Alumni question donating after sexual harassment lawsuit

by Kyle Mullins | 12/3/18 2:00am

For a decade, Ruth Cserr ’88 has been a regular donor to Dartmouth. But in the wake of the pending sexual harassment class action against the College, which accuses three former professors in the psychological and brain sciences department of repeated sexual harassment, assault and misconduct, that is no longer the case.

“I will be withholding any support until the College puts in place oversight that would have taken seriously the initial reports and that would discourage any such future harassment and assault,” Cserr said.

Cserr isn’t alone in this sentiment — some alumni have already begun organizing collective responses. Diana Whitney ’95 said she is organizing an open letter to be circulated among alumni and released in January.

“I want to invest in something that I’m proud of, and it pains me to see, only just now, so many women graduates of Dartmouth having their moment of reckoning,” Ellen Tani ’05 said.

The potential loss of donations towards the Call to Lead capital campaign, which seeks to raise $3 billion in funding for the College, isn’t clear yet. College spokesperson Diana Lawrence declined to comment and wrote that “it is too soon to tell whether news of the litigation has impacted the campaign.”

The involvement of women donors is a specific goal in the capital campaign. Calling recent donations by women alumnae “a grassroots effort that has surpassed all expectations,” the campaign intends to raise $25 million from female donors to renovate Dartmouth Hall and expand the Centennial Circle — an group of alumnae who have donated at least $100,000 to financial aid — from 188 to 250 members by 2019.

Secretary of the Board of Trustees Laura Hercod referred requests to speak to Board members on the capital campaign leadership to Lawrence.

Kate Taylor ’84 wrote in an email that she has left the Bartlett Tower Society, a group of individuals who include Dartmouth in their estate planning. Taylor has removed Dartmouth as a beneficiary of her life insurance policy.

“The Bartlett Tower Society was a perfect venue from which I could gift to Dartmouth in death, while participating in my favored charities in life,” Taylor wrote. “However, after hearing about those women’s experiences and knowing of so many others, I no longer feel right or good about supporting Dartmouth.”

Taylor suggested the only way she would return to the Bartlett Tower Society is if Dartmouth closed its fraternities.

Catherine Duwan ’89, a lawyer, said that she was “extremely surprised” by the lawsuit due to the nature of previous communications from the College.

“What I was led to believe through President Hanlon’s emails was that as soon as they found out about it, they did something about it,” Duwan said. “In other words, put the professors on leave, did an investigation, and either terminated them or accepted resignation.”

For some alumnae, the lawsuit has brought back memories of their own sexual assaults and harassment while at Dartmouth. The complaint filed on Nov. 15 alleges that the PBS department was a “21st Century Animal House.” For Whitney, that was “absolutely” the dominant social culture when she was at the College.

“I was assaulted by a drunk frat guy, and I had sexual harassment with a couple other frat guys my freshman year. I almost transferred,” she said.

Monica Morrison ’07, who filed a separate suit at the beginning of November against an alleged assailant from Dartmouth in 2005, said she has been reading different stories from Dartmouth women on Facebook.

“Some people are just really processing things that happened 40 years ago, and other women are, like me, further along in the process,” she said.

Class of 1991 Alumni Council representative Mitch Epner ’91 said that in the wake of the court filing, with “more questions than we have answers,” alumni should send emails to the Alumni Council and to the College administration.

“The alumni community wants survivors to know that they are part of our community for life,” Epner said.

Jennifer Merriman ’90, who studied in the psychology department at the College and now works as a jury consultant, urged caution in reading the plaintiffs’ document until the College had the chance to file a response to it.

“I want to make sure that everybody thinks about what the limitations are that the College has to work with, because employees do have rights —– especially tenured professors have certain rights —– that limit what the College’s response [to the initial reports] could be,” Merriman said.

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