Two dozen professors from around the country signed a letter published in The Chronicle of Higher Education criticizing the press and individuals on social media for their handling of accusations that MIT professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Diaz mistreated women.
The academics argue that the “(at times uncritical) reception and repetition of the charges . . . amounts to a full-blown media-harassment campaign” that has led to “the characterization of [Diaz] as a bizarre person, a sexual predator, a virulent misogynist, an abuser, and an aggressor.”
They suggested that calls for a “boycott of the Pulitzer Prize winner and for his withdrawal from Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation’’ seemed a rush to judgment and that “very different forms of gender violence have been presented as having equal impact, as devoid of nuance.’’
While not dismissing the women’s allegations, the professors, from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, New York University, and other prestigious institutions, say they’re upset about “the sensationalist register in which the media and some social-media users have portrayed the accusations of misconduct leveled against the Latino author.”
“The resulting characterization of Díaz as a dangerous and aggressive sexual predator from whom all women must be protected reinforces racist stereotypes that cast Blacks and Latinxs as having an animalistic sexual ‘nature,’ ” the letter reads. “These are the same stereotypes that lead to the sexual objectification of Black and Latinx women, and to the stigmatization and physical punishment of Black and Latino men.”
Novelist Zinzi Clemmons was the first to allege that Diaz had behaved inappropriately, accusing him earlier this month of cornering and forcibly kissing her several years ago. The allegation came just a few weeks after The New Yorker published an essay by Diaz detailing sexual abuse he suffered as a boy. Other women writers, including Carmen Maria Machado, Monica Byrne, and Alisa Valdes, have since come forward to say they also were verbally bullied or mistreated by Diaz.
In a statement to The New York Times, Diaz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” acknowledged problematic behavior: “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 the letter published by the Chronicle, the professors express concern that social media is being used to “violently make a spectacle out of a single person while at the same time cancelling out the possibility of disagreement about the facts at hand, or erasing a sustained attention to how the violence of racial hatred, structural poverty, and histories of colonialism extend into the most intimate spaces.”
The academics, who say they’re “interested in justice beyond the spectacle of punishment afforded by press and internet-led public shaming,” include Aisha Beliso de Jesús of Harvard Divinity School; NYU’s Cristina Beltrán; Elena Creed from Wellesley College; Harvard’s Lorgia García-Peña; Linda Martín Alcoff at Hunter College; Stanford’s Paula Moya; Oberlin’s Gina Perez; and Cornell professor Helena Maria Viramontes, among others.