xml:space="preserve">
Johns Hopkins University students hold signs outside the Eisenhower Library last year during a protest about what they called flawed investigations into sexual assaults on the campus.
Johns Hopkins University students hold signs outside the Eisenhower Library last year during a protest about what they called flawed investigations into sexual assaults on the campus. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Johns Hopkins University’s Board of Trustees fired an anthropology professor after an investigation determined he violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy, the university said in an email to staff and students.

Juan Obarrio’s tenure was revoked and his faculty appointment terminated, according to an email obtained Monday by The Baltimore Sun. Student activists have been calling for him to be fired after multiple people told university officials they witnessed an incident between him and a visiting graduate student in a Baltimore bar last year.

Advertisement

Two of those witnesses told The Sun what they say they told school authorities. They said Obarrio had been trying to flirt with the student all night in May 2018. The professor grabbed the student from behind and dragged her across the dance floor toward the exit, as she struggled to escape his grasp and flee, according to the student witnesses.

Johns Hopkins graduate student Marios Falaris, who says he was there and spoke to school officials, called it “one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen.”

Attempts to reach Obarrio were unsuccessful Monday evening. In December, he emailed the university’s student newspaper to deny the allegations.

“I take the allegations very seriously,” he wrote. “I firmly reject the accusations."

Beverly Wendland, dean of the arts and sciences school, sent an email to the anthropology department Monday to share the news.

“Obarrio engaged in sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior toward a visiting student in violation of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy,” Wendland wrote.

“The faculty conduct in this matter is deeply concerning to me, and to the School and University more broadly,” she continued. “We are committed to providing our students, faculty, staff, and trainees with a safe and healthy working and learning environment and take allegations of sexual harassment and learner mistreatment very seriously.”

Another email went out to the broader campus community Monday, alerting students and faculty of both Obarrio’s termination and another unrelated case of sexual misconduct by a different faculty member.

The latter email — which named neither professor — said a faculty member in the School of Medicine recently resigned after a recommendation by an advisory board that he be fired. This professor was found to “have engaged in sexual harassment of a student, abusive and bullying behavior toward trainees" and other violations of the university’s sexual misconduct policy, according to the email.

“The conclusions of these cases happened to coincide, but each is sobering in its own right,” university officials wrote. “Both cases call upon all of us to redouble our efforts to ensure a safe and healthy working and learning environment.”

Obarrio’s case was at the center of campus protests last year. More than 100 people rallied on campus in December 2018 to decry what they described as weak investigations and delayed responses to allegations of sexual misconduct.

Many of the students marched carrying signs that referenced the Obarrio incident: “Obarrio = worst case scenario” and “7 witnesses, 7 months, still no action.”

A petition circulated by several student groups, including one called JHToo, complained that the university’s initial findings determined Obarrio’s behavior constituted harassment rather than identifying it as more serious.

The petition said the Office of Institutional Equity botched its investigation of the case, taking more than six months to complete the probe and failing to interview all witnesses.

Advertisement

Heba Islam, a graduate student who says she witnessed the May 2018 incident and filed a report with school authorities, said Monday’s news “feels like some kind of closure.”

“We’re so relieved,” said Islam, 31. “It’s been such a difficult and such an important struggle.”

Hopkins has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights since 2014 for its handling of sexual assault.

Other universities across the region also have fielded allegations recently that they’ve failed to protect students from sexual misconduct.

The University of Maryland medical school was sued by a former research coordinator who says the institution failed to take action to stop persistent harassment from her supervisor. And the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is defending itself in a lawsuit that alleges UMBC police discouraged a victim from reporting a sexual assault to law enforcement.

Baltimore Sun reporters Catherine Rentz and Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement