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Student accuses former governor of sexual harassment

March 29, 2019
FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, file photo, L. Douglas Wilder speaks during the 34th Annual MLK Holiday Luncheon Celebration at The Lansing Center in downtown Lansing, Mich. A Virginia student who worked with Wilder, the nation’s first elected African-American governor, is accusing him of sexually harassing her by kissing her without consent. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, file photo, L. Douglas Wilder speaks during the 34th Annual MLK Holiday Luncheon Celebration at The Lansing Center in downtown Lansing, Mich. A Virginia student who worked with Wilder, the nation’s first elected African-American governor, is accusing him of sexually harassing her by kissing her without consent. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia student who worked with the nation’s first elected African-American governor is accusing him of sexually harassing her by kissing her without consent.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Sydney Black, 22, says L. Douglas Wilder, 88, offered to take her on trips and pay for law school and suggested she live at his house in 2017. Black reported the conduct to police and Virginia Commonwealth University, where she was working as an office assistant at the school’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Wilder is a distinguished professor at the school.

Citing privacy concerns, VCU declined to answer questions, but the newspaper reports the university notified Black in a January letter that its Title IX office intended to investigate. Wilder didn’t respond to the newspaper’s repeated requests for comment over several weeks.

The report comes nearly two months after revelations that Virginia’s current governor and attorney general had worn blackface in the 1980s. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, meanwhile, has vehemently denied sexual assault allegations from two women. Wilder called for Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation after he admitted wearing blackface, but didn’t comment publicly about allegations against Fairfax.

Black, who is African-American, said she struggled with making a report that could tarnish Wilder’s legacy and attract negative attention.

“I had to choose being a woman over being black,” she said.

In February 2017, Black said that Wilder took her to dinner on her 20th birthday, gave her alcohol and invited her back to his Richmond condo, where he kissed her. Wilder told her he could help her get accepted at the Howard University School of Law, where he is a board member, she said. When she asked what he wanted in return, he said, “As long as you stick with me, you should be fine.”

They went to his condo, where he poured them both champagne, and as they talked, Black said he put his hand on her leg and then kissed her. She said she “immediately jerked away” asking why he “felt comfortable doing that” and he responded that he “shouldn’t have.”

Three months later, Wilder told Black that funding for her position lapsed, Black said. She withdrew from college 2018 and re-enrolled this semester.

“I was deceived,” she said. “I thought he was a different sort of person.”

Black reported the alleged incident to the university in December and was directed to speak with Richmond Police Detective Eric Livengood, who confirmed he spoke to Black, but didn’t answer questions. A redacted Jan. 3 report says a 20-year-old woman reported that a Feb. 16, 2017, assault in a residence in the same block where Wilder owns a condo.

After Black contacted VCU, she received a letter that said VCU’s Title IX office determined that the conduct Black reported “could possibly” meet the definitions of sexual assault or sex- or gender-based discrimination outlined in VCU policies. Last month, the deputy Title IX coordinator for students at VCU, Tammi Slovinsky, told Black in an email that an “external attorney-investigator with specialized training and experience” had been assigned to her case.

Black’s mother, Margo Stokes, and grandmother, Pauline Carver of Wytheville, said Black called them independently in the days after the alleged incident and told them Wilder gave her alcohol and tried to kiss her.

“He just took a lot from Sydney when he did this because she really admired him, and so did I,” Carver said.

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