Dartmouth denies officials ignored sexual misconduct complaints
- Dartmouth College is denying it looked the other way while three of its professors sexually harassed and assaulted several students over a 16-year period, allegations made in a $70 million lawsuit filed late last year.
- In court filings Tuesday, the college said it did not know until April 2017 about serious allegations against the professors, including that they engaged in nonconsensual behavior and pressured students to drink alcohol. Upon becoming aware of them, Dartmouth contends it acted promptly to investigate the claims and began the process to fire the tenured professors.
- Dartmouth acknowledged that an "unacceptable environment involving excess alcohol consumption, an inappropriate level of fraternization, and inappropriate comments and contact" had existed between the professors and some of their students.
Seven women brought the lawsuit against Dartmouth in November, alleging the university failed to take action against three professors in the psychology and brain sciences department who "leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students." Because the men held positions of power, they say there was pressure to go along with the "party culture" or risk damage to their careers.
A group of students complained to the college about the alleged misconduct in April 2017, but the lawsuit says Dartmouth suggested they keep working with the professors. The women say earlier complaints of harassment, which go back as far as 2002, were met with similar inaction from the institution.
"This was an open secret," plaintiff Andrea Courtney told The Washington Post. "This was happening in front of everyone, in the department, in the town of Hanover, at academic conferences — these men had reputations as ... gropers and predators. It was very widely known, yet no one in positions of power stepped up to do anything to change that."
Dartmouth pushed back against those claims. According to court documents, it "moved expeditiously" to look into the allegations. As the college began the process to fire the tenured professors, two resigned and one retired, The New York Times reported.
The college also claims it responded promptly to the complaints made in the early 2000s. "The College had no reason to believe, based on these few isolated (and old) incidents, that the serious misconduct alleged by Plaintiffs might occur years later," Dartmouth said in its response.
Less than two months after the lawsuit was filed, Dartmouth announced an external review of all academic departments and the expansion of its Title IX office. The two efforts are part of the college's Campus Climate and Culture Initiative, which aims to create "a learning environment free from sexual harassment and the abuse of power."
Dartmouth is just one of several colleges facing serious repercussions for its response to sexual misconduct on campus.
Chief among them is Michigan State University, which is under investigation by the state's attorney general for its handling of allegations of sexual assault against former sports doctor Larry Nassar. The university agreed to a $500 million settlement with Nassar's victims, and its former president faces charges of lying to police.
Similarly, the University of Southern California agreed to pay $215 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed it mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct against a former campus gynecologist.
As awareness grows around the issue, some colleges are changing the way they handle complaints of sexual assault, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Among their strategies are hiring more Title IX staff, launching a mentoring program for men and organizing a student group focused on preventing sexual violence.
- Kristin Rapuano et al. v. Trustees of Dartmouth College Answer and Affirmative Defenses of Trustees of Dartmouth College
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