In 2007, Celeste Kidd began her interview process in pursuit of a Ph.D in the cognitive science department at the University of Rochester. She describes getting the interview as one of the most exciting moments in her life. Little did she know that her acceptance into the program was the beginning of a decade-long battle with sexual harassment.
Kidd began working with nationally acclaimed expert on infant learning, Richard Aslin, as well as the university’s newest faculty member, T. Florian Jaegar, who is an expert in linguistic and computational methods. Before she was even accepted into the doctoral program, Jaegar started to form a relationship with Kidd over Facebook. He invited her to a party where he said that nudity could be expected, and he continued to make sexual remarks over Facebook after she began studying at the university.
Jaegar pressured Kidd to move into a spare room in his apartment, where he continuously harassed her. He would ask her personal questions about past sexual experiences, enter her room without permission and without warning, and even make remarks about her physique and criticize her for eating.
“He was somebody who … I didn’t want to upset,” Kidd explained in hindsight. “I wasn’t sure what was normal and what wasn’t. The idea that this kind of thing was common was totally believable.”
Kidd became so mentally distraught over the ordeal that she began living in Aslin’s lab. Even though it was cold, crammed, and lacked a bed and shower, Kidd felt safer there than in her own apartment.
In 2008, Kidd moved out and scrapped a year’s worth of research to further distance herself from Jaegar. For years, she was afraid to file a complaint because she did not think that the university would care. This feeling was justified. She had approached mentors in the past, but her claims about Jaegar were dismissed, and she was told that her experiences were “common and unavoidable.”
Ten years later, Kidd is finally speaking out. She, along with seven other current and former employees, including Aslin, have filed an 111 page long Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint, which claims that Jaegar, the University of Rochester, and several other faculty members have “violated laws that ban discrimination in the workplace and in federally funded education.”
11 women have been cited as actively trying to avoid him in the hostile environment that he created, which led them to lose out on important educational opportunities. After reviewing the complaint, the university said in a statement that they believed the accusations were mostly based on hearsay and not factual evidence.
Prior to this, many other complaints were made by Aslin and other people who had worked with Jaegar, but the university dismissed them. The university ruled that Jaegar had not violated any university policy, and that there was not enough evidence to conclude that Jaegar sexually harassed Kidd, or any other woman for that matter.
“I just don’t understand what the game here is,” Aslin said. “If they’re trying to protect a perp, they’re doing a really good job of it.”
Around the time when this investigation began, Jaegar was promoted and continued to teach. In protest, Aslin resigned from his teaching position after 30 years of working for the university. That was in December of last year.
When students at the university became aware of what was going on, protests ensued, which prompted a new investigation. As of Tuesday, Jaegar has been placed on leave and a lawyer has been hired to represent the university. The new investigation should be completed by the end of this year.
Dr. Kidd calls the long awaited dismissal of Jaegar’s services “one step in the right direction.” Everyone is now waiting to see how the administration will address the larger picture here: how will the University of Rochester handle complaints of sexual misconduct in the future?
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