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MIT says it is ‘looking into’ allegations against Junot Diaz

Author Junot Diaz in 2017.
Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe
Author Junot Diaz in 2017.

MIT made its first public comment Monday on allegations that novelist Junot Diaz, who teaches creative writing at the university, has mistreated women.

“As MIT looks into concerns shared on social media regarding Professor Diaz, 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,” the school said in a statement. “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.”

An MIT spokesperson did not elaborate on what process it will follow as it investigates claims that Diaz behaved inappropriately toward women, including novelist Zinzi Clemmons, who has accused Diaz of cornering and forcibly kissing her several years ago.

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Meanwhile, the Boston Children’s Museum announced Monday it has canceled a reading Diaz was scheduled to give there May 17. In a statement, the children’s museum said the decision was made “in light of the allegations that have been made,” adding that “until there is clarification and resolution around these accusations, Boston Children’s Museum has the responsibility to not put its visitors — children and families — in an uncomfortable or confusing situation.

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“The Museum’s priority is to provide a respectful and a positive experience for visitors,” the statement reads, “and we are concerned the nature of the accusations would be counterproductive to the intent of the reading.”

Over the weekend, the Sydney Writers’ Festival announced that Diaz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” had withdrawn from his scheduled appearances at the event. The organizers said they are committed to providing a “supportive and safe environment for our authors and audiences alike.”

Since Clemmons tweeted last Friday about her encounter with Diaz, other women writers, including Carmen Maria Machado, Monica Byrne, and Alisa Valdes, have come forward to say they also were bullied or mistreated by the celebrated novelist. Through his literary agent, Diaz eventually responded, telling The New York Times in a statement: “I take responsibility for my past. 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.”

In an essay published last month in The New Yorker, Diaz had detailed sexual abuse he suffered at the age of 8, and the emotional and psychological toll it took on his life and his relationships with women. In light of Clemmons’s allegations, some believe Diaz was acting preemptively — and cynically — by revealing his childhood trauma.

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Clemmons was unmoved by Diaz’s statement to the Times: “I have read his apology many times trying to make sense of it, but the words just rearrange into a soup of unintelligibility. You take responsibility how, in your head? What is that?”

In his piece in The New Yorker, Diaz wrote about being raped by a grown-up he knew, and how the experience led him to contemplate suicide, drink heavily, and cheat on the women in his life.

“No one can hide forever,” Diaz wrote. “Eventually what used to hold back the truth doesn’t work anymore. You run out of escapes, you run out of exits, you run out of gambits, you run out of luck. Eventually the past finds you.”