*Content Warning: The following letter and first-person accounts pertain to allegations of sexual harassment & sexual assault by Gopal Balakrishnan. We want to caution that some of the first-person accounts contain content that might be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.*
NOTE: To add your name to the list of signatories, or for other inquiries, please email [email protected].
We are writing this statement to let our community know that Gopal Balakrishnan has a pattern of using his position of power as a professor and influential academic to intimidate, harass, and even assault young women and gender nonconforming people. We have heard multiple first-person and witness accounts, and are including here statements describing such behavior. These statements are not all of the accounts of which we are aware. They simply represent the experiences of people who were willing to tell their stories. They describe direct acts against individuals, as well as a broader culture of misogyny and enabling. We want to affirm our support for the authors of the statements, as well as the UCSC students who have organized on their campus to bring GB’s behavior to light.
However, we are not addressing this statement specifically to the university, nor are we hoping to influence university legal proceedings (though of course we wholeheartedly support student efforts to use those avenues). We are addressing a broader “we”—the community of intellectuals, academics, radicals, and current and former students of which GB is and has been a part. We believe that healthy communities need to defend the safety and autonomy of their members, and be proactive about abuses of power taking place in their midst. This includes setting clear standards for what kinds of behavior we will tolerate. Misogyny, sexual harassment, and sexual assault should have no place among us.
GB’s behavior has kept women and gender nonconforming people, especially younger people with less social capital, from participating in political and intellectual spaces. How many people have been pushed out of meetings, classrooms, conferences, journals, and social events because of his actions? Those who he has harassed have told us that they have dropped out of political and intellectual circles for fear of running into him, and some who have heard about his behavior second hand have learned to avoid social gatherings where he might be present. In this sense, calling out his behavior publicly is not an act of exclusion, but a first step toward meaningful inclusion of those who are already being excluded.
The truth is that GB’s behavior was known—at least partially—to more than a few people. We are calling out not just GB himself, but the culture of denial and protection that allows him and others to continue to take advantage of women and gender nonconforming people. One of the statements attached here, in particular, shows how people close to GB silenced, mocked, and intimidated individuals who tried to come forward to discuss their encounters with GB. People have long tried to downplay GB’s behavior and to undermine the credibility of anyone that speaks out. This pattern of silencing is common in scenes or communities when abuse is revealed, and can cause as much or more emotional pain as the original abuse. It has to stop.
Access to a political and intellectual community is not an unequivocal right. If a person cannot be trusted to treat others with respect for their wellbeing and autonomy then they have lost the right to have access. This is especially the case because, as radicals, we work to make our ways of relating to one another reflective of the world we’re trying to create. If we can’t take a stand against the misogyny ingrained in our own milieus, then what right do we have to claim a role in making a better world?
Those of us signing this statement affirm our support for the people who have shared their personal experiences. While we won’t make false claims about our ability to provide “safe space,” we want to make it perfectly clear whose presence we value in our spaces. GB and anyone actively supporting him should not expect to be welcome at any events or gatherings where we are present. This is a step toward creating a community that expects and demands that we treat each other with respect and that acknowledges and challenges unequal power dynamics, including those created by gender, race, age, class, and institutional authority.
Blind Field Editorial Collective
Elizabeth de Martelly
Kate Doyle Griffiths
LIES Journal Editorial Collective
Anne Lesley Selcer
Ki Won Yoon
In the spring of 2013 I traveled from the east coast where I live to go to a symposium in my field, literature, on the west coast. On the first night of the symposium a party was held at the house of friends that I was staying with. Another friend, B, also from out of town and one of my closest friends of many years was also staying in this house and we were sharing a mattress on the floor of the living area in the downstairs part of the house where the party was. The people who lived in the house including another very close friend, and another two guests were sleeping upstairs in the bedrooms.
The party started at 6 and went on for many hours until the last people left the house around dawn. I had performed earlier in the night and drank some hard liquor at the beginning of the party, which always makes me drunk. However because it affects me so much I stopped drinking it at a certain point and was definitely sober by the end of the night almost 12 hours later.
GB an acquaintance, a friend of friends arrived late in the night when I was already sobering for a while and my memory of all of this is very clear.
GB hit on me over the course of the night but I ignored it and talked to the many friends I had at this party. Then when it was very late and B and I were preparing for bed and almost everyone was gone he tried to kiss me and I kissed him back. However it did not go further than kissing.
He asked would I have sex with him in the living room of the house still full of some other people. I said no and you should go now. He asked again repeatedly and I kept saying no, just go home now. Everyone had left now by this point and the hosts were asleep upstairs.
B and I got into bed and closed the pocket doors that did not lock separating the room we were staying in from the rest of the house. I went to sleep so tired assuming he had left. I awoke some time later to feel him against me in the bed, his penis erect through his pants and touching my body. I immediately jumped up and said no you have to leave the house now. He argued with me a little and then B woke up and he started to leave.
She said go follow him and say goodbye to make sure he leaves and I did. In a sleep daze and not totally cognizant of what just happened I hugged and kissed him just once as you might kiss a relative. He left.
I got back into bed half asleep as it must have been 4:30 am by this point and closed the pocket doors again and went back to sleep with her.
Some time later I awoke to see him back in the room and taking off all his clothes to get back into bed with me. This image of him naked and erect and looming over the bed is so awful to me now and is one reason I did not want to write this account.
B woke up again and we made him leave. I think I pushed a chair against the door at this point. I went back to sleep although couldn’t get to sleep for a while. The only reason I did not feel terrified was because B was there and there were many other people asleep in the house. Still it was unnerving as in my nerves started to come off and I felt numb.
The next day I told this story to the people in the house. I am certain that everyone remembers this awful event and would if needed second my account as would B who remembers it the same way as me and had had nothing to drink. I remember one of the people I told the next day saying “I want to break his knees.”
The worst part of this for me is that I realize I was prey for him. Sometime recently before this I had been sexually assaulted, molested. I never talked about this but had come to this other coast in part to get away from that. However I see now that he must have unconsciously recognized all that confusion, brutality, shame, boundarylessness and vulnerability on me. Being a shape that is already stolen. I understand now that I was literal traumatized prey in this time and it is most certainly why he decided to zero in on me that night out of all the other women at the party.
This makes me sick thinking of what he might do to those he apprehends as even more vulnerable prey. I was a thirty something year old woman in a different discipline. I had never been his student, needed nothing from him, did not admire him or want his approval in any way and was not in any kind of power structure with him besides patriarchy.
What might he do to an 18-year-old undergrad, to a grad student who needs many professional things from him? Having taught professionally myself for many years in higher education I am totally aware of the power relation that teaching ALWAYS is and the transference and countertransference that is always present. I am writing this now although it gives me so much anxiety and I am literally afraid of him and how he might retaliate physically violently or professionally against me or my friends because I know for sure that if he had such a feeling of permission with me, what doors, locks, voices, social norms and bodies might he bypass to violate what the academy situates in the position of much more susceptible, isolated and to a larger degree trapped permanently in the structure without witnesses prey?
It makes me sick to think about it.
Since this time four years ago I realize suddenly writing this I have not had any kind of sexual relationship with any men of any kind. Between the time of the sexual assault and this encounter with GB I had dated a lovely man who later moved to Europe. But since this incident with GB nothing at all with any man at all. Nine months after this violation as the numbness was wearing off I was in an artist colony with a man who tried to flirt with me and was sleeping in the same building that night in another room. I locked the door, pushed a chair in front of it and slept in my clothes for the next three nights. I only took a shower after a few days when I knew he was gone and also locked that shower door. I realize that this over anxious extreme reaction was a delayed reaction to what had transpired with GB.
I feel certain now that had I been alone in the house or even that room that night in that spring Gopal Balakrishnan would have raped me.
GB has never harassed or assaulted me, but, as someone who has shared a university social scene with him for years, I have witnessed his behavior toward women and younger students, as well as his drug and alcohol use. I feel that what I have seen over the years helps place his behavior in context, and also shows that this behavior has been allowed to continue because it exists within a broader culture that protects and enables it.
As a first year graduate student at UCSC, I fell into a circle of undergrad and grad students who were involved in student activism and socialized together outside of school. Many of these students took courses in History of Consciousness. I took a class with GB and we all went out to the bar together afterward on a weekly basis. Regular bar nights included undergrads, grads, and sometimes faculty, but the only faculty member who regularly socialized with us was GB. It seemed like he was more than just a professor who was having an occasional drink with students: his graduate students, a group of three or four men, were his friends and main form of socializing. He interacted with graduate and undergraduate students as though we were all just peers hanging out. At the time, even though I feel like I should have known better, I thought this lack of boundaries was a positive sign, showing that we had created a culture where age and status didn’t really matter. Looking back, I feel more uncomfortable. I think GB thrived in situations where hierarchies appeared nonexistent, while in actuality his age and position in the university gave him a kind of authority and allure among much younger and more impressionable students.
Drug and alcohol use and abuse were a central part of this socializing. Several of GB’s graduate students confided in me that they felt pressured by him to come out to the bar with him, and to do drugs. They told me he repeatedly offered them drugs, and seemed to want and need company while he did them. My boyfriend at the time, an undergrad senior, on several occasions went out with GB and other undergraduates and graduates and ended up doing cocaine at GB’s house. I also knew a freshman 18-year-old man who got cocaine from GB.
I would not feel the need to share this information about drug and alcohol use if I did not feel like it was an important part of the culture GB has created around him. All of the accounts I have been told about GB violating women’s boundaries take place in environments where drinking and/or drugs is taking place, and often where the alcohol and drug use is also taking place among a mixed group of undergraduates, graduate students, and GB.
When I first started going to the bar and talking to GB, I got a pretty strong feeling that he was flirting with me. At first I was honestly flattered that someone like him had noticed me. I started to feel a little uncomfortable when other graduate students mentioned things: that he was actually engaged but took his engagement ring off when he went to the bar; that he unfortunately “wasn’t great with women.” These things were said to me by male graduate students or former students of his, in a way that suggested that it was kind of “sketchy” but not a big deal. Generally, his behavior was talked about in that way. Their minimization, combined with the fact that they all continued to socialize with him and considered him a friend and even mentor, sent a clear message: this behavior in no way threatens GB’s position in this social and academic scene. There was a strong feeling of a “boys club”: a core group of 4-5 graduate student men that were usually with him, and that formed the center of a larger orbit. Among them, they had significant access to academic resources, at least from the point of view of an undergraduate or even your ordinary graduate student: powerful professor mentors, access to academic journals and publishing opportunities, and serving as teaching assistants for classes that many radical young students were eager to take.
I finally cooled toward GB when I saw him, along with a group of graduate students, one night in San Francisco, where I lived. After a group of us met at the bar, we went to a party together, and then GB and a male graduate student of his invited me back to the hotel where the two of them were staying. That night at the bar both GB and this other graduate student had been hitting on me, even though I had a boyfriend, who was also an acquaintance of theirs. I very much felt that the invitation had a sexual overtone to it, and felt pretty uncomfortable. I turned down the invitation, even though GB repeated it several times and tried to persuade me.
One of the last times I socialized with that group of people was off campus, at a grad student’s birthday party. GB was there, as were a number of undergrads. The next day I was told by a close friend that her friend, an undergraduate who was also his student at the time, had been cornered by him at the party, and that he had tried to kiss her. The only reason he did not succeed was that she moved out of the way at the last moment in order to avoid his touch. That was the last straw for me and after that I stopped interacting with most of that group altogether.
In the spring of —– I was a graduate student at a party with GB and others from the History of Consciousness department. He invited me to a room to do cocaine with him and others. When I got to the room he was in it alone. I asked him where everyone else was and when they were coming to join us. I felt already very intimidated by the situation, and instinctually I felt concerned that something bad was about to happen to me. He told me that no one else was coming and that “it would just be us in here.” He stood in front of the door, blocking me from leaving. I told him I wanted to go to the restroom, ran out, grabbed my bag from the living room, and ran for several blocks. I walked home feeling totally terrified.
A few days later, I approached two of my friends – a current and prospective student – about how uncomfortable I felt and how scary it was. I wanted to warn them that he had intimidated me, thinking that could happen to others as well. One of my friends told me “you’re not even his type, though.” The other told me that if I said this to anyone else, he would ruin all of our lives.
Soon after, I heard secondhand that a History of Consciousness graduate student described me as “too ugly to rape.” I heard that details about my family and previous sexual partners were being used to discredit my concerns. I heard that I was “exaggerating” how I felt at the time of the incident. Another History of Consciousness graduate student told me that GB was “too fucked up” at the time to fulfill an assault, even if that was his intention, implying (through a bizarre logical inversion) that he was not in a position to consent to breaching my consent.
Sometime later, another faculty member approached me about the “gossip” that was going on around me. This was a faculty member I trusted and respected, and whose approval I really wanted to have. This faculty member told me that I needed to stop talking about this, and did not want to know the details of what my experience had been. This faculty member is now affiliated with the Humanities Faculty email thread, in which complainants were urged to follow “due process” – despite the implicit threat that, in doing so, they would become potentially affiliated with the campus graffiti and leafleting which they strongly condemned. That this faculty member in a private, undocumented context intimidated me into doing the precise opposite makes this even more threatening to me at a personal level.
I spent time blaming myself for what had happened, second-guessing my own sense of unsafety, and believing the message which I read loudly and clearly: I was not even worth assaulting.
I feel angry with myself that I was silenced, and for how I folded under the intimidation of other faculty and graduate students. And yet I still feel that if I were to disclose my name to people around me in relation to this account, that I would be met with the same dismissal and more threats.
I was one of Gopal’s students. During the duration of his course he would call me to invite me out to bars. I did not give him my phone number, and I am not sure how he got it, but I have since wondered if he took it from a sign-up sheet where he collected student contact information. I never accepted an invitation. I was very careful when interacting with him as I had heard accounts of him making advances on other students and had no interest in blurring the line between student and professor.
As the end of the quarter approached I asked Gopal if I could come to his office hours to review my final paper. He did not have office hours listed. I asked him a few times what day and time I could come to his office and he just said he would let me know. Finally, on a weekend he texted me and asked me if I wanted to meet to review my paper. I asked him what coffee shop we should meet at and he told me he would just come get me and asked for my address. I hesitantly gave it to him. He came and picked me up drove me around Santa Cruz for a bit while I wondered where we were going. He drove me around by the beach cliffs, which is far from my house, but then ended up taking me to a restaurant that is only a few blocks from my house. As we sat down I realized he hadn’t really read my paper, he paged through it a couple times and gave me very little feedback. He told me to order food. I didn’t order food as I was there solely to receive feedback. Afterward he drove me home and dropped me off.
Even though I tried my hardest to set boundaries and not spend time with him off campus he still manipulated the circumstances to make this the case.
I felt very uncomfortable by the way in which Gopal related to me and other students. He is fully aware of the power dynamics between him and his students and not only disregards them, but is willing and does disrespect his female students’ boundaries. He should not hold a position of power as he consistently abuses it. There are many accounts other than mine that exemplify this behavior. Furthermore, I feel quite disgusted with the response of some of the History of Consciousness faculty. Their attempts to vilify and discredit students is nothing short of perpetuating an institutionalized power structure that allows for this kind of misogynistic behavior to be taking place in and outside of our classrooms.
I was a Freshmen at UC Santa Cruz the year of the 2009 student movement. I was introduced to GB as the “down” Marxist professor. Students of the movement were really enamored with him, and it was a must to take his classes. The upsetting thing about this was that everyone knew he was creepy to women. It seemed to be tolerable to everyone because he was a Marxist and supported the student movement. I remember being at the Stevenson coffee shop, and being told he had slept with one of his female students, I remember being told accounts, by multiple friends, of their boundaries being crossed by him at parties or in office hours. I remember distinctly trying to get into his class the spring of my freshmen year, and being told to wear a low-cut shirt when I went to talk to him about it. When I lived off campus, I remember that he attended some parties at my house. I remember that he did cocaine in my roommate’s room and gave some to my 18 year old boyfriend.
While I didn’t experience anything personally with Gopal, I was very affected by the “Boy’s Club” circle that he was a leader of. Professors and Grad students who were part of the movement, were able to act openly as sexual predators because they knew we would hold those secrets so as to protect the professors who “support the movement.” If we were to come forward about GB, we would be blamed for UCSC losing one of its few Marxist professors. We were pressured to settle, and believe that we should not be demanding, at the University, Marxist professors who were against patriarchy in their politics and praxis. Another thing I experienced was how this culture influenced women and gender non binary folks in terms of access. GB and his grad students would look for young men to take into their boy’s club, keeping the academic advancement and social capital to their own, and furthering the violence of unaccountability. This was a space where men, who did not want to be accountable to women and GNB folks, could advance academically and be seen as credible in the movement. At the same time, this culture pushed women and GNB folks to the margins- knowing they could not succeed, unless, of course, they condoned the actions of these men, putting themselves and their women and GNB friends at risk of sexual violence and trauma.
In 2012, in Oakland, I met Gopal after an event. I believe it was at the Niebyl-Proctor Library. He was with two friends of mine who are tenured professors at different universities. I had come with a friend who had just graduated college and moved to Oakland, and I remember that, as we were all talking, I kept wondering if I was imagining things or if Gopal was really hitting on me and my friend at the same time.
We didn’t talk long. The friends with Gopal said they were tired and ready to go home, and me and the friend I’d come with were planning on meeting up with more friends at a local bar. Gopal said he’d be interested in meeting up with us later at the bar. Even though I thought he might have been hitting on both me and my friend earlier, which made me uncomfortable, I also thought 1.) I might have gotten the wrong impression; 2.) in that context, there was nothing really wrong with him hitting on two people at the same time; 3.) he must not be a bad guy if he was hanging out with the friends of mine he was with. So, I gave him my number and said he could text us later to find out what bar we were at.
No more than 45 minutes later, me & the friend who’d gone with me to the Niebyl-Proctor event were standing outside a bar in Oakland with friends who hadn’t gone to the event, when I got a text from one of the friends who had been at the event with Gopal. The text said something like, “Is Gopal still hitting on you?” I texted back something about how I’d thought he was hitting on both me and my friend and that it was good to know my perception wasn’t off. The friend texted back something about Gopal being a “creep” or a “jerk” and about how they didn’t understand why the other friend who’d been with Gopal would still hang out with him. I think I texted something like “Good to know” or something like that back. And it was good to know because later, when Gopal did text to find out where me and my friend were, I didn’t respond.
I first encountered GB in 2005 and 2006 shortly after he came to UC Santa Cruz. Due to his publishing history, his position with History of Consciousness, and the deference paid to him by respected “radical” faculty members at UCSC, he immediately had a great deal of clout among circles of politically active graduate students and undergraduates. In particular, he began to spend a great deal of time at a local bar frequented by such students, often staying at the bar until closing. In that context a standing joke emerged regarding GB’s propensity for discounting or dismissing the thoughts of women in social settings. This experience replicated the dynamics witnessed by many people in academic settings, in which GB tended to silence or shut-down perspectives put forth by women. Sadly, those dynamics were far from unique to GB’s classroom and conference tendencies, but were particularly pronounced in his case. The gist of the joke was that the bar had become his personal symposium space, and that women weren’t allowed to contribute.
It was not uncommon at that time for GB to invite people back to his house after the bar closed. My impression was that he lived alone at that time, and, unlike most young people in my orbit, was unconcerned about bothering housemates or neighbors with late night noise. His lifestyle appeared quite glamorous to many people in my cohort. My personal experience of attending these late night parties consisted primarily of heavy drinking and occasional dancing. However, hard drugs, such as pills and cocaine, were generally present as well. On multiple occasions I witnessed GB offering cocaine to young women. On at least one of these occasions a young woman known to me as one of GB’s current undergraduate students accepted these drugs. I do not recall whether there was inappropriate or non-consensual sexual interactions with that particular student, but certainly there was a general sense that GB was interested in having young women stay the night, many of whom would have included undergraduate students.
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that at the time I was less concerned about the safety of young women in GB’s presence, who appeared to me to be fully capable of asserting their needs and desires, and more concerned about the likelihood that this sort of behavior would reflect poorly on the History of Consciousness department and the broader circle of political radicals at UC Santa Cruz. In particular, these patterns of behavior very closely replicated those of another faculty member from the Literature department whose actions had recently resulted in a fair amount of concern from the administration and beyond. Due largely to those concerns, I brought up the situation with a senior faculty member who was known to be something of a mentor for GB. This faculty member asked that I keep such concerns quiet, specifically asking that I not take my concerns to official channels, and made a commitment to discuss the behavior with GB. I had brought these concerns to this faculty member in confidence, in the hope that GB’s behavior would be reigned in without resulting in crisis. I do not know whether the faculty member I spoke with ever attempted to address these concerns, but shortly after this discussion I began to receive a great deal of hostility from GB in social settings, leading me to believe that this faculty member had broken my confidence and left me open to retaliation from GB. Worse, nothing was done about GB’s pattern of behavior. In subsequent years I witnessed at a distance as this pattern of behavior became more pronounced, and heard many rumors that he had sexually harassed or sexually assaulted women, including some of his students. This pattern was so pronounced as to become a standard warning for incoming femme graduate students in the humanities. I know of numerous people who took these concerns to faculty members, all of whom were told to keep the concerns quiet, and none of whom felt that the concerns were dealt with. Several of them suspect that they were targeted for retaliation, and all of them felt that they could not safely participate in History of Consciousness courses or events. In my view this reflects an institutional atmosphere in which insulating powerful faculty members from criticism is more valued than the emotional and physical safety of students. Indeed, the motives behind my initial response to this situation reflect the degree to which, through association with this institution, I had unconsciously absorbed this same set of inverted ethical priorities.
*For inquiries or to add a first-person account, please email [email protected]*