Amherst College student accused in 2009 sexual assault sues to obtain his degree

Monday, July 14, 2014
AMHERST — An Amherst College student claims the school unfairly withheld his degree and cost him a fellowship by reopening an investigation into a sexual assault in 2009.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last month, the unnamed student seeks an injunction preventing the college from proceeding with a disciplinary hearing. It also asks that the student receive the degree he earned from the college.

The student is identified only as John Doe in court papers. The suit was filed by Northampton attorneys David Hoose and Luke Ryan.

The college has filed a motion opposing that injunction, according to spokeswoman Caroline Hanna.

Part of that opposition motion — filed by attorney Scott A. Roberts of Boston — reads, “The perpetrator of an alleged sexual assault at Amherst College seeks to walk away, diploma in hand, without any formal adjudication of the charges against him, while the former student who experienced the assault continues to struggle with the emotional harm he reportedly caused.”

By telephone Friday night, Ryan said the college is attempting to retroactively apply standards adopted years after Doe’s case was settled in his 2009 assault case.

The June 24 lawsuit names the college as well as President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin and five other administrators.

The charges stem from December 2009 when Doe was roommates with another male student — identified in court papers as Student A — and the two had a sexual encounter.

Doe alleges the sex was consensual. Student A claims he was raped after “months of rebuffing Doe’s unwanted sexual advances,” according to court files.

Doe says he was disciplined in March 2010 for violating the school’s honor code for the alleged assault and two other “alcohol-related” incidents where he entered dorms he didn’t live in, startling residents.

Doe denied assaulting Student A, but said he was “struggling to come to terms” with his own sexuality and had been using alcohol to suppress and avoid those feelings, according to court files.

Doe was struggling, in part, due to his, “very traditional upbringing in South Africa,” according to the suit.

Amherst College determined that Doe had “engaged in multiple episodes of improper, non-consensual personal contact with other students,” and placed him on a medical withdrawal, rather than suspend him, according to court records.

The conditions of that withdrawal were that Doe spend the remainder of the year away from the college, seek mental health treatment, provide a statement for readmission from his doctor and allow his therapist to speak with college officials before he could be considered for readmission.

Doe was readmitted to Amherst College at the end of 2010 but was informed he would be on probation until his 2014 graduation and a violation of that probation could lead to further action up to dismissal, according to court papers.

According to the suit, Doe abided by all college requirements and maintained a grade point average of 3.66, was hired as an intern by the college itself to lead tours and mentor college applicants and held a position of responsibility with a student a cappella group. Further, he was a contributing writer for a student journal, was a language tutor and was set to graduate magna cum laude this spring.

Doe also earned a fellowship from the college as a “Green Dean,” which would allow him to be a member of a 12-person admission committee that makes presentations on campus and travels to high schools and college fairs around the country and have a hand in admission decisions.

Doe felt the fellowship would allow him to stay in the U.S. another year on his student visa, according to the suit.

Doe took his last exam on May 16 and after finishing it was escorted to the school’s Office of Student Affairs and informed the college had been contacted by Student A who expressed “dissatisfaction with the handing of the 2009 case,” according to the suit.

Doe was told the matter had to go before the Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board and the college had exercised its right to withhold his diploma pending the outcome of that proceeding, according to the suit.

The Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board was formed in 2012 in response to allegations of the college’s mishandling of other reports of sexual assaults on campus, according to the suit.

According to Doe’s suit, no white, female, heterosexual or American students had ever “been subjected to additional penalties,” after their matters had been resolved and they had not violated the conditions of their on-campus probation.

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.