Dartmouth student ends hunger strike after school names investigator to probe sexual harassment allegations

Maha Hasan Alshawi wrote on social media this week that she only weighs 77 pounds after beginning her hunger strike on July 14.

02dartmouth - A group of about 20 students and community members gathered in front of Parkhurst Hall at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH on Thursday, July 16 in support of PhD student, Maha Hasan. (Daniela Allee/New Hampshire Public Radio)
Students and community members gathered in front of Parkhurst Hall at Dartmouth College on July 16 in support of PhD student Maha Hasan Alshawi. –Daniela Allee/New Hampshire Public Radio

A graduate student at Dartmouth College is ending a weeks-long hunger strike after the institution announced Friday an external investigator will probe the allegations of sexual harassment she brought forward earlier this year.

Maha Hasan Alshawi began her hunger strike in July to protest the school’s handling of her case.

“You have likely seen the news that Dartmouth has named an external investigator and she has provided me with documents setting forth the process of the external investigation of my allegations,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Friday afternoon. “Although I still do not have answers to all my questions, at this point, I am ending my hunger strike and look forward to working, in good faith, with the independent investigator to ensure that my allegations are investigated fully and fairly.”

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Alshawi, a PhD student in the school’s computer science department, alleges that she was harassed by one professor in the department and suffered retaliation from another professor when she said she planned to report the two incidents.

Alshawi wrote a letter to the school reporting that a professor in the department “overtly touched his genitals in my presence on several occasions,” according to The Boston Globe. She alleged another department professor undermined her work with undergraduate students, failed her on an exam, and gave her a “low pass” for her work as a teaching assistant in retaliation.

According to the student newspaper The Dartmouth, she first alerted the school’s Title IX Office to her allegations on Feb. 5. Dartmouth conducted a preliminary review of her allegations but decided not to investigate further, the Globe reports.

In June, Alshawi shared her frustration about the institution’s response to her allegations in a post on Facebook.

“I need from Dartmouth a clear and fair investigation about all my previous complaints, because we all need answers from the school now,” she wrote.

On July 14, she announced her plan to begin a hunger strike to “stop this injustice and because I want to be treated equally.”

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A few days later, Dartmouth said it followed university procedures in response to the grad student’s allegations, saying it was “deeply distressed” by the hunger strike.

“We have confidence that those policies and processes were fair, reasonable, and thorough, and we communicated our decisions to Maha transparently and comprehensively,” the school wrote. “We, therefore, stand by the decisions of the Title IX Office, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity that no further investigation or other action is warranted or appropriate.”

In the following weeks, Alshawi continued to provide updates on her Facebook page, reporting her deteriorating health and sharing updates from protests and demonstrations supporting her. A Change.org petition calling on the university to open an investigation into her allegations had more than 22,000 signatures as of Friday morning.

By the end of July, the school expressed it was willing to engage an external investigator “to conduct another review of her allegations, to advance our shared interest in a public and transparent determination of the allegations.”

Alshawi wrote on social media that she objected to the preconditions presented by the college for obtaining the external investigation, including sharing her medical records.

On Aug. 1, the school released a statement stressing the requested steps were to ensure “she is safe.”

“To be clear, we have not requested that she provide us with her medical records, but have asked that she undergo a medical evaluation, take any steps the medical provider recommends, and provide us with documentation to show that she has done so,” the school wrote. “This is to ensure that she is safe. Dartmouth is willing to launch an external investigation in addition to the internal reviews and assessments we have already conducted, but such an investigation must be public and transparent for the sake of all our community members.

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On Monday, Alshawi announced she was beginning a thirst strike, on top of not eating.

The next day, the school announced it would open an external investigation. 

“In the interest of her safety and in keeping with our commitment to Ms. Alshawi, Dartmouth is launching an external investigation of the allegations she has made,” the school wrote. “The external investigation will be conducted consistent with our established processes and is in addition to the extensive assessment and multiple reviews Dartmouth has previously undertaken. The external investigator will contact Ms. Alshawi to explain the process and seek any information she would like to provide.”

After the announcement, Alshawi wrote on her Facebook page that she was still waiting to hear from the school and shared that she only weighs 77 pounds.

On Friday, the school provided the update that the investigation would be undertaken by attorney Maureen Holland, from the Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor.

“Dartmouth will have no further comment on Ms. Alshawi’s case until the investigation is complete and the findings are published,” the school said.

Hours later, Alshawi announced the end of her strike, to the relief of concerned supporters.

“I’d first like to extend my gratitude to everyone who has supported me throughout this,” the student wrote. “We have been through all this together and we will continue to work together to get through this … I remain committed to working to ensure that Title IX investigations at Dartmouth are conducted fairly and that all parties, including complainants, are treated with dignity and fairness.”

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