Former student brings new Title IX complaint against Casey

Latest complaint is the third to be filed this month accusing English Prof. John Casey of sexual harassment


Three former University students have come forward this month accusing English Prof. John Casey of sexual and gender-based harassment. 

Courtesy University of Virginia

A new Title IX complaint has been filed against English Prof. John Casey by former student Sharon Harrigan. This is the third complaint filed against Casey in November, accusing him of sexual and gender-based harassment. 

Harrigan said the class she took in the spring 2010 was a fiction workshop that included a mix of students, including poetry students in the University’s Master of Fine Arts program, undergraduate students and community members. Harrigan, who was in her 40s, took the course as a community member.

Harrigan alleged in her complaint that Casey “openly flirted” with the younger students in the class. Harrigan also claimed Casey “ranked the women in the class by their relative attractiveness” and would ask female students in the class if they had chosen their outfits “for him.”

Harrigan said in an email to The Cavalier Daily she had “never witnessed anything like” it and that her experience in the class was similar to the claims former student Emma Eisenberg made in a recently publicized Title IX complaint against Casey.

“When I saw the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, I was struck by how similar some of the behavior Emma Eisenberg described was to the behavior I witnessed in that class and I felt compelled to speak out to validate her claims,” Harrigan said, in reference to a Nov. 22 Chronicle article that broke the news of allegations against Casey.

Eisenberg alleged that Casey “repeatedly touched [her] and other female MFA students on [their] shoulders, buttocks, and lower backs and made sexual and gender-based comments.”

Jody Hesler, who was one of Harrigan’s classmates in the course, said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that she observed Casey making gender-biased remarks towards students. 

Hesler described an instance in which she and Harrigan were walking to a parking garage with Casey and he commented on how a female student who had previously dressed well wasn’t dressing as nicely anymore. 

“The thing that struck me about it was how normalized the sexually inappropriate commentary was,” Hesler said. “I thought, ‘It’s 2010 and we’re talking about women this way?’ It was peculiar.” 

Hesler has not filed a Title IX complaint against Casey. 

Hesler said she spoke up in class about the portrayals of women in the literature, and Casey, as well as some of the younger students in the class, defended the curriculum.

“You could tell a lot of the women in the stories … we had a lot of wise prostitutes, women whose husbands had cheated on them … at some point I couldn’t take it anymore,” Hesler said. “I spoke up in class and said, ‘I don’t feel like any of the women we’re reading about are women we’ve met in real life.’”

Hesler said that after she spoke up, she felt Casey no longer liked her. She said that this incident, combined with the curriculum, deterred her from applying to the MFA program.

“I was really turned off by the whole culture of U.Va.’s MFA program,” Hesler said. “I was convinced I wouldn’t get in if I applied because I knew I was someone he didn’t like.”

Hesler said she didn’t file a formal complaint because she was unaware there were any grounds to do so, as Casey did not make any advances towards her. However, Hesler said she wrote about the “sexist curriculum” in her course evaluation.

“It was such an unpleasant environment,” Hesler said. “I really hated that class.”

Both Harrigan and Hesler are creative writing teachers at WriterHouse, which is a Charlottesville non-profit organization dedicated to providing support for authors. 

Casey did not return The Cavalier Daily’s request for comment Tuesday evening. He previously said in response to the other two complaints that he would not comment on the matter because it is “sub judice,” which refers to something that is yet to be decided in a judicial proceeding. 

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