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Franco Moretti

A former Penn doctoral student has accused literary critic and Stanford University English professor emeritus Franco Moretti of making inappropriate sexual advances towards her, The Stanford Daily reported.

In 1995, Jane Penner, who received her master's degree in English from Penn in 2007, attended a six-week summer workshop at the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College. According to The Stanford Daily, Penner hosted a party at the house she was staying at during the program. Moretti, who had attended the party, stayed at the house after the other guests had already gone home and became "physically aggressive."

"I rebuffed him, but he continued to press his case and tried to touch me," Penner told The Stanford Daily. "I continued to say no and asked him to leave."

Moretti proceeded to chase Penner around the house and did not leave until she let her dog loose in the home, the Daily reported. Penner said the experience "scared the hell out of [her]."

Moretti is known for his contributions to the field of digital humanities, specifically by using computers and data to analyze literature. These efforts were profiled by The New York Times on Oct. 30 in a piece titled, "Reading by the Numbers: When Big Data Meets Literature."

Penner is not the first woman to accuse the prominent scholar of sexual harassment. Earlier in November, Kimberly Latta, who is now a practicing psychotherapist, publicly stated that Moretti, a then-visiting professor at University of California, Berkeley, had stalked and raped her in the 1984-1985 school year, when she was a graduate student. 

In a blog post titled "What Happened at Berkeley in 1985," Latta wrote: "I remember him saying, 'O, you American women, when you say no you mean yes.'” 

In a feature for the New Republic, writers reported that "multiple sources from various universities confirmed that Moretti had a reputation as a 'seducer' of graduate students at best — and a predator at worst."

Moretti told the New Republic, “At this point, I will … simply reiterate that I have never knowingly engaged in any kind of unwanted contact with anyone.”

These accusations come on the heels of several similar alleged cases of sexual harassment in higher education. On Nov. 17, Boston University officials found professor David Marchant responsible for directing "sex-based slurs" to a former Penn professor and then-graduate student Jane Willenbring. Other graduate students have also spoken against faculty at Princeton University, University of Rochester, and more, for sexual harassment and assault. 

To combat the issue of faculty sexual harassment and assault, a group of students at Penn started a petition earlier this semester to improve sexual harassment policies. The group specifically called on President Amy Gutmann to lay out what policies are in place to protect graduate students, who are more likely than undergraduate students to identify faculty members as sexual assault offenders.

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