A University of Rochester student engaging in a hunger strike, in a bid to get a professor who is accused of sexual harassment fired, said that by dragging the issue out, university officials were “digging their own grave.”
Senior Lindsay Wrobel – who stopped eating as of midnight Thursday – joined seven current and former professors who on August 30 filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sexual harassment by Professor Florian Jaeger.
The complaint alleges that Jaeger, who works in the school’s brain and cognitive sciences department, hosted drug-filled hot tub parties and had “unprotected sex with students, sent unwanted photographs of his genitalia to a female student, [and] lamented to others that he might have sexually transmitted diseases,” the New York Post reported.
“When they would rather let a student go to the hospital than make the changes,” she told the university’s Campus Times newspaper, speaking of the administration, “that’s going to reflect so incredibly poorly on them that [University President Joel] Seligman isn’t going to have a choice. He’s going to have to resign.”
“If they let it get to that point, they’re digging their own grave,” she added.
"We understand that these allegations have raised very real concerns and caused pain both on campus and in our wider community," the university told Fox News in a statement. "First and foremost, the University of Rochester does not tolerate sexual misconduct. The university takes any allegations of such behavior very seriously, and is committed to ensuring that students, faculty and staff feel supported and safe."
Wrobel told 13WHAM that she has had nausea, headaches and muscle aches since she started the hunger strike, and that “even texting feels like work.”
Jaeger, who is still an employee at the university as of Monday morning, wrote in an email to students that he will not be teaching the remainder of his course this semester, according to The New York Times.
“I have read comments online, and while many of them are personally painful for me to read (as most of these comments do not grant me ‘presumption of innocence,’ to put it mildly), I am glad that there is now generally so much support for people who speak up against discrimination,” he wrote, saying he had received letters of support from former students and faculty.
Dr. Richard Aslin and Dr. Jessica Cantlon, former and current professors in the department, respectively, filed a sexual harassment complaint against Jaeger last year that was investigated by the university. That investigation found that Jaeger did not violate any university policies.
The professors appealed the decision, but it was upheld by the university, and they told the Times that afterward they suffered retaliation from Rochester leadership.
Aslin told the newspaper that campus officials and colleagues made it clear that he, Cantlon and others who were known to support the 2016 complaint were no longer welcome.
The university is denying that staff members were given the cold shoulder.
“It serves no one’s interests – not students, employees, the wider university community, nor the institution itself – to leave unchecked or in any way cover up unlawful behavior,” Catherine Nearpass, the university’s associate counsel for employment and labor relations issues who investigated the complaint, told the Times. In communications with the professors and in memos sent out to the department, officials highlight policies prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers.
Wrobel, who, according to 13WHAM, said she fully intends to proceed with the hunger strike “until I’m hospitalized,” has mostly stayed out of classes since the strike began.
“I have to keep checking my blood oxygen and my heart rate,” she told the Campus Times Sunday. “I can feel my heart pounding all the time because it’s effort for it to keep going because of what little energy I have.”
Wrobel described to the newspaper that she has had trouble standing up in the shower and told an officer that it wasn’t time to go to the hospital Saturday when someone called the school’s public safety office and had an ambulance visit her dorm.
“My individual education matters less in my opinion than the educations and the livelihoods of everyone on this campus who has been impacted,” she said.
Seligman said last week that the school will hire a new independent investigator to review the latest complaint against Jaeger. In total, 11 women have come forward to give testimony.
"I have been in touch with Lindsay to tell her how concerned I am about her and to let her know that my primary concern is her health. She has every right to express herself as she chooses, but I urged her to put her well-being first. We are carefully monitoring the situation," he said in a statement to 13WHAM.
As for Wrobel, she hopes the hunger strike can end soon.
“Hey can you resign now so @BobLonsberry can get me a vegetarian garbage plate from @NickTahouHots thx” she tweeted at Jaeger Sunday evening, yearning for the Rochester-based dish of baked beans, macaroni salad, French fries and other toppings.