During my first year of grad school I was part of an initial cohort of grad students that helped get the Stanford Literary Lab off the ground. I took a class with Matt Jockers in 2009 that segued into an ad-hoc research seminar that segued into the official launch of the lab in 2010. Over the next few years I worked on projects, helped bring speakers to campus, and tried to attend as many of the lab’s meetings as I could fit into my schedule. Eventually my dissertation forced me to scale back my involvement with the lab. Even though it’s been more than two years since I attended a meeting, I still consider myself a member of the extended Literary Lab community. That community is currently reeling.
On November 5th, Kimberly Latta wrote a Facebook post describing how the co-founder of the Literary Lab, Franco Moretti, “sexually stalked, pressured and raped me” while Latta was a graduate student and Moretti was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley in 1984-1985. Moretti, who recently retired from Stanford, denies the accusation. It’s the first time that someone I’ve worked with has been accused of sexual assault, at least that I know of – a sad and necessary caveat. Latta’s post made me shudder. You should read it. Although I cannot speak on behalf of the Literary Lab, I can speak for myself: Kimberly Latta, I am sorry. I believe you, I support you, and I am sorry.
I don’t have anything profound to add to all of this, but the past two days has driven home some of the ways that power and patronage operate in academia. Because along with the anger and the sadness and sympathy, I also found myself wrestling with what to do or say. Or, if I’m being truly honest, what not to say. Do I risk estranging colleagues or burning professional bridges at the Literary Lab? Do I really want to call attention to my own personal connections to Franco Moretti? Wouldn’t it be safer to just say nothing and let it all pass by? Take a moment to think about how absurd that is. Here I am, a white male professor with a tenure-track job at a private research university – the walking, talking embodiment of academic privilege – fretting over the risks of publicly expressing support for a rape survivor. So why the hesitation? Patronage.
However superficial my relationship with Franco Moretti may have been, it has nevertheless benefited my career. My affiliation with his lab allowed me do exciting interdisciplinary research, talk about that work at conferences and in job applications, and meet influential people from across the field. In short: patronage. At this point it’s fairly obvious how the power wielded by men can silence survivors. But a less visible web of patronage knits together the wider culture of silence. As a beneficiary of that patronage, I want to say this again: Kimberly Latta, I am sorry. I believe you, I support you, and I am sorry.