About 50 UC Berkeley students gathered Tuesday afternoon in an emotional protest in response to a recent investigation that found UC Berkeley architecture professor Nezar AlSayyad had sexually harassed a campus graduate student.
Protesters gathered shortly after 2 p.m., blocking the path in front of Wurster Hall, where AlSayyad teaches in the College of Environmental Design, or CED. They held signs reading “Do Better Cal #standwithsurvivors” and “We’ve Known About This for Years” and led chants such as “Do better, Cal. Do better, CED” and “Protect students, not tenure.”
“This (protest) represents two things — a statement to the university … that students are hurt, students are listening, watching and holding administration accountable. … It’s also a chance for students and others to come together,” said Justine Marcus, a master’s student in city planning and public health who serves on the Graduate Student Council in the CED.
The investigation, conducted by an independent investigator hired by the campus, found that AlSayyad violated UC sexual misconduct policy. Another investigation into an accusation of nonsexual misconduct is ongoing, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Organizers began planning the protest after the Sunday publication of the Chronicle article that broke the news of the investigation’s findings — the first time students were publicly made aware of the allegations. In interviews with The Daily Californian, students in the department have said that allegations of misconduct have circulated for years.
Dozens of CED students signed a list of demands Monday that included AlSayyad’s immediate suspension while investigation into his misconduct proceeds, alternatives to finishing City Planning 200 — a required graduate course he teaches — and various changes to the campus sexual misconduct investigation process.
At the protest, many of the students from the CED and other campus departments said they were dismayed at the lack of campus policy in place to protect students.
Among the speakers was Eva Hagberg Fisher, a campus doctoral candidate whose March Title IX complaint against AlSayyad led to the investigation, who said she was grateful for the protest.
“I’ve been doing this alone for eight months — had this image of standing in front of Wurster standing by myself,” Hagberg Fisher said. “Coming here today and seeing I’m not standing by myself is beyond anything I could imagine.”
Aside from City Planning 200, AlSayyad co-teaches an undergraduate course, Architecture 100C.
Although he is still listed as an instructor for spring classes on various scheduling websites, AlSayyad will not be teaching any courses next semester, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. This is not a disciplinary measure against AlSayyad, Mogulof said, but the campus can take steps to “avoid the possibility of class disruption” when scheduling professors for courses.
AlSayyad did not respond to requests for comment. He has denied all misconduct allegations in a statement sent to a faculty Listserv and to students through bCourses on Sunday.
“I believe the campus’ current hyper climate has encouraged the filing of exaggerated complaints of which I am now a victim, as time will ultimately tell,” he said in the statement to faculty. “I am confident I will be vindicated.”
Academic leadership from central campus and the CED met Tuesday afternoon to discuss “actions to support students’ needs and interests,” according to Mogulof. Representatives from the CED could not be reached for comment, but Mogulof said information from the CED should come in the next couple of days.
“We’re disappointed that the department failed to protect students,” said a student organizer taking City Planning 200 who asked to remain anonymous. “He was still given the privacy and privilege to continue teaching.”
According to Matt Wade, a teaching assistant for City Planning 200 and one of the protest organizers, another protest is being planned for Thursday at Wurster during the time AlSayyad’s graduate course takes place in the building.