Columbia PhD Student Alberto Leguina, pictured above, was fired because, he claims, he rejected the advances of his supervisor. Leguina, 25, came to Columbia from Chile in the spring to work under Dr. Qais Al-Awqati, a professor of medicine, nephrology and hypertension at Columbia’s Medical Center, but by the summer was forced out of the university and has now filed a lawsuit against Columbia.
Leguina says he received a message on Grindr from someone claiming to be Al-Awqati, which he initially assumed was a prank. When Leguina ignored the message, he received subsequent messages, this time more threatening. After Leguina rebuffed the messages, Al-Awqati stormed out from the next room and yelled at Leguina, “You’re out!”
Leguina sought the help of the human resources department, where he was then told to “deal with this matter as a big man.” Leguina was also threatened to be sent back to Chile if he hired a lawyer or sought help from the authorities in his native country.
It was not until a few months later when Leguina was in fact fired. After he spoke with the HR department, Al-Aqwati apologized for his advances and gifted him a new MacBook. Leguina claims his workplace conditions severely changed at this time. His supervisors began to shun him and when he again sought help from HR, was told he was simply overwhelmed by the big city. Leguina then in June received an email from his supervisors in Chile stating that due to poor feedback from Al-Aqwati, he would need to leave his position at Columbia.
Leguina’s story is exemplary of the power dynamics that can easily be taken advantage in a place such as a prestigious university, one that in this case was particularly exploited because of his status as a foreigner. In a graduate studies environment where students work very closely with professors and need the help of supervisors in order to succeed, as shown by Leguina’s story, students need a system in place to seek help should their supervisor’s abuse their power. Because Leguina is male, he was also expected to deal with sexual harassment through silence rather than speaking out and seeking help. According to Queerty, Leguina is now interested in pursuing workplace activism:
“You cannot let these [things] happen anymore. I know I’m not the first person, but I hope I can be the last.”
Ph.D. student alleges he was sexually harassed, unfairly fired [Columbia Spectator]