just up against Kurin; they were up against the entire familia!
More details here and in the many comments:
Michael Balter said…
I accidentally deleted the following Anonymous comment. Here it is cut and pasted, with apologies.

My heart goes to Nelson’s family. As a veteran director of field schools in South America I am also appalled by this story. Involving students in nightly machete chases? WTF, Kurin. And whatever a student does in the program (if this guy actually did anything wrong), there is absolutely **no excuse whatsoever** for leaving them stranded in a foreign country, definitely not in Andahuaylas which I understand is still politically unstable.
Anonymous said…
I am deeply sadden to read about Ricky’s untimely passing. Has there been any response from the IFR?
Michael Balter said…
Re the last comment.

The IFR has not made any public comment, nor are they likely to unless pressured to do so. The one thing I can say is that now terminated IFR exec dir Ran Boytner was fully aware of the situation regarding Ricky Nelson, and Ricky's allegations against Kurin. There is no evidence that IFR did anything about it at the time, nor that they did anything to help Ricky. If I am wrong about that they can correct me.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for telling this story. Kurin is not to blame for Ricky taking his life, but it is crushing to have to give up a dream. Even with his injuries, Ricky could easily have had a very successful and fulfilling career in federal government archaeology or CRM. A good field director could have noticed and supported that end goal so easily. Kurin has no business in any job where she has to supervise or mentor anyone.
Heartbreaking, all of it. My heart goes out to Nelson's family, friends, teachers, and colleagues.
Anonymous said…
Ricky shared this with me a while back:
They used him as a poster child for their veteran scholarship in 2017, but then turned their back on him when he complained about misconduct by one of their board members. Typical corporation coverup bullshit.
Michael Balter said…
Thank you for this video link, I had never seen this before. I will move it up into the body of the blog as well.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous @ December 4, 2020 at 1:38 PM wrote “Kurin is not to blame for Ricky taking his life, but it is crushing to have to give up a dream.”
Unless you have more information than we do, then all the evidence (including his own admission) points to Ricky leaving archaeology as a direct consequence of her behavior. So the correct way to phrase this would be “Kurin is to blame for Ricky giving up on his dream, which may or may not contributed to him taking his life”. If we don’t place blame where blame belongs, then we have learned nothing from Ricky’s tragic account. Other than that I appreciate your comment and completely agree that “Kurin has no business in any job where she has to supervise or mentor anyone.”
Anonymous said…
“The one thing I can say is that now terminated IFR exec dir Ran Boytner was fully aware of the situation regarding Ricky Nelson, and Ricky's allegations against Kurin.”
Thanks for clarifying that, Balter. Just when I thought I heard everything about this scumbag, he manages to sink to new lows. Wonder if Willeke still defends him as “pretty innocent.”
Michael Balter said…
One thing I should add to this discussion,

After I learned that Ricky Nelson had died, Kurin went around telling people that I was mercilessly harassing his friends and family, trying to get them to say negative things about her. She told this lie to her attorneys, who gullibly (and conveniently) believed it and began spreading it around too, including to at least one other reporter. Of course there was no truth to this at all, as this blog post clearly reveals, given how much cooperation I got with its preparation from Ricky’s friends and faculty members.

The Kurin v. Balter lawsuit is a pack of lies, told by an academic who has lied her entire career, enabled by an attorney who is racking up the billable hours in rapid fashion.
Anonymous said…
Shows once again that Kurin is the master of DARVO. The first line in Ricky’s email contradicts her claim entirely. It is the victim who has initiated the contact, after a colleague referred him to your blog. And all this in March, when you just started reporting about her. Frankly, if it wasn’t for your blog most of us who knew Ricky wouldn’t have even known he passed away. You and the others cited here have given him a voice, and since Kurin can’t attack the dead she is going after the messenger. Pure evil.
Anonymous said…
Ricky had a good point of bringing alcohol abuse in his email. Judging by students’ own testimonies, luring those young college kids to seedy bars and pushing hard drinks on them was Kurin’s husband prime tactic to get their guard down and then sexually harass and assault them. He did it in 2015, he did it in 2017, he did it in 2018. Ricky would have been aware of that.
Anonymous said…
She told the other students he wanted to kill himself? Even if that was true, what kinds of a sick fuck “mentor” does that? If she had genuine concerns about him self-harming, did she refer him to a specialist? Did she report those concerns to his school counselor or advisor?
Michael Balter said…
Re the last comment:

I have been reporting on Danielle Kurin's behavior for more than a year now. The reason is that I am continually learning of new evidence of her long, long pattern of abuse, enabling of abuse, retaliation, bullying, and other conduct that has cut a swath of misery among those who come in contact with her. I have rarely come across an individual with such a malignant effect on others.

I have talked to dozens of colleagues, ranging from students to senior, tenured faculty, going back to her time as a grad student at Vanderbilt, throughout her time in Peru, her field school students, her students at UC Santa Barbara, and so forth. Many of them have spoken out publicly, and an increasing number are coming forth as witnesses in the Kurin v. Balter lawsuit. Others still fear retaliation--something she has tried to do repeatedly over the years--over being sued by her, another very clear pattern on her part. But the number of individuals negatively affected her is staggering for a researcher still so young. She has been enabled all along the way in various ways. It's really time for it to stop. I think this lawsuit is backfiring on her badly and will continue to backfire, despite the very high number of billable hours it is earning for her attorneys.
Anonymous said…
UCSB grad students should all read this piece by David Mihalyfy, which is full of good advice:

Seeing that the administration is still sitting on their hands, this part sounds like a particularly useful counsel:
“If I were a graduate student now, I would take a hard look at my program, to see if any corner of it harbored extreme negligence or bullying. If so, I would put out feelers to identify a potential adviser elsewhere and explore transferring. Knowing your options never hurts, and you can save yourself a lot of grief by identifying incipient nonsense and removing yourself from an institution that enables irresponsible and abusive professors.”
Anonymous said…
My profound condolences to the Nelson family. I knew Ricky only briefly but immediately liked him, he was good guy. I was surprised to read that he reported this to Arizona State University, Mesa Community College, and the State Department but nothing was done. Even if his adviser reached out to those in charge, it is clear from Ricky’s letter that he either didn’t know about it or didn’t think it was enough to stop the rampant abuse. According to his close friend, THIS was the point when he gave up on his career dream in archeology.
Being bullied and retaliated against is extremely traumatic in itself. But not being believed and then realizing the system is negligent, indifferent and broken is often what really pushes victims over the edge. This may explain what happened to Ricky at that bitter end.
Michael Balter said…
The previous commenter raises some very important issues.

One thing it is important to realize is that Ran Boytner, former exec dir of IFR, was a good friend of Danielle Kurin (and may well still be.) Ran knew back in 2016 that Kurin had been subject to a Title IX for events related to her 2015 field school. Ran and another archaeologist visited Kurin’s 2017 field school (which was still under IFR auspices but not for credit) and reported back to the IFR board that all was well, thus inducing the board to approve full credit for her 2018 field school—at which at least one student was sexually assaulted by Kurin’s then husband and others were sexual harassed.

When Ricky’s advisor, Kelly Knudson at ASU, talked to Boytner about Ricky’s allegations (including the sexual assault) Boytner told her that Kurin and Gomez had both been “exonerated” in the 2016 Title IX. I believe that Boytner knew better and that he lied to Knudson, and to others (he can sue me if I am wrong and we will find out.) Also, Kurin routinely lied to colleagues about the results of the Title IX, including to the students at the 2018 field school when they raised the issue (that is recorded.) The IFR NEVER should have allowed Kurin to hold her 2018 field school, because they board knew back in 2016 that she was subject to the Title IX. But they did anyway. Should Kelly Knudson have done more, should there have been a more widespread investigation—especially after IFR itself decided that there had been “inappropriate” conduct at the 2018 field school and severed ties with Kurin? (and not “without prejudice,” as she claimed under oath in her Complaint against me filed in the Southern District of NY, a complaint so replete with lies that it will easy to refuse each one when the time comes for either the judge or jury to hear about it.

Kurin, the IFR, Boytner, Willeke Wendrich, et al., are all part of this. It’s time for the archaeological community as a whole to put an end to it.
Anonymous said…
Horrifying. And on top of it, in the months leading to his death Rickey would have seen that the likes of Ran Boytner, Willeke Wendrich, and Jason de Leon— scholars he once held in high regard— publicly dismiss his and his fellow survivors’ testimonies by calling the reporter who actually listened to them, a liar and a cyberbully. It is obvious to all that they did it to escape professional and legal repercussions, but I hope they see now that their denial of the truth has real, tragic consequences.
Anonymous said…
I hope that Balter will explore the phenomenon of scapegoating in academic communities. People seem to displace whatever negative feelings they have surrounding Balter's MeToo reporting onto Balter himself. This is why we see so much "shooting the messenger." People choose the easy target and blame him for everything that is wrong instead of the people who abuse and enable, some of whom are directly responsible for the dishonest narratives floating about. Scapegoating has always been about building in-group solidarity. This is why they mutually praise each other and signal they are in the same "in-crowd" by believing these narratives and participating in their dissemination. Implicitly it also protects themselves, their buddies, and their patrons who have skeletons in the closet. If you wonder why abuses are endemic in academia despite all the statements about commitment to justice, this is why. People close ranks and protect their own. They side with wherever the power shifts. This is why people who are cast out and badmouthed, like Ricky, don't stand a chance in this world.

This has a chilling and traumatizing effect on the survivors who have chosen to go to Balter for relief. Survivors of abuse who have gone to Balter who hear these narratives from their colleagues, friends, and mentors, as Ricky must have, often feel retraumatized and gaslit. All the negative fallout in recent months because Balter didn't just buckle under the dishonest mobbing has only helped the abusers. I am sure Balter himself has not escaped unscathed in terms of mental health from all this. Unfortunately, he seems to be experiencing the kind of blackballing, mobbing, shunning so common in academia. Where innuendos and whiffs of negativity can destroy your social net. If you are lied about and bullied by people with more academic cred, you really don't stand a chance, no matter how much evidence you have on your side. You are punished for daring to stand up and speak out. People start avoiding you like the plague. No wonder depression and suicide are so common in academia. When will we be collectively brave enough to value truth and justice above power hierarchy considerations? Our lives are literally at stake. Rest in Peace, Ricky. I'm glad you felt some semblance of justice happening before you passed. We need to finish the job.
Michael Balter said…
In response to the very kind words of the previous commenter, but which also touch on very important issues in academia and other fields where hierarchies rule and scapegoating the "other" is such an important part of keeping everyone in their place:

I will be exploring this phenomenon in a series of posts once I get a little time away from the bogus defamation suit that is plaguing my days (and those of my family.) I will try to draw the broadest possible lessons from my personal experiences. And I will name names, so those lessons strike home as hard as possible.
Anonymous said…
As I read this post, my first red flag is that there is little to no mention of Ricky having undergone mental health treatment or therapy, especially if participating in a field school in Peru. You would not dream of sending a student with diabetes or another physical concern to the field without a proper plan, and the director knowing what to do in case the student runs into a crisis - for instance, I heard that most US students were told to expect having stomach trouble at least once, and to prepare for that. The same thing should have been done with Ricky, as from this post it would seem that little care was give to his mental health, especially when placed in a context like a field school in Peru.
I also think it is important to clarify that marijuana use is somewhat legal in Peru, as it is not illegal to have a small amount on hand for personal consumption - however to have more than a couple of grams can get you into trouble.
Michael Balter said…
Re the last comment, I would agree, and from the previous reporting on Ricky it was clear everyone involved was aware of his previous struggles.

On marijuana: As commenters pointed out in an earlier post, the law enforcement approach to marijuana use can vary depending on the region of the country, including in Andahuaylas. It is NOT OKAY to put foreign students in the position where they could into trouble with the police no matter what the formal legalities. And of course, Kurin was the provider of the marijuana, according to numerous witnesses.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous @ December 8, 2020 at 8:37 AM said:
“I also think it is important to clarify that marijuana use is somewhat legal in Peru, as it is not illegal to have a small amount on hand for personal consumption - however to have more than a couple of grams can get you into trouble.”
I am not a legal expert but I have many many years of conducting research in Peru, oftentimes with students. I think you are right that according to Peruvian law it is the quantity of the substance that determines whether it is illegal or not. However! Students should not be made responsible to sort out those legal nuances for themselves, and I always advise them to steer clear from any non-prescribed drugs while in the country. From my experience, the police can be extremely corrupt and if they catch a foreign student with any drug they will threaten with fines, jail time, deportation, mostly for the purpose of extracting a bribe. Even that can put an entire field season at risk and can be traumatic to the student involved.
It also goes without saying that a field director should never ever provide drugs of any type and quantity to her students.

Anonymous said…
I am not a legal expert either, but you know who is? Kurin’s sister! The same one who, according to Ricky’s testimony of the night incident with the thieves, “warned Danielle that having us there puts her career in danger and us in danger.” With everything else that we’re learning, makes you really wonder what she’s doing in that field school in the first place. I guess some field directors need a personal lawyer 24/7.
Michael Balter said…
Yes, Kurin’s sister is relevant here. According to witnesses, during her 2017 field school Kurin’s sister was actually present for at least part of the season. This was the year after Kurin’s 2016 field school was cancelled by IFR due to the Title IX findings. In 2018, during Kurin’s discussion with the students after the sexual assault on a student by her then husband, she had her sister on the phone listening to the discussion. The students then recorded the meeting on their end to make sure there was a clear record of what was said.
Anonymous said…
The use of drugs in Danielle’s filed schools violated the student code of conduct as stated on IFR and project handouts.
Anonymous said…
I know of an individual that stayed in the house. One evening, Enmanuel Gomez Choque sneaked into their everyday carry pack and secretly smuggled a bag of marijuana into a hidden zipper pocket. This individual discovered it at a time later and brought it to Kurin/Gomez’ attention in which Enmanuel Gomez Choque replied "Oh, I thought you'd want to have some so I put in your bag for you while back" and laughed and played it off. The individual was appalled, and felt like they were trying to be set up to get caught with it-the individual brought this pack everywhere with them, not knowing it contained the marijuana. This is beyond malicious and unprofessional and could have gotten this individual in serious trouble had they not discovered it. Kurin would also freely offer marijuana and alcohol to everyone staying in the house. This individual described Danielle Kurin as “being high 24/7”.
Anonymous said…
This is shocking. If students weren’t so terrified to come out and publicly testify against Kurin, this lawsuit would have been over in less than five minutes.
Michael Balter said…
One of the good things the lawsuit has done is encourage new witnesses to come forward and we are adding them to our list all the time.

Among other things they will testify that she threatened the students with repercussions if they reported the sexual assault that took place at the end of the field School.
Anonymous said…
SLAPP morphed into Streisand/Hydra Effects. More than deserved in Kurin’s case, I must say.
(good summary, with no intention of promoting the law firm).
Michael - If I didn’t value your work (and well-being) so much, I would have hoped that others you implicated in this case would have sued you as well. Loads and loads of skeletons in them dark closets (which, come to think of it, is probably why they haven’t sued you!).
Anonymous said…
SLAPP morphed into Streisand/Hydra Effects. Well deserved in Kurin’s case, I must say.
(good summary, with no intention of promoting the law firm).
Michael - If I didn’t value your work (and wellbeing) so much, I would have hoped that others you implicated in this case would have sued you as well. Loads and loads of skeletons in them dark closets (which, come to think of it, is probably why they haven’t sued you!).
Michael Balter said…
Thanks to the last commenter. Yes, the Streisand Effect is in full force here, because Kurin' lawsuit against me has only led to more witnesses against her coming forth to help get the truth out. There are signs that she has already given up getting tenure at UCSB, and from her calculation of the damages she thinks I owe her, not only does she apparently want to claim that is entirely my fault but that she may never work again anywhere (I will have more to say about this soon.)

She's got a huge problem, however, which is that my reporting on her is airtight and she has to prove it wrong to get even to first base in a defamation suit. No defamation, no damages, no nothing. That is how this is going to end, but she will manage to keep her misconduct in full view while the litigation continues.