Yale Daily News
I SAW WHAT I SAW: On this island, a Yale professor sexually harassed a Yale student. Did the University do enough?
By Jever Mariwala, Alice Park, & Marisa Peryer
March 5, 2019
Editor’s Note: This article contains sexually graphic descriptions of misconduct. The student who experienced the misconduct requested the pseudonym Blair to protect their privacy.
On a chilly January evening, Blair received an unexpected call from their dean.
The dean told Blair, a gender nonbinary Yale senior who uses they/them/their pronouns, that Yale had launched an independent investigation into sexual misconduct complaints against retired School of Medicine professor Eugene Redmond. Blair was shocked. Seven months earlier, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct had found Redmond responsible for sexually harassing them. But Redmond had retired before the University imposed disciplinary sanctions. It had seemed like the University’s hands were tied. Blair wondered: What had changed?
Later that night, in a Jan. 28, 2019 statement announcing the investigation, Yale said it was responding to a new complaint against Redmond. The University made a striking admission: Yale had investigated Redmond before. In 1994, former interns alleged that Redmond had sexually harassed them at a research facility on the Caribbean island St. Kitts where he ran an internship program — the same facility where he harassed Blair in 2017. At that time, Redmond promised to end the program, which he did for a few years. But since at least 2011, he had reopened it to Yale undergraduates, seemingly without Yale’s knowledge.
For a university that rarely — if ever — acknowledges cases of misconduct committed by faculty members, Yale’s announcement was unprecedented. It also seemed impressive: Yale hired a former U.S. district attorney as an outside investigator and named Redmond publicly. It looked like the University was doing the right thing.
“I am committed to the investigation that will shine more light on it: a university dedicated to the pursuit of truth can ask no less of itself,” University President Peter Salovey said in Yale’s statement.
But a five-month investigation by the News exposes Yale’s inability to effectively discipline faculty members found to have violated the University’s sexual misconduct policy. When the UWC found Redmond responsible for sexual harassment, it sent a report to the administrator with authority to sanction faculty — Provost Ben Polak. After receiving the UWC’s findings and all follow-up reports and responses — a normal part of the UWC’s adjudication process — the provost usually makes a disciplinary decision “within seven days,” according to the UWC’s website.
Polak had all of the follow-up reports and responses he had requested by July 9, but he did not issue a decision within seven days. Thirty-eight days passed before Blair received an update from the UWC: Redmond had retired without Polak having issued a decision. Another five months passed before the University announced its independent investigation in January.
In a signed letter to the News, Redmond categorically denied sexually harassing Blair. After Yale announced its investigation, he denied the allegations that motivated it in an email to the News, calling them “slanderous and defamatory.”
Fearing the disciplinary and legal action outlined in the UWC’s confidentiality policy, Blair decided not to publish any documentation from their UWC hearing. The News corroborated their story with email exchanges between Blair and University officials, as well as with the accounts of another St. Kitts intern, professors and Redmond himself.
The case against Redmond reveals an inability by the UWC — a highly bureaucratic system, considered a model among Yale’s peer institutions — to accommodate nuance in the cases it adjudicates. At nearly every stage, the University’s response to Blair’s experiences did not uphold its commitment to preventing and addressing cases of sexual misconduct. From the burden imposed on student complainants, particularly those who are nonbinary, to its stringent yet vague confidentiality policy, the UWC’s process can leave survivors feeling powerless and silenced. And even when the UWC rules in a complainant’s favor, the University is not always able or willing to hold its faculty members accountable.
Polak’s delay in disciplining Redmond and the University’s decision to launch an investigation months after Redmond’s retirement raise the question: Can Yale protect its students?
“I saw what I saw”
During the spring of their sophomore year, Blair, a biology major, began searching for internship opportunities for the upcoming summer. They found Redmond’s internship program listed on Yale Career Link — an online job portal run by Yale’s Office of Career Strategy — and decided to apply.
In March, Redmond interviewed Blair in Morse College, where he served as an adviser for at least 20 years. Eager to build a relationship with their new mentor, Blair invited Redmond to a performance by their spoken word group, which he attended.
Two days after the performance, Redmond told Blair over dinner that they would have to share a room with two beds over the summer. Blair found the idea of sharing a room with a professor “a little weird,” but ultimately agreed. There didn’t seem to be other options.
Despite the sleeping arrangements, Blair was thrilled by the opportunity to conduct research with Redmond, an esteemed scientist and pioneer of stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease. In the weeks after their dinner, Blair and Redmond emailed back and forth planning a joint research paper, which Blair knew would stand out on future medical school applications.
The night of June 11, 2017, Blair and two female interns — also Yale undergraduates — flew into St. Kitts and drove to Redmond’s research facility, roughly a mile from the coastline. The humid Caribbean air hit them as they walked to the main house with their suitcases, ready to sleep after a long day traveling.
Railroad tracks on St. Kitts. (Courtesy of Blair)
After saying goodnight to the other interns, Redmond and Blair retired to their shared room. Without warning, Redmond undressed, Blair said, and stood completely naked in front of them. Blair told the News that Redmond then put on loose boxers and got into his bed, which was situated just a few feet from Blair’s own.
According to both Redmond and Blair, the professor also offered to apply lotion or aloe onto their back regularly that summer.
“I offered to put sunscreen or lotion on the student’s back before going out into sun or at night. In the tropics, unprotected sun exposure can be dangerous,” Redmond wrote in his letter to the News.
Every morning, Blair woke with the other interns and walked across the facility grounds — past Dobermans that roamed the campus and cages of monkeys — to conduct their research. When their workday ended, the students often biked around the island or explored the nearby beach. Night after night, Blair and Redmond retired to their shared room.
On one of those nights, Blair encountered the professor “holding his penis with his hand and moving his hand up and down,” they told the News. A few days later, Blair saw Redmond masturbating in the bedroom for a second time.
“You can’t do this again,” Blair told him that night before leaving the room.
Blair recalled confronting the professor the next day.
In response, Redmond denied masturbating.
“I saw what I saw,” Blair told Redmond.
“It’s one of life’s little pleasures,” he responded.
In his letter to the News, Redmond denied “any occurrence of masturbation (or any explicit sexual behavior) in the presence of this student on any occasion in any place.” When asked about this alleged conversation with Blair, Redmond’s attorney did not address it directly but denied any misconduct.
One of the female interns living with Blair and Redmond — who requested anonymity because she did not want to be associated with the case — told the News that Blair confided in her about the second alleged masturbation incident that same night.
A day after the confrontation, Redmond asked to speak with Blair alone after work, according to Blair, and inquired about their sexual fantasies. When Blair responded that they felt uncomfortable discussing such topics, Redmond asked whether they masturbate. Blair said “not often,” hoping to end the conversation.
But the conversation did not stop there. According to Blair, Redmond responded, “As someone who cares about you, I am going to prescribe an orgasm a day.” From that day until the end of the summer he continued to ask Blair whether they were following his “prescription.”
In his letter to the News, Redmond defended all of his interactions with Blair during the internship, insisting that conversations about “gender and life experience […] were intended to be supportive and always guided by what the student brought up and seemed comfortable discussing.”
During the UWC hearing, Redmond confirmed that he said that Blair “should have more sex,” according to Blair. In addition, Redmond acknowledged that he had engaged in multiple conversations about Blair’s sexual fantasies, sexuality and sexual history, according to Blair. Blair added that during the UWC hearing, Redmond also admitted to talking about masturbation and sexual fantasies with previous interns.
Halfway into the internship, Blair missed a day of work after experiencing “terrifying” stomach pain and constipation for several days.
When Redmond entered the shared bedroom to check on Blair, he asked them to describe their medical condition, Blair recalled.
“Why don’t I do a rectal exam on you?” Blair remembered Redmond asking.
“I’d rather not,” Blair responded.
While Blair was reluctant to allow the rectal exam, they felt coerced to agree after Redmond insisted that it would be medically prudent to do so. Until that moment, Blair had never had a penetrative rectal examination.
“He feigned giving me a medical exam I didn’t need, and sexually assaulted me,” Blair told the News.
Redmond told the News that he conducted the rectal exam to test for appendicitis. Redmond added that the student “cooperated fully” after he explained the need for a rectal exam. The medical decision was “made for ‘watchful waiting,’” Redmond wrote in his letter.
At the UWC hearing, according to Blair, Redmond told the panel that before he administered the exam, Blair did not show symptoms of appendicitis, and that he had not been involved in diagnosing appendicitis in over 30 years. According to Blair, the UWC panel ultimately confirmed what they already knew: The rectal exam was coercive.
In his letter to the News, Redmond said that the rectal exam “did not reveal any signs of appendicitis.” After the exam, Redmond gave Blair a laxative, and the student recovered fully.
“I do want to emphasize that even the behaviors that Dr. Redmond does admit to in his account — giving me a rectal exam, telling me to have more sex, offering me massages — are not behaviors that should exist in a student/professor relationship,” Blair wrote in their opening statement for the UWC hearing. “As faculty members at this university who interact with students, I respectfully ask that you consider whether you would behave with a student you were mentoring and supervising in this way.”
Even as Redmond engaged in repeated sexual behaviors, Blair increasingly felt beholden to him, particularly as a low-income student. When two other interns attended a concert on the island that Blair could not afford, Redmond offered to pay for it and future excursions, provided Blair kept it a secret.
“That created this coercive environment where I felt very thankful to him and wanted to be extra nice to him because he was paying for things for me, and I felt very uncomfortable about it,” Blair said. “I felt like I owed him something.”
Redmond did not see these subsidies as problems. In his letter to the News, he wrote that, “It is odd that this generosity was interpreted by the Yale Committee as ‘harassment.’”
Blair wasn’t the only intern uncomfortable with the power dynamics on St. Kitts. “He took us everywhere,” one of the female interns told the News. “We were pretty much subject to his entire will throughout the summer.” Redmond controlled all of the internship funding — including money for stipends, groceries and travel. Interns also depended on the professor to drive them around the island.
Adding to Blair’s discomfort, they said Redmond disregarded their gender identity on several occasions. Blair told Redmond their preferred pronouns when the two first reached St. Kitts in June. At the time, Redmond told Blair that they should not use they/them/their pronouns on the island since, “not everyone will understand.” Blair added that Redmond said he did not believe in transgender identities.
In his letter to the News, Redmond claimed that Blair had never indicated that “non-traditional pronouns (THEY, THEM, THEIR) were preferred.” But in an earlier paragraph in the same letter, Redmond said that over the course of the internship, he had several conversations with Blair about gender.
“I guess he perceived me as a gay male, which is another way that a lot of people perceive me,” Blair told the News. “But simultaneously, in this process of feeling violated, I felt like I was being [romantically] pursued … for someone I wasn’t, someone he thought of me as that wasn’t even the real version of me.”
“He could literally ruin my life”
After 64 days on the island, on Aug. 14, 2017, Blair returned to the U.S.
“The moment I stepped foot in Florida for the layover, I just cried my eyes out,” Blair said.
Blair returned to Yale that fall to start their junior year. Though Blair had left St. Kitts behind, nightmares from the island persisted. They would lie awake, unable to sleep, as disturbing moments from the summer “kept playing over and over again” in their head.
About two weeks after leaving the island, Blair decided to abandon their nearly finished research paper with Redmond — they wanted to cut ties with him completely. Soon after, Blair sought help processing the summer’s trauma at Yale’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center and confided in School of Medicine professor Joanna Radin, Blair’s former professor and a trusted adviser.
In Radin’s office, Blair broke down as their story “just sort of spilled out.”
As a mandatory reporter, Radin notified the University Title IX coordinator of Blair’s experience without naming them. Radin’s response made Blair feel reaffirmed. Blair considered taking the next step — filing a formal UWC complaint, which would launch an investigation into their allegation against Redmond.
The decision kept them up at night. If Redmond — a powerful researcher — decided to retaliate, “he could literally ruin my life,” Blair explained. They worried that if the UWC were to rule against them, Redmond would undermine their chances of getting into medical school. Blair also feared they would repeatedly have to explain their gender identity, as they had done on the island with Redmond. They did not want to relive that discomfort.
Yale School of Medicine (Marisa Peryer)
“I always felt like I was wrong,” Blair said. “I always felt I hadn’t experienced what I had. … It took me so long to realize that even though I felt so violated, it was valid. Because [Redmond] did a really great job the whole time of gaslighting me. Every time I confronted him, he pretended it hadn’t happened or it was coincidental.”
After months of indecision, Blair filed a formal UWC complaint on March 9, 2018. Later in March, the UWC appointed an impartial fact-finder who began investigating their complaint.
While Blair was determined to hold Redmond accountable, their daily routine was overwhelmed by the UWC process of submitting statements, retelling their story to the fact-finder and waiting for hearings. Their UWC hearing was postponed to take place after Blair had finished their final exams, but the proceedings loomed over them that semester.
On May 15, 2018, the five-person UWC panel held its hearing on Blair’s complaint.
“This is not something I would have put myself through if I did not feel morally compelled to do so,” Blair said in their opening statement. “I do not want this man to hurt anyone else the way he hurt me.”
Blair told the News that University officials seemed to not understand their gender identity. Blair recalled that, at the start of the seven-hour hearing, a panel member advised them to “do [their] best to not be offended” if anyone misgendered them during the hearing.
According to Blair, UWC panelists used their pronouns properly at the beginning of the hearing. But after Redmond’s testimony — in which he described Blair using he/him/his pronouns — panelists started using incorrect, male pronouns as well, Blair said.
Mark Solomon, the current UWC chair and the panel chair for Redmond’s case, declined to comment on specific UWC cases and the alleged misuse of pronouns. Then-UWC chair and panelist David Post referred questions to Yale’s Office of Public Affairs & Communication. The other three panel members at Redmond’s hearing did not respond to requests for comment.
Conroy, the University spokesman, first told the News on Dec. 1 that Yale does not “confirm or discuss complaints.” After the University announced the independent investigation in January, Conroy said the investigator will “examine all issues regarding the complaints” against Redmond.
Despite the exhausting UWC process, Blair left the hearing feeling encouraged.
“The panel was clearly in my favor, and they were shocked by the stuff I was saying and Redmond was saying,” Blair recalled. “That felt great because they believed me. And it was reaffirming. And I felt good about it.”
About three weeks later, on June 4, 2018, the UWC affirmed Blair’s account. Redmond had violated Yale’s sexual misconduct policy in the form of sexual harassment.
Banned from Yale
Polak, the University official who was to make the final decision about the case, received the UWC panel’s report on June 4. UWC panel reports typically include a recommendation for an appropriate disciplinary sanction, according to the UWC’s website. However, the report sent to Polak did not mention any recommendation for what Redmond’s punishment should be, according to Blair, who also received a copy.
After receiving the UWC’s report, Polak requested a follow-up with more information about the rectal exam Redmond had performed on Blair. Both Blair and Redmond were given an opportunity to submit a response to the supplemental report. In an interview with the News, Conroy reiterated that the decision-maker may request further information before issuing a decision, as “new facts may emerge.”
On July 1, UWC Secretary Anita Sharif-Hyder notified Blair that Redmond had requested an extension to submit his response “due to his travel schedule.” Both parties’ deadlines to submit responses were extended. By July 9, Polak had received all of the additional information he had requested. According to the UWC’s website, a decision-maker “will render his or her decision in writing within seven days” after receiving all reports and responses from the parties. But the UWC did not notify Blair of the case’s outcome until Aug. 16 — 38 days later.
That day, Blair finally received the email they had been anticipating all summer.
The email informed them that Polak had accepted the UWC panel’s conclusions, according to Blair. But Blair read on: Before the Provost issued a decision, Redmond had retired. No disciplinary action had been taken.
Polak referred requests for comment on the extensions and retirement to Conroy, who reiterated that faculty members may retire from Yale at any time. Once a faculty member retires from Yale, the University can no longer impose disciplinary sanctions, such as counseling or suspension.
“It seems that the UWC reporting process was structured in such a way where the Provost allowed him to retire and that should not be the case,” Blair told the News. “No one person should have that sort of power.”
Following his retirement, the University banned Redmond from campus and prohibited him from contacting Yale undergraduate and graduate students, residents, postdoctoral fellows and research associates, according to Blair’s recount of the Aug. 16 email. Yale also banned the St. Kitts facility from recruiting Yale students as long as Redmond is affiliated with the program. Redmond was denied the privileges of most retired faculty members, such as emeritus status and University sponsorship for grant proposals, according to Conroy.
But while Blair was left in the dark on Redmond’s fate, five of his undergraduate advisees in Morse College were notified on July 27 that he intended to retire — 20 days before Blair heard the news — according to an email sent to Abhishek Srinivas ’21, one of the former advisees.
“Professor Redmond chose to retire after he was informed of the planned punishment that would be implemented by University leadership,” Conroy told the News on Jan. 29. “In addition, Yale cannot prevent faculty members from retiring if they are contractually entitled to do so.”
Conroy declined to comment on what Redmond’s punishment would have been had he not retired.
Redmond’s former lab (Marisa Peryer)
In his letter to the News, Redmond confirmed that he retired last summer, but claimed that he was denied “basic due process rights in this matter.” He did not respond to multiple requests for elaboration. On March 2, Ethan Levin-Epstein, a partner at a law firm advocating for workplace fairness, emailed the News on behalf of Redmond.
“Dr. Redmond continues to deny that he engaged in misconduct and continues to strongly disagree with the UWC Panel’s decision and the unfair process by which it was reached,” Levin-Epstein wrote in his email to the News.
“Yale has made me a victim”
In an interview with the News on Jan. 29, Conroy insisted that the University imposed “severe restrictions” on Redmond after his retirement. Redmond is barred from engaging in Yale-related activities, according to a Dec. 3, 2018 email Conroy sent to the News. When asked if Redmond still receives retirement benefits, Conroy directed the News to a University website and read the policy aloud: “All faculty who retire are eligible to receive a subsidy for part of their health insurance.”
Despite the “severe restrictions,” the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine published a paper for which Redmond is the senior author in September 2018 — roughly one month after his retirement and subsequent ban from engaging in Yale-related activities. Just last month, Redmond submitted a paper to the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications with his former colleagues in the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry.
This is not the first sexual misconduct case that the School of Medicine has grappled with in recent years. The medical school drew scrutiny last summer for honoring cardiologist Michael Simons MED ’84 — whom the UWC found responsible for sexual harassment in 2013 — with an endowed professorship. In November, the News reported on two additional cases of sexual misconduct that the medical school mishandled.
In a Jan. 30 statement to the News, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said that the school is “committed to creating a culture of respect and inclusion, where sexual misconduct has no place.”
Redmond emphasized in his letter to the News that he sees himself as a “victim” of Yale’s adjudicatory processes.
“Yale and/or its official process has made me a victim and brought great personal damage to me,” Redmond wrote in his letter.
According to Blair, St. Kitts staff decided to put the Yale internship program on hold after speaking with Blair in December 2017. Staff members did not respond to requests for comment.
Still, Redmond said he hopes to continue searching for a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
The last paragraph of Eugene Redmond’s signed letter to the News.
“A re-examination of Yale’s approach”
Although the University claims that the UWC’s confidentiality policy protects participants, Blair found that it did the opposite. When they wanted to speak, they couldn’t, fearing University retaliation. And when they were resigned to remain silent, the University’s investigation placed an unwanted spotlight on their case.
UWC documents are confidential, and the University may take disciplinary action against any person who shares those documents. The confidentiality policy is designed to “encourage parties and witnesses to participate in UWC proceedings and share all the pertinent information they have to offer,” according to the UWC’s website.
All Yale community members are “expected” to maintain the confidentiality of UWC proceedings, according to UWC policy. Blair does not remember signing an agreement committing to confidentiality, but since their UWC case ended last August, they have felt silenced by the same confidentiality policy meant to preserve the integrity of the UWC process. Blair feared they would be disciplined by Yale’s Executive Committee if they made public UWC documents from their case via the News, even though those documents would corroborate their account of events.
Instead, Yale’s independent investigation has inadvertently brought Blair’s experience at St. Kitts into the public eye. Since the announcement, several acquaintances — including those with no knowledge of the complaint — have asked Blair about their experience on St. Kitts and connection to Redmond. A friend currently working on St. Kitts told Blair that the research facility is buzzing with speculation and gossip about Redmond.
“I feel that my privacy has been invaded after the investigation of Dr. Redmond went public,” Blair told the News. “If things are going to be confidential, they have to be either fully or not.”
Initially, in November, administrators in Yale’s Title IX Office, Office of the Provost and the School of Medicine all declined or did not respond to requests for comment on Redmond’s retirement and on Polak’s delay to issue disciplinary action. These administrators only issued public statements after Yale announced the independent investigation two months later. Conroy declined to comment on whether the University can take action if the independent investigation finds additional survivors, as Redmond is already retired and banned from Yale.
According to Yale’s statement, Salovey ordered the independent investigation — which is being conducted by former U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly — after receiving another formal complaint against Redmond in 2019.
“We must learn whether there are additional survivors who wish to come forward, and we need to understand the facts relating to the internship program,” Salovey wrote in the Jan. 28 statement.
But this is not the first time Yale has launched an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Redmond. According to the University’s statement, former St. Kitts interns brought sexual misconduct complaints against Redmond to Yale’s attention in 1994. Yale’s investigation that year was “unable to verify those earlier allegations,” according to the statement, but Redmond told Yale that he would end the internship program.
Yale did not hold him to that commitment.
Since the 1994 investigation, Redmond has recruited numerous Yale students, including Blair and at least six other undergraduates, to conduct research with him on St. Kitts. Amid the new investigation, Conroy said that he could not share who investigated the complaints against Redmond in 1994, at which time the UWC had not yet been formed. He also declined to comment on whether the University followed up with Redmond on his promise to stop taking interns from Yale, or whether Yale ever reported Redmond to the Connecticut Medical Examining Board after he was found responsible for sexual harassment.
Yale has reported the information it has to the Yale Police Department and the New Haven Police Department, “which will be in contact with law enforcement in St. Kitts,” according to the Jan. 28 statement. The University will cooperate fully if those departments conduct their own investigations, according to Conroy.
Radin — the professor whom Blair confided in — wrote in an email to the News that she was “deeply dismayed to learn from the YDN” that Yale had knowledge about Redmond’s alleged misconduct dating back to 1994.
“That Redmond was able [to] retire after a long career [at] Yale even as his behavior may have derailed the careers of young scholars is cause for serious concern,” Radin wrote. “The courage and leadership of students like [Blair] should be recognized as such and prompt a re-examination of Yale’s approach to dealing with sexual misconduct.”
Now, a year after they filed their UWC complaint against Redmond, Blair feels resigned to the situation. When they first reported their case to the UWC, Blair did not know that other interns had reported similar experiences with Redmond in the past. While Blair is hopeful that the independent investigation will have a positive outcome, they feel overwhelmed and frustrated that the University did not launch an investigation into Redmond’s conduct earlier.
“I continually feel like the University did not take my case necessarily as seriously as I had wished,” Blair said. “I think it is now taking it seriously, but I really wish that this had all happened before [Redmond] had been allowed to retire.”