MIT to Investigate Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Junot Díaz
May 9, 2018
On Monday, May 7, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced in a statement that the university will investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against creative writing professor Junot Díaz.
“As MIT looks into concerns shared on social media regarding Professor Díaz, we wish to make clear that we do not tolerate sexual harassment at MIT: at all times, we encourage any member of our community who has experienced or witnessed harassing behavior to report it using the resources we make available…Both accusers and the accused have rights and protections within the process we follow—and we strive to protect the privacy of all parties involved.”
According to the Boston Globe, an MIT spokesperson did not describe how the investigation will proceed. This announcement follows a wave of outrage on social media after author Zinzi Clemmons confronted Díaz at the Sydney Writers’ Festival during a Q&A, commenting on a recent essay in The New Yorker detailing with his own sexual assault as a small child.
“As a grad student, I invited Junot Díaz to speak to a workshop on issues of representation in literature,” tweeted Clemmons. “I was an unknown wide-eyed 26-year-old, and he used it as an opportunity to corner and forcibly kiss me. I’m far from the only [one] he’s done this to, I refuse to be silent anymore.”
The confrontation spurred a number of Twitter threads from Carmen Maria Machado, Monica Byrne, and other writers. Machado commented on an incident with Díaz during the Q&A portion of one of his book tour events. “When I made the mistake of asking him a question about his protagonist’s unhealthy, pathological relationship with women, he went off [on] me for twenty minutes… He raised his voice, paced, implied I was a prude who didn’t know how to read or draw reasonable conclusions from [a] text.”
Monica Byrne also tweeted about an experience she had with Díaz. “I was 32 and my first novel hadn’t come out yet. I was invited to a dinner and sat next to him. I disagreed with him on a minor point. He shouted the word “rape” in my face to prove his. It was completely bizarre, disproportionate, and violent.”
In a blog post entitled “I Tried to Warn You About Junot Diaz,” reporter and author Alisa Valdes described her own encounter with Díaz. “I publicly said Díaz was a misogynist opportunistic liar more than ten years ago, after he mistreated me, and I was severely punished for it—by Díaz, and by the publishing and Latino communities.”
Following the confrontation with Clemmons, Junot Díaz withdrew from the Sydney Writers’ Festival. According to the Associated Press, in a statement Saturday, the Sydney Writers' Festival said that following the allegations, Díaz had pulled out of his remaining scheduled appearances at the festival. It said organizers were committed to providing a "supportive and safe environment for our authors and audiences alike."
Díaz has since responded via a statement given to the New York Times by his literary agent. “I take responsibility for my past,” he said. “That is the reason I made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath. This conversation is important and must continue. I am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.”
Photo Credit: Nina Subin