Novelist John Casey Accused of Sexual Harassment

December 4, 2017

Novelist and University of Virginia creative writing professor John Casey has been accused of sexual harassment by three former students. One, Emma Eisenberg, who graduated from the MFA program at UVA in 2014, accused Casey “of inappropriately touching women at social functions and said he once in class used a graphic anatomical epithet to refer to women and to a character in a story he told.” Eisenberg publicized her filing of a Title IX complaint via Twitter.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that another student who attended the university from 2009–10 has also filed a complaint anonymously against Casey.

University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily reported that a third student, Sharon Harrigan, has also made an accusation against Casey. Her complaint alleges that Casey “‘openly flirted’ with the younger students in the class. Harrigan also claimed Casey ‘ranked the women in the class by their relative attractiveness’ and would ask female students in the class if they had chosen their outfits ‘for him.’”

The university’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights has begun a Title IX investigation into the allegations. University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn wrote that “the University takes seriously any report of sexual harassment and is investigating this matter in accordance with its applicable policy and procedures.”

John Casey, whose novel Spartina won the National Book Award in 1989, has taught at the university since the mid-1970s. Casey has so far declined to comment on the allegations. According to The Washington Post, he said, “At this time the matter is under investigation, and I think it too early and perhaps improper to comment.” The University of Virginia’s MFA program is an AWP member program.

On December 1, Anthony de Bruyn confirmed to WTOP that Casey will not be teaching at UVA during the spring 2018 semester.

This accusation of sexual misconduct comes on the heels not only of several high-profile cases in politics and the entertainment and news industries, but also in the wake of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s recent proposition of rolling back Title IX protections. In September of this year, DeVos gave a speech at George Mason University where she said the department would “change its approach to campus sexual misconduct and begin a public notice and comment process to issue new regulations.” Her intention is to have the department end and replace Obama-era guidelines on campus sexual harassment, found in its “Dear Colleague Letter.” These guidelines required federally funded colleges and universities to adopt a standard in which “one single instance of sexual violence is sufficient to qualify as creating a hostile educational environment.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) has solicited stories of sexual harassment so that their reporters may investigate the problem nationwide. To report a story, send an email to CHE has reported on sexual-harassment allegations in many academic disciplines since the stories about Harvey Weinstein became public. CHE has cataloged allegations of sexual harassment at Southern Connecticut State University, Michigan State University, Dartmouth College, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Boston University’s research outpost in Antarctica, the University of Rochester, Stanford University, Berklee College of Music, San Jose State University, Lehigh University, Oxford University, Columbia University, and Princeton University.

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