Alumni pressure Dartmouth over handling of sex abuse claims
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Dartmouth College alumni have heard the allegations of misconduct in one department where professors are accused of hosting drunken parties, groping and harassing their students and, in two cases, sexually assaulting them.
Now, a growing number of former students are demanding answers from the administration and questioning how such an atmosphere apparently flourished for at least 15 years at the Ivy League school in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Gathering in Facebook groups and other networks, alumni led by several women are pushing for withholding donations until they see changes at the school — or the ouster of President Philip Hanlon. Others want department chairs and other administrators responsible for handling the sexual misconduct allegations held accountable.
In October 2017, Dartmouth launched an investigation into the three professors. It never released the findings. But Todd Heatherton retired this summer after being told he would be fired and denied tenure. Paul Whalen and William Kelley resigned soon thereafter.
The growing anger comes in the wake of a federal lawsuit filed this month by seven female graduate and undergraduate students who were in the Department of Psychological and Brain Science, where the professors worked. They accused the three of sexual misconduct and said the college ignored their complaints.
“There is a whole of lot of alums, women in particular, out there who have had experiences that are similar enough to what these students have experienced and are horrified to know this is still going on,” said Giavanna Munafo, a lecturer in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program who has counseled two of the seven women who made abuse claims.
“It’s like a wake-up call to them,” she said. “Our college is still as bad as it was or worse.”
Contact information for Whalen and Kelley has not been available, and it is unclear whether they have attorneys to speak for them. Heatherton apologized for acting inappropriately at conferences but said, through a lawyer, that he never socialized or had sexual relations with students.
Archana Ramanujam, who attended Dartmouth from 2010 to 2014 and worked with a woman who alleges abuse by one of the professors, said she is putting together a letter to the administration with dozens of alumni and current students demanding greater transparency and accountability in the way the school handles sexual abuse claims.
The letter may include threats of withholding donations, she said, if change doesn’t happen.
“Getting survivors’ stories out there and holding perpetrators responsible is the most important thing. This issue keeps being swept under the rug, and the lawsuit no longer allows that,” Ramanujam said in an email.
Most upsetting for some alumni is how the women were treated by the administration when they complained about abuse.
Prior to the investigation in 2017, the lawsuit alleges that more than two dozen women reported the harassment and sexual assault to the college’s Title IX office. Several who filed complaints said in the lawsuit that they were denied teaching opportunities in the department, reassigned to an unsuitable lab or given a failing grade on an honors thesis.
Some complained they were forced to work with the professors for several months, despite their claims of abuse.
“Dartmouth took the fact that the predators might sue the school and the fact that they might lose money and reputation into account,” said Vassiki Chauhan, a plaintiff who is still at Dartmouth and alleges that she was raped by Whalen at his home.
“They didn’t take into account the cost to the victims. They are still not taking that into account. In that respect, Dartmouth is failing,” she said. “Dartmouth needs to be held accountable.”
The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, as Chauhan and five plaintiffs in this case have done.
In response to the lawsuit, Hanlon praised the women for coming forward but denied allegations that Dartmouth ignored their complaints.
Hanlon reiterated “that sexual misconduct and harassment have no place at Dartmouth.” He also said that the college had done its own investigation and that all three professors “are no longer at Dartmouth and remain banned from our campus and from attending all Dartmouth-sponsored events.”
The New Hampshire attorney general’s office has also launched an investigation.
And along with the investigation of the professors, Dartmouth is expected to soon release a new policy on sexual misconduct.
The college has not released details on the policy but has said it would apply to both students and faculty and would be informed by the college’s experience dealing with recent sexual assault allegations. Officials wouldn’t say whether the investigation into the professors exposed violations of current policy.
One faculty organization is proposing several measures for the new policy, including training deans and department heads on handling sexual misconduct. It is also calling for compensation for victims and an investigation into how the abuses at the department were allowed to continue.