Junot Diaz is cleared in MIT investigation
An MIT investigation has cleared professor Junot Diaz to return to teach this fall, a significant development in a contentious #MeToo case that has drawn national attention and evoked strong emotional reactions online and within the literary community.
The college launched its inquiry into Diaz’s behavior toward female students and staff in early May after a woman not affiliated with the school claimed on social media that the celebrated author had “forcibly’’ kissed her, and two others posted that he’d been verbally abusive to them.
“To date, MIT has not found or received information that would lead us to take any action to restrict Professor Diaz in his role as an MIT faculty member, and we expect him to teach next academic year, as scheduled,” the university said in a statement. “This is the extent of public comment and information available on this personnel matter.’’
Diaz did not comment on the MIT decision, but his agent, Nicole Aragi, said she’s pleased.
“I expected no less,” she said. “And I’m expecting positive outcomes from any inquiries that test the allegations.”
In a statement to The New York Times after the initial allegation was made last month, Diaz said he “takes responsibility” for his past and is “learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.”
MIT’s judgment echoes a similar finding by the Boston Review, which announced two weeks ago it will retain Diaz, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” as its fiction editor after a “careful review of the public complaints” and interviews with “women writers of color in the world of literary fiction.”
In a post on the Review website, editors Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen wrote that “the objectionable conduct described in the public reports does not have the kind of severity that animated the #MeToo movement,” adding that they had not received any additional complaints from women they spoke to. That announcement led three poetry editors at the Cambridge-based politics and literature magazine to resign.
The initial allegation against Diaz was made last month by novelist Zinzi Clemmons, who tweeted that the writer cornered and “forcibly” kissed her about a half-dozen years ago, adding “I’m far from the only one he’s done this 2, I refuse to be silent anymore.” Writers Carmen Machado and Monica Byrne then accused Diaz of verbally abusive behavior.
Byrne, author of the 2014 sci-fi novel “The Girl in the Road,” alleged that Diaz shouted “rape” in her face during a disagreement at a dinner party. And Machado, a National Book Award finalist for “Her Body and Other Parties,” tweeted that Diaz “went off” on her at an event after she asked him about the misogyny of a character in one of his books.
Fallout from those allegations was immediate. Aside from MIT, where Diaz has taught creative writing since 2003, the Pulitzer Prize board, of which Diaz is a member, said it would undertake a review of the allegations. (That inquiry is still ongoing, and Diaz voluntarily decided to step down as chairman.) Cambridge Public Library canceled an event with Diaz, and Boston Children’s Museum halted the author’s scheduled reading of his new children’s book, “Islandborn.”
The accusations against the author surfaced just a few weeks after Diaz revealed, in an essay in The New Yorker, that he had been raped at age 8. In his account, Diaz said the assault had taken a significant toll on his life and his relationships, and he acknowledged having “hurt people” with his behavior.
Clemmons, who teaches at Occidental College, tweeted that she and some of her supporters viewed the piece as a cynical attempt by Diaz to garner sympathy for himself and head off reports of bad behavior that he knew would be forthcoming. Clemmons, author of the well-regarded debut novel, “What We Lose,’’ declined to speak with the Globe through her agent.
Machado, too, declined to comment, but she told Vulture.com, a New York magazine website, last week that her intention in speaking out was to support Clemmons, and to share context. After she wrote her initial tweets about their interaction, audio of the event was leaked online, revealing a much less confrontational interaction than Machado had described.
She told Vulture.com she still believes he was “enraged” and didactic in his condescension but acknowledged, “I’m not a victim of Junot Diaz. I’m a female writer who had a weird interaction with him.”
In its statement, MIT said professor Melissa Nobles, dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and professor Edward Schiappa, section head for comparative media studies/writing, were involved in the investigation. The school said the professors reached out to “current students” Diaz had taught and also had “extensive conversations” with Diaz and his colleagues.
Byrne, one of the writers who spoke up about Diaz, has solicited other women’s stories on social media. She said she was contacted by the head of MIT’s writing program, who asked her to forward to the university’s Title IX office any complaints she received. But she said MIT’s investigation seemed limited to the campus.
“I told them, look, I have 38 tips, stories, accounts . . . and they’re, like, ‘Well, if you hear from any MIT students, let us know,’ ” Byrne said.