‘The spark has ignited.’ Latin American scientists intensify fight against sexual harassment

Source: Science Magazine

By Lindzi Wessel, Rodrigo Pérez Ortega Feb. 20, 2020 , 10:45 AM
For decades, from his base at the University of Los Andes (Uniandes) in Bogotá, Colombia, biologist Adolfo Amézquita Torres made his name studying the diverse, jewellike poisonous frogs of the Andes and the Amazon. But on campus, he compiled a darker record, former and current students have alleged in dozens of complaints. They say he mistreated women, including by favoring and emotionally abusing female students he was dating and retaliating against those who rejected his advances or complained about his behavior. Earlier this month, university officials concluded he was guilty of sexual harassment and misconduct and fired him in a watershed moment for the university—and for a growing effort to fight sexual misconduct on campuses across Latin America.

Amézquita Torres, who until recently was head of Uniandes’s biology department, tells Science he did have consensual relationships with students, but claims that such dating was long considered acceptable and that he didn’t knowingly violate any university rules. He denies harassing, favoring, or retaliating against anyone, and says he will challenge the 6 February verdict, claiming the process was flawed and unfair. He vows to “use all available legal tools to recover as much as I can of my dignity.”

The firing marked a dramatic turn in a twisting, nearly 15-month-long controversy, which deeply divided one of Latin America’s most prestigious private universities and was closely watched by Colombia’s media and women’s rights groups. Many applauded the university’s decision. “This is going to send a huge message … I think instructors are going to be much more careful,” says ecologist Ximena Bernal, a native of Colombia who earned her undergraduate degree at Uniandes and now works at Purdue University.