Johany Pilar

Johany and fellow Science Center Mail Room workers in a photograph from the Harvard Crimson, 2011

Johany and fellow Science Center Mail Room workers in a photograph from the Harvard Crimson, 2011

My name is Johany Pilar, and I worked in the science center mailroom for fifteen years. I did everything with the mail, sorted it, helped students at the window, and emailed and communicate with students to pick up their packages.

One day [in February 2012] I was sorting the mail, and I felt something behind me, but I continued to do my job. Then I felt someone rubbing my back, when I turned around, a man grabbed my face, my mouth, and tried very hard to kiss me. I pushed him away, told him not to touch me, and threatened to call the police. He was a co-worker, a delivery guy from another department; he apologized to me, so I didn’t report anything.

Another day soon after, I was waiting to open the window, when he brought in the university mail. He went through the mail center, dropped the mail, made a turn, and then he grabbed my face again. He pushed my face in close to his mouth, and said, “I want to kiss you,” and then I screamed very loud…I was afraid, you know? I was so hurt, because my mouth was swelling inside, because he had put his finger around my face like that. I told Nassim (her union rep) that this had happened for the second time, so he sent an email to B., the manager, to address the situation.

Nassim told me that B. wanted to talk to me. Over the phone, she told me that the coworker had told her that I had touched him, that I had hugged him. So management was blaming me. B. said that I needed to be polite, that I needed to be respectful, that I needed to do my job. She even told me that I needed to train him, because he was going to be working the same job as me — he had been a driver before. So she ignored everything that I had said, and never checked what actually happened.

So then I trained him, because I had to; but he touched me the third time, he grabbed my hands, when I was training him on how to send emails to the students, he pushed my hand away from the keyboard. I told Nassim what happened, and Nassim called the new manager, C., who wanted to talk to me, so I told him what happened.

[During this time, Johany began to experience significant stress from working alongside and training the coworker who had harassed her.]

I submitted a proposal for sick time, because I had an appointment for therapy, which my doctor had set up for me. So I sent the in the paperwork, and Nassim reminded C. that I would be taking sick time the following Friday. But C. said, in front of the students, in front of the staff, in front of everyone who works in the science center, “I want to talk to you.” He asked me, “is it true you have an appointment with the doctor?” And I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I want you to change the appointment, because we are so busy and you need to be here.” And I told him that I couldn’t change the appointment, because my doctor had set it up, and because I had to go to Medford – there was nothing available nearby. And besides, a main reason I needed the appointment was because of what was happening at work. But C. told me that I had to change the appointment, and then he left.

Later that day, I was giving a package to a student to sign, and C. called me again, telling me to cancel my appointment. And I told him, “I need this appointment, this is my time now, I’m sick and I need that.” I was losing my voice, I felt sick, I couldn’t breathe, I said that I needed to go. And then I didn’t know what had happened to me, I was unconscious, I was on the floor! I’d had a panic attack, so they called the ambulance, and everything.

And still, they wouldn’t address my problem! I’ve been suffering very deeply, but they’ve been treating me like I’m the one who did bad things. They didn’t want me in the science center anymore, so last June they moved me to a new building, and I’ve been working there ever since.

Around that time, I heard B. saying to another manager, “my boss is so happy that we took all the people [of color] out of the science center mail room, we are so happy.” Just one person of color, from South Africa, is still there…

In her new workplace, Johany was still treated very poorly, as she recounts below.

In my new workplace, the new building, they were having a barbeque party, and my supervisor said in an email that the party would be from twelve to one o’clock. But they asked me to eat first, before twelve o’clock, and before noon they took me back upstairs to work by myself and did not let me go to the party. They invited my [old] coworker to the party, but they didn’t even let me finish eating, they just put me back upstairs.

This past November, there was a co-worker [at the new building] who was bothering me, harassing me, saying discriminatory things about me. And he would look at me and laugh. I reported these incidents to B. and C. They ignored me, and then finally C. asked me to come into his office. So I went, and I saw B., C., and the guy were all inside [B.’s office]. C. told me to come in, and he closed the door inside. I said, “I thought we were supposed to meet privately?” B. told me that I was a troublemaker, that all of my problems were my fault, that ever since I was in the science center I had given her problems. And she told me, “get out of here, get out of my office.”

So I said, “OK,” and walked to the door.  And then C. jumped in front of me and held the door so I couldn’t leave. And I asked him, “why are you holding the door, let me get out!” And he said, “no, we’re not ready yet.” And B. said, “we’re not ready yet, let’s talk.” They were ganging up on me…And then she called me disrespectful, called me stupid, called me a n***. And then she said, “go home, and don’t come back tomorrow. Get out.”

So then I opened the door, and for the second time, C. jumped in front of me and held the door. I ran outside, and C. came after me, followed me. And B. was also behind me. She said, “get out of my building, I want to see you on the street!” And I said, “let me go!” She walked behind me until I was outside, and I was scared that they were following me. I called and left a message with the human resources department, saying that I was being followed like a criminal.

They [Harvard] are supposed to be serious, to know that there are so many students, so many people who are in danger [of harassment and assault]. Harvard should know that this is not just about workers; this is for everyone, for women and men. What happened to me as a woman in the mailroom can happen to students in the dorms. Nobody should experience what I experienced, and nobody should be made to feel guilty for doing nothing. Harvard has to be strong about this issue, to care about it.

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