A Stanford professor sexually harassed his student a decade ago. Some female students say his inappropriate behavior never stopped.
By Georgia Rosenberg and Grace Carroll
The Daily spoke with 22 students, faculty and employees who worked in and around Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages (DLCL) over the last decade, and has verified the existence of at least three Title IX complaints against associate professor Vincent Barletta during the same time period. (Graphic: MICHELLE FU/The Stanford Daily)
Eight sources included in this story have asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions. Pseudonyms have been used to improve readability. Given the small size of the graduate cohorts within Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages (DLCL), The Daily is also withholding specific dates, instead using general timeframes, to protect the identities of our sources.
Jeanne was a Ph.D. student at Stanford in the early 2010s when her advisor, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Iberian and Latin American Cultures Vincent Barletta, rolled his chair over and kissed her when she was working with him to prepare for an exam.
University officials found that Barletta, a tenured associate professor and 2021 Guggenheim Fellow, had violated Stanford’s sexual harassment policy. He had “groomed [Jeanne] to be his advisee even before [she] arrived at Stanford” and “blurred the lines of a professional and overly personal advisor-advisee relationship” with her, Associate Dean of Humanities and Sciences Debra Satz and Acting Interim Title IX Coordinator Sallie Kim wrote in the case outcome letter. They added that Barletta “should be counseled and warned regarding establishing and maintaining appropriate advisor-advisee relationships.”
Despite the findings, Barletta kept his job and continued to formally advise graduate students. And several years later, he would be involved in another Title IX case with a different female graduate student.
The Daily spoke with 22 students, faculty and employees who worked in and around Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages (DLCL) over the last decade, and has verified the existence of at least three Title IX complaints against Barletta during the same time period.
Students and faculty described a pattern of Barletta’s unprofessional behavior, which they said exploits power imbalances embedded in his relationships with some of his female students. While not always explicitly sexual, the behavior violated professional norms, according to two women involved in Title IX proceedings against Barletta and University findings in those cases.
The Daily contacted Barletta via phone, text and email. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Stanford University declined to comment for this story, citing confidentiality.
In the eyes of some DLCL faculty and students, the story of Vincent Barletta illustrates systemic problems in academia, in which power asymmetries in advisor-advisee relationships — dubbed a “recipe for disaster” by one former Stanford employee familiar with the Title IX process — coupled with institutional protections like tenure, enable inappropriate behavior and prevent adequate punishment.
Some members of the Division characterized Barletta’s conduct as an “open secret” within the DLCL. They further described a pervasive culture of silence that has enabled Barletta’s behavior and contributed to an atmosphere of distrust. Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu told The Daily that the charges of sexual harassment against Barletta are widely known among longtime DLCL faculty.
Barletta’s relationships with three female graduate students interviewed by The Daily began before they came to Stanford, with him positioning himself as integral to one student’s admission and immediately designating himself as two students’ advisors, according to Title IX documents obtained by The Daily. Two students said that he consistently probed for details about their personal lives. He also encouraged two students to study independently with him in Lisbon, Portugal over the summer — an offer described by University officials in one student’s Title IX outcome letter as “highly unusual and inappropriate.”
The three students told The Daily that Barletta’s conduct severely impacted their educational progress. They described how, in a small DLCL department and field of study, they had to pivot their research areas and go out of their way to avoid Barletta in order to continue their education.
DLCL Chair Cécile Alduy declined to comment on individual cases, writing in an email to The Daily that she cares deeply “about creating a working environment free from any form of harassment or impropriety.” She added that she has “worked collegially and forcefully with the DLCL community to foster a climate that protects and respects all of our students, lecturers, staff and faculty.”
English professor Roanne Kantor, who works with graduate students across the humanities in her capacity as co-chair of the English placement committee, said that she has been approached by students who confide in her about losing faith in an institution that they see as repeatedly failing to take action against bad actors.
“People are sobbing to me about how violated they feel,” Kantor said. “Even when they’re not personally impacted or they haven’t been personally harassed, they feel deeply violated by the complicity of an institution that’s not taking action.”
University spokesperson EJ Miranda wrote in a statement to The Daily that “Stanford takes all allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously and reviews them carefully.”
Rachel, a graduate student who came to Stanford in the mid-2010s and was involved in a later Title IX case against Barletta, described a power dynamic similar to the one Jeanne experienced. “I just knew that he was grooming me, but to what end?” she said.
In academia, the term “grooming” refers to those in positions of power — often professors — crossing professional boundaries in an attempt to manipulate, isolate and gain emotional trust from victims. Jeanne and Rachel emphasized how this term encapsulates Barletta’s behavior, including conduct that may not fit within the definition of sexual harassment.
“This is all a riff on the same story,” Jeanne said of Barletta’s continued behavior. “He has refined his techniques.”
One DLCL professor characterized Barletta’s approach to advising as a “disciple model,” in which he would make his advisees feel indebted to him and position himself as the only person they could trust in the Division.
One professor in the humanities described an entrenched sense of helplessness and a failure to act that pervades the entire community.
“We’ve decided that a tenured professor with a really long career of harassment is an immovable object. So we just have to work around him,” the humanities professor said.
The University ultimately concluded that Barletta had not violated Stanford’s sexual harassment policy in Rachel’s Title IX case, in which she shared that Barletta had persistently inquired about her sexuality and romantic life and made her feel deeply indebted to him for her admission to Stanford. University officials described Barletta’s conduct with Rachel as “unwelcome” and recommended that the School of Humanities and Sciences “admonish [Barletta] to refrain from engaging in communications of an intimate and personal nature with graduate students — particularly female graduate students,” according to the outcome letter in the case.
Even still, women in the division told The Daily that they have relied on an informal network of whispered warnings to shield themselves and their colleagues from harassment.
“I have felt really lonely,” Andrea, who matriculated into the DLCL in the late 2010s and changed her academic path after receiving warnings about Barletta from other students, told The Daily. “I have felt really isolated and really unsafe.” (Andrea did not have a Title IX case against Barletta.)
This summer, Barletta will serve as the workshop leader for the Stanford-CUNY Initiative, working directly with undergraduate students studying humanities at the City College of New York and Hunter College. The humanities professor previously mentioned expressed concern about Barletta serving in this mentorship role — especially with younger students outside of the University.
“Why would you put somebody explicitly in the role of mentor knowing that this role of mentorship is exactly how academic predators target people?” she said.
‘There’s one rule to teaching…
And he broke the rule’
Barletta, who arrived at Stanford in 2007, faced at least two Title IX complaints in the early 2010s, according to individuals directly involved in the proceedings. The Daily was able to verify the existence but not the outcome of one of the cases.
According to Jeanne and Title IX documents obtained by The Daily, the scope of Barletta’s harassment began months before she arrived at Stanford, after they had established a professional relationship based on their shared academic niche.
Before Jeanne began studying at the DLCL, Barletta tried to kiss her following an academic talk he delivered, according to the documents. She told investigators that Barletta said it would be “hard to keep boundaries in place” should she attend Stanford.
Still, the academic and professional opportunities that came with attending Stanford outweighed her discomfort. Jeanne reasoned that once their relationship was defined under an academic and institutional umbrella, Barletta would adhere to professional norms.
But when she arrived on campus with the intention of working in Barletta’s field of study, Jeanne found that he consistently overstepped the boundaries of a faculty-student relationship.
According to case documents, Jeanne told investigators that Barletta would talk to her about problems in his marriage and complained about soreness from a recent vasectomy. She told The Daily that in one meeting, Barletta complained about existing harassment allegations against him — which had put his tenure case on hold, according to Jeanne and a faculty member familiar with the matter. (Barletta ultimately did receive tenure in 2012.)
Barletta also implied that a character in a book he was working on — a love interest — represented Jeanne, while the protagonist represented him, according to the Title IX records. And then, when Jeanne was studying for her comprehensive exams in his office, he rolled his chair over and kissed her, according to the Title IX investigation.
Looking back on the incident, Jeanne recalled being in a “state of shock” and feeling “trapped” in the moment, with no opportunity to fight or flee. She said that upon walking out of his office, she feared being alone with him again. She refused to speak with him about the incident despite his attempts to initiate conversations on the subject, according to the case outcome letter.
She displayed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident, including feelings of “helplessness and powerlessness,” according to records provided by her psychiatrist during the Title IX process. She also found that Barletta was “shifting academic goalposts” and making it increasingly difficult for her to fulfill her academic obligations.
Jeanne began to distance herself from Barletta, pivoting to work with another faculty member. After she successfully defended her dissertation proposal, Barletta “laid into [her]” about their advising relationship and accused Jeanne of avoiding him, according to the case outcome letter.
The decision makers in her case — Associate Dean for Humanities and Sciences Debra Satz (now the Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences) and Acting Interim Title IX Coordinator Sallie Kim (now a federal judge) — wrote in the letter that Barletta had “groomed [Jeanne] to be his advisee even before [she] arrived at Stanford; that he championed [her] as a student; and that he then withdrew his support of [her] when [their] personal relationship became fraught.”
Despite the finding that Barletta had violated Stanford’s sexual harassment policy, Jeanne said she encountered administrators and faculty during the Title IX process who appeared to be looking for a narrative that she “wanted” to be intimately involved with Barletta. She emphasized how the investigation seemed to evaluate her interactions with Barletta through the “presumption of equal status.”
She recalled how Satz and Kim had summarized her investigation interview, writing in the case outcome letter that Jeanne had “reciprocated the kiss but immediately regretted it.” Jeanne told The Daily that she felt this language implied that she could consent to Barletta’s advances as she would another co-equal adult — when in reality, the power imbalance in their relationship and the grooming behaviors to which she had been subjected had already robbed her of that ability.
Satz declined to comment for this story. Kim could not be reached for comment.
“I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place — either I submitted to his inappropriate behavior, or I risked putting my academic career in jeopardy,” Jeanne told The Daily.
The Stanford Administrative Guide explicitly states that “sexual or romantic relationships — whether regarded as consensual or otherwise — between individuals in inherently unequal positions,” including between graduate students and faculty members who teach in their department, program or division, are prohibited. The Daily found records of this section of the Administrative Guide dating back to January 2014. The University declined to comment on when the policy first came into effect and whether Barletta violated it.
“There’s one rule to teaching,” the previously mentioned DLCL faculty member said in a blunt reference to Barletta’s conduct. “Everything else is negotiable. And he broke the rule. You don’t sexually pursue and harass your students. That’s it.”
Stanford’s Faculty Handbook states that the Provost can formally charge a faculty member with professional misconduct — including sexual harassment — which could lead to their dismissal. The University declined to comment on why Barletta was not fired following the case.
Barletta, whose appeal in the case was denied, was barred from holding leadership positions in the DLCL and serving in “roles in which he is given special power and influence over students” for five years, according to case documents. In a letter to Jeanne following the appeal process, Dean of the School of Engineering James Plummer wrote that Barletta “should not take on” the role of Director of Undergraduate Academic Advising, “given that it was within an advising relationship with you that the respondent engaged in unwelcome conduct and exercised poor judgment.” Barletta also left his role as a Resident Faculty (RF) in Casa Zapata, according to dorm lookbooks (yearbooks of the frosh class published by Stanford) from the time period.
Still, Barletta retained his teaching duties. He was also allowed to continue advising students, which Title IX coordinator Catherine Criswell described in a letter to Jeanne as “part of the regular core duties of faculty in his department” that did not fall under the five-year ban. Criswell wrote that she had consulted with the chair of Barletta’s department — at the time, professor Gabriella Safran — in reaching this conclusion, and that the Chair and the Title IX Office would closely monitor Barletta’s advising.
Criswell declined to comment on a specific matter, citing privacy concerns. Safran did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.
In the aftermath of the case, Palumbo-Liu was asked to co-teach with Barletta, which he interpreted as a request to monitor Barletta’s behavior in the classroom. Other faculty members and students familiar with the matter told The Daily that members of the Division were repeatedly asked to “babysit” Barletta. Palumbo-Liu declined to do so, saying it felt “inappropriate that a colleague would perform that kind of a task.”
The University also launched additional Title IX training for everyone in the DLCL following the case, according to the Title IX remedies letter. The DLCL professor previously mentioned told The Daily that at the time, the case was widespread knowledge among DLCL faculty, many of whom viewed the University’s response as punishing the entire department, rather than addressing Barletta individually. “We all got punished, and so we were all made to feel culpable,” she said.
One of Jeanne’s central concerns was ensuring that no future student ever had to endure the same behavior. In a letter to the Title IX Office after the investigation concluded, Jeanne wrote that Barletta’s harassment had “profoundly affected my ability to receive and benefit from my education” and urged that the resulting sanctions “be severe enough to deter this conduct from recurring.”
‘It always felt like he was a live threat’
But while sanctions from Jeanne’s Title IX case were still in place — and as Barletta continued in his capacity as an advisor — another case would emerge. This time it concerned Barletta’s conduct with Rachel — a female graduate student who arrived in the DLCL in the mid-2010s.
When Barletta was up for a promotion to full professorship, Rachel submitted a letter to the promotion committee detailing Barletta’s behavior towards her — inquiring about her sexuality, gender expression and romantic life and making her feel indebted to him for her admission. (Barletta remains an associate professor. The University declined to comment on whether Barletta was not promoted because of the Title IX cases against him.)
Barletta’s behavior made Rachel feel so unsafe that she redirected her course of study to avoid working with him.
Barletta is one of just six faculty members in Stanford’s Department of Iberian and Latin American Cultures (ILAC), which is one of five departments in the DLCL. Faculty and students said that the comparatively small niches of the DLCL programs make it especially difficult for students like Rachel to both avoid certain faculty and pursue their intended course of study.
Months after submitting the letter, Rachel received notice of a Title IX investigation related to Barletta’s conduct towards her and was given the option to serve as a witness. Interim Title IX Coordinator Catherine Glaze told Rachel that concerns brought forward by mandatory reporters had triggered the investigation, though it is unclear whether those reports arose from her letter.
Rachel and Barletta first developed an academic relationship when she was considering attending Stanford. She told The Daily that in a virtual meeting with Barletta, which marked their first time speaking to each other, he promised to advocate for her through the application process, guaranteeing that the department’s faculty members would discuss her admissions file.
Rachel described Barletta’s support as a “golden ticket,” which — once she arrived at Stanford — began to feel more like a “nepotistic favor,” leaving her feeling isolated from her peers and deeply indebted to him.
“It felt like when I came to Stanford I already owed him a lot,” Rachel said, describing how, as in the earlier case, he immediately positioned himself as her advisor. (Graduate students in the department are not required to select an advisor until after their second year.)
In Title IX documents obtained by The Daily, Rachel described Barletta encouraging her to attend one-on-one meetings with him, keeping her after class and persistently inquiring about her sexuality and romantic relationships, in turn sharing intimate details about his personal life and marriage, according to the documents. She characterized Barletta’s behavior in interviews with Title IX investigators as “predatorial” and indicative of a “pattern of grooming.” She also reported feeling sexualized in his presence.
“It always felt like he was a live threat, and I just didn’t know where it was going to go next,” she told The Daily. She explained how, given the inherent power imbalance in their relationship, she felt “captive” to Barletta.
She said that Barletta had also encouraged her to study independently with him in Lisbon, Portugal for the summer. While he would be teaching a class there, he told Rachel that he would also work with her one-on-one, she said. But when she shared news of this offer with a fellow student in the DLCL, she was made aware of previous harassment allegations against Barletta. She decided not to travel with him and grew fearful about their relationship.
Hoping to “fly under the radar,” Rachel attempted to distance herself from Barletta, though she worried about potential academic and professional repercussions. She switched housing, relocated her office and became increasingly vigilant in her efforts to avoid Barletta, memorizing his office hours and trying to learn to identify the sound of his voice.
Despite her best attempts, she said that Barletta would still initiate interactions with her, roping her into long conversations around Pigott Hall that made her feel “cornered” by him. She said these interactions triggered “full panic attacks” that would often leave her in distress for several days.
The decision makers in Rachel’s case — Interim Title IX Coordinator Catherine Glaze and Senior Associate Dean of the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences Scott Fendorf — concluded in the outcome letter that Barletta had not violated Stanford’s Code of Conduct, non-discrimination policy or sexual harassment policy in his conduct with Rachel. They wrote that while Barletta’s conduct was not of a sexual nature, his communications with Rachel “were of a personal and intimate nature.”
Glaze and Fendorf added that the investigators had interviewed another female graduate student with whom Barletta had engaged in similar conversations that “made her feel uncomfortable and exposed, and caused her to ‘set very clear boundaries’ with him.” They wrote that he should refrain from engaging in such communications in the future.
Glaze and Fendorf did not respond to The Daily’s requests for comment.
During the Title IX process, the investigators had asked Rachel whether Barletta’s conduct could be classified as sexual. She responded “no,” according to the documents.
“I said no because that kind of framing was always too narrow for what was going on,” she told The Daily. “I think that’s actually a very narrow definition of what harassment is.”
Given the constraints of Title IX adjudication, Rachel said she was not surprised by the outcome in her case — in her view, this case was about power, manipulation and workplace harassment more than it was about sexual harassment.
The opacity of the Title IX process is in part responsible for the atmosphere of secrecy surrounding Barletta, Palumbo-Liu said. He expressed concern that, given the lack of open discussion about harassment within the DLCL, graduate students were left in the dark, rumors and hearsay thrived and the entire community was corroded by distrust.
“You can’t have education where there’s not trust, period,” Palumbo-Liu said. In his view, the only way to address this culture is by cultivating conversations within the community — not just relying on legal processes and disciplinary frameworks like Title IX, which may not always apply to the conduct at hand.
Prior to the Title IX investigation, Rachel said she sought institutional support from some faculty and administrators. She said she was often left frustrated by their failure to take action.
Glaze and Fendorf wrote in the outcome letter that none of the faculty in whom Rachel confided reported the matter to Title IX, which, while not a technical violation of their mandatory reporting responsibilities, would have been “the best course of action.”
Rachel told investigators that during a meeting with Satz — who had signed off on the Title IX findings in Jeanne’s case just a few years prior — Satz said her case “did not meet the threshold” of a Title IX violation, according to an interview transcript from the investigation. She recalled Satz laughing and telling her, “The only thing I can think to offer you is advice from an older, wiser woman, which is when a man is acting in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you just have to tell him to stop.”
“And then she showed me to the door,” Rachel said. “That was the end of that conversation.”
Satz declined to comment on the meeting.
After Rachel organized a department dinner to which Barletta RSVPed, she met with Director of Comparative Literature Amir Eshel, expressing concern that she would not be able to attend the event she had organized because she felt unsafe in Barletta’s presence, according to the documents. Eshel informed her that while this was “unfortunate,” there was little he could do to address this issue because “his hands were tied,” the Title IX documents say.
Last May, after Barletta received a Guggenheim Fellowship, Eshel described him to The Daily as a “very good citizen of the [comparative literature] department.” Eshel declined to comment for this story.
‘Nobody’s breaking the culture of silence’
The decision makers in Rachel’s case concluded that Barletta’s proposition that she do an independent study with him in Lisbon was “unusual and highly inappropriate,” according to the outcome letter in her case.
But she was not the only student to have received that offer. Prior to the conclusion of Rachel’s case, Barletta extended the same offer to Andrea, a female graduate student who matriculated at Stanford in the late 2010s.
Andrea told The Daily that she was “genuinely confused” by Barletta’s offer; he was suggesting that she work with him on top of doing a rigorous language immersion program, and she would not receive credit for the independent study, given that it would occur the summer before she enrolled at Stanford. She also said that Barletta gave her a course code for the independent study, but she couldn’t find it listed anywhere. From then on, she didn’t consider participating.
The Daily spoke with two male graduate students who worked with Barletta in the past decade. Both said they did not recall Barletta inviting them to study independently in Lisbon with him.
Upon arriving at Stanford, Andrea saw how female students in the department put the onus on themselves to warn others about Barletta, amid what she and others described as a lack of institutional support.
When she met with an older female student and shared that she was planning to work with Barletta, she described “a shadow” coming across her peer’s face. That same day, another female student contacted Andrea out of concern for her “well-being and safety navigating the DLCL” — specifically regarding Barletta. And when Andrea described what she had learned about Barletta to yet another female student without using his name, the student knew exactly which professor she was talking about. She suggested that Andrea talk to Rachel.
Andrea and Rachel met in a Palo Alto coffee shop, where Rachel shared the letter she had submitted during Barletta’s promotion process. Upon reading the letter, Andrea said she was instantly struck by the fact that they had both been invited to study independently with Barletta in Lisbon — and that Barletta had extended the offer in nearly the same way to each of them.
Andrea said she walked out of the coffee shop feeling angry and confused, wondering why Barletta’s conduct was allowed to persist.
She decided she no longer felt safe working with Barletta. She considered switching departments and ultimately decided to work with a different professor, giving up on her dreams of researching medieval and early modern Spain in the process.
“It just feels to me so deeply unacceptable that this continues,” Andrea said. “Nobody’s talking about it. Nobody’s breaking the culture of silence around it.”
“It just starts to feel so endemic. It just feels like it’s this thing that has such a long history that precedes you, that precedes you by so many years.”