BERKELEY, CA – UC Berkeley graduate student instructors Erin Bennett and Filipino-American Kathleen Gutierrez filed a complaint with a state agency claiming that a faculty member created a hostile work environment and that the school did little to help them.
The students said Blake Wentworth, an assistant professor in the South and Southeast Asian Studies department inappropriately touched them and made sexual advances toward them in 2014 and 2015.
Gutierrez, who spent hours speaking with the department discussing grievances and looking for changes, said she came back with a few answers. She said Carla Hesse, the university’s interim lead on addressing sexual harassment and assault claims, said “this was the perfect diagnostic.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” said Gutierrez. “This is going to be the case study that will hopefully bring the campus forward but this does not account for the dozens who have been affected by this and who will continue to be affected by this.”
Gutierrez’ colleague Erin Bennett said she has been on medical leave since November because she fears Wentworth’s harassment.
“I felt, on a fundamental level, that the university, for whom I work and where I study, the people who were supposed to protect me and ensure my education and safety would just wouldn’t,” said Bennett. “I mean it wouldn’t matter what would happen to me, no one was here to protect me and that feeling caused debilitating anxiety and I didn’t feel safe on campus.”
The students said they are frustrated by the campus administration’s failure to discipline the faculty member and said the reporting process took too long.
“Since he is a tenured track professor, there’s certain processes that they have to go through,” said the students’ lawyer Arabelle Malinis. “That’s the reason why it’s taking this long because not only has the OPHD have to have their own report, it’s then passed on to other committees.”
Gutierrez said the case is not an isolated incident and urges other students and faculty to speak out.
“We have to continue fighting a really broken system and this culture of impunity that specifically protects tenured faculty members and their abuses against us,” she said.
UC Berkeley has declined to comment on the complaints. However, according to campus spokesman Dan Mogulof, Wentworth was relieved of teaching duties within the past month but is still on the payroll.