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Following complaint, fellow starts anew

Megan Pinkston-Camp, a postdoctoral research fellow in infectious diseases, says she felt little satisfaction from the $1.1 million settlement she received from the University of Missouri-Kansas City last year, the outcome of a sexual harassment complaint she filed against two professors there in 2005. But as she begins anew at Brown, there are other signs of change.

In August, the two professors, Keith Haddock and Carlos Poston, agreed to resign from their tenured positions, effective later this month.

Even if the money didn't afford her much satisfaction, the resignations helped. "I felt a little bit of relief when I knew they were resigning. I don't want them to prey on anyone else like they did to me," Pinkston-Camp said.

A few weeks ago, Pinkston-Camp arrived at Brown to start a two-year postdoctoral fellowship researching HIV at the Miriam Hospital. She said she hopes her time at Brown will give her a fresh start and a chance to make something positive out of her ordeal at UMKC.

Looking back, Pinkston-Camp remembers the courage it took to speak out against Haddock and Poston. She left the lab where she had worked under Haddock and Poston since 2003 but stayed at UMKC to earn her graduate degree in psychology, she said.

In 2005, at the obesity and tobacco research lab they supervised, Haddock and Poston touched students inappropriately and made daily references to women's bodies, Pinkston-Camp said. They also exhibited violent behavior, placing students in chokeholds and making threats to their lives, she said.

In an interview with The Herald, Haddock strongly denied claims that he and Poston created a hostile environment in the lab. Poston was unavailable for comment.

While at UMKC, though Pinkston-Camp immediately knew something was not right, she did not think to question the professors' authority, she said.

"I started thinking it was just me, that I wasn't giving in like I was supposed to," Pinkston-Camp said.

But as she felt the two professors' harassment and intimidation escalating and noticed other students being harassed, ridiculed and threatened, Pinkston-Camp began to "have an awakening," she said.

"At first I was scared enough about the death threats and my career not to say anything. But when I realized other women were being affected by this, I just stood up and said 'No more!'" she said.

In an interview with The Herald, Haddock emphasized a letter of support written earlier this year by a group of graduate students to UKMC's general counsel. In the letter, the students asked that UMKC exonerate both Haddock and Poston, arguing that the resignations invite speculation not only on the professors' reputations, but also on their own reputations as the professors' colleagues.

"Our histories with the professors span more than a decade. They remain solid colleagues and have become people we consider friends. We know Drs. Haddock and Poston are good people who do not deserve the treatment they are receiving," the students wrote in the letter.

Making a formal complaint to UMKC was "a nightmare," Pinkston-Camp said. Before 2006, the university had no policies addressing sexual harassment. Pinkston-Camp was referred to an affirmative action counselor, who told her that it was acceptable for professors to sleep with students, she said.

UMKC declined to comment for this article beyond an official statement regarding Haddock and Poston's resignation. In the statement, the university said two internal investigations found inconclusive evidence of sexual harassment in Haddock and Poston's lab. Pinkston-Camp questions the procedures used in those investigations, saying the witnesses interviewed did not provide sworn testimony.

Without support from the university, Pinkston-Camp's confidence wavered, she said. She said she knew that many other students were too afraid to come forward.

However, Pinkston-Camp received support from Linda Garavalia, an associate professor of psychology who said she was also harassed and intimidated by the two men. Garavalia wrote a letter to the school's provost verifying the bulk of Pinkston-Camp's testimony and helped her file the official complaint.

Given Haddock's and Poston's ability to brainwash students into cooperation, Garavalia said, Pinkston-Camp was brave to speak out.

"Megan has a lot of courage. It was a very scary process for both of us, but I felt like a peer to those men, whereas she was only a student. I'm very proud of her," Garavalia said.

Though she never received the apology she wanted from UMKC, Pinkston-Camp said her upbringing taught her to always stand up for what is right.

Pinkston-Camp learned the value of speaking out against injustice while growing up in Peachtree City, Ga., and carried this value to her case work for HIV/AIDS patients at a hospital in Charleston, S.C.

After receiving her Masters in Health Psychology, Megan worked as an HIV/AIDS case worker, witnessing great cruelty and prejudice towards those patients. She could not permit people to be treated that way, so she decided to earn her doctorate so she could further study and improve conditions for HIV patients, she said.

Pinkston-Camp drew a parallel between the lessons she learned as a case worker in Charleston and as a graduate student at UMKC.

"I've become so much more aware of differences in power. But I know that power doesn't give people the right to disrespect others," she said.

Likewise, Pinkston-Camp's decision to speak out against Haddock and Poston serves as a model for individuals to assert their voices and make real change, Garavalia said.

Garavalia's and Pinkston-Camp's actions sparked significant change at UMKC, both women said. Faculty and staff must now participate in training sessions on preventing sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace, according to the university's statement.

Today, Pinkston-Camp is happy to start fresh at a new university in a new part of the country.

"It's been a very nice cultural adjustment," Pinkston-Camp said of her move from the Midwest to New England. "I like that it's more liberal here."

Pinkston-Camp said that even if she stays in academia, she will never lose touch with HIV therapy patients. They keep her grounded and remind her of the struggles people may face at the hands of the powerful, she said.

"People shouldn't feel afraid to speak out. It's not worth your backbone, giving up who you are, just because someone is harassing you," she said. "Life is too short."


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