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Male grad student sues female feminist professor, university for sexual harassment

She boasted of ‘mafia’ capabilities to silence him

There’s more than one side to #MeToo, and some feminists aren’t happy about it.

Not only was a female philosophy professor and prominent feminist investigated by New York University for sexually harassing a male grad student, but now the grad student is suing both his former professor and the university.

NYU has not acknowledged that Nimrod Reitman told a vice provost two years before receiving his Ph.D. that Avital Ronell, at the time his doctoral adviser, was sexually harassing him. It “failed to take any action and thus prevent further harm to Reitman,” the former student said in a state lawsuit filed Thursday.

Reitman accused Ronell, an internationally renowned feminist literary theorist and philosophy professor, of sexually harassing, assaulting and stalking him for three years, the suit reads:

[It] devastated him and caused serious damage that he will likely suffer for years to come. Ronell created a false romantic relationship between herself and Reitman and by threat of, among other things, not allowing him to advance his Ph.D., asserted complete domination and control over his life.

Reitman claims he turned down offers from other schools specifically to study under the “superstar” Ronell. But she demanded much unpaid labor from him and touched him inappropriately throughout their academic relationship, he says:

He was required to be available to her all hours of the day and night, and to schedule his life around her wants and needs. Ronell forced Reitman to distance himself from friends and family, and she would often burst into a jealous rage when his attention was with them and not fully devoted to her. …

Throughout Reitman’s time at NYU, Ronell would touch, grab, fondle, and kiss Reitman (over his objections), and often demanded that he act in kind, otherwise she would refuse to work with him. She also demanded that he communicate with her in over-the top, effusive language, including that he constantly express his love for her, and his failure to do so would result in Ronell angrily reprimanding him and refusing to work with him.

Ronell allegedly issued Reitman an unmistakable warning if he turned on her, telling him stories of the “vengeance” she enacted on those who had “wronged her. She referred to this as her ‘mafia’ capabilities.”

After getting his Ph.D., Reitman filed a Title IX complaint against Ronell, which included “witness interviews, e-mail messages, text and voice-mail messages, photographs.” The school upheld the sexual harassment claims but not the assault or stalking.

In response, “Ronell used her influence and vast connections to organize a campaign of misinformation against Reitman,” the suit claims, citing “information and belief.” It accused her of “failing to acknowledge” NYU had validated his sexual harassment claims and falsely accusing him of “maliciously” filing Title IX claims.

This has destroyed his reputation and “any hopes that Reitman might have had of having a
career in academia,” it says. Reitman is a visiting fellow at Harvard University now.

MORE: ‘Blaming the victim is apparently OK’ when a man accuses a woman

Ronell responded in a six-page press release that she had “no opportunity to confront, question, or cross-examine Reitman” during the Title IX investigation, and said no evidence was found of Reitman’s alleged sexual contact before and after he became her student.

The focus of her release is on the allegations of sexual relations that NYU couldn’t verify, not the harassment finding that formed the basis of her yearlong suspension without pay.

Using the same tactics as defense lawyers when male students are accused of sexually assaulting female students, Ronell’s release notes the Title IX investigation cast doubt on Reitman’s provided “medical records” and found that both of them initiated communications with each other.

The release says observers must understand the relationship between the lesbian Ronell and the gay Reitman to make sense of their communications, some of which were previously disclosed in the leaked Title IX report. It includes several examples of their communications:

[T]these emails were written in a particularly non-sexual context, and an even cursory review of Reitman’s emails to Ronell show that if he was not initiating, then he was at least encouraging the type of language he later claimed constituted harassment. Ronell, a lesbian, describes the correspondence between herself and Reitman, who is gay, as largely gay-coded, with literary allusions, poetic runs and obviously exaggerated expressions of tenderness that were often initiated and returned by Reitman. Her emails to him contain nothing of a sexual nature …

Again using the same language as lawyers who defend students accused of sexual assault, Ronell’s release notes that Reitman waited two years after getting his doctorate to accuse Ronell, “when he was unable to secure a tenure-track position.”

According to a translation of Ronell’s claims in the German newspaper Die Welt, the professor said she “never touched or hurt” her student and called him “miserable and needy” (Reitman allegedly called himself a “thantophile,” meaning drawn toward death).

Reitman’s family “called me a ‘divine intervention’ that saved their son’s life” and invited her “multiple times” to Israel, Ronell said. After she refused to “rewrite his dissertation into something publishable,” he launched “relentless attacks” on Ronell, she said.

Prominent supporters of Ronell, including the University of California-Berkeley’s Judith Butler, released a letter in June casting aspersions on the accuser’s motives and demanding that she be “accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.”

Read the lawsuit and Ronell’s response.

h/t The Chronicle of Higher Education

MORE: Professor ordered to keep queer theorist Butler on his syllabus

IMAGE: Aleksandar Mijatovi/Shutterstock

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