Mount Holyoke to review hiring in wake of assault allegation against college employee

  • Route 116 in South Hadley (Mount Holyoke College right)JOSH KUCKENS Josh Kuckens

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2019 12:14:42 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — Mount Holyoke College is forming a Hiring Practice Task Force following allegations that an employee of the college sexually assaulted a student, according to a statement from college President Sonya Stephens.

The college has not named the accused employee, but Sean Mulveyhill, 26, of South Hadley is listed as a defendant in a harassment prevention order for allegedly raping a student at Mount Holyoke College on or around Feb. 24. A March 2018 college staff newsletter lists Mulveyhill as a new hire, and The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday that Mulveyhill was a bartender at the college.

The Gazette does not typically name alleged victims of sexual assault.

In 2011, Mulveyhill pleaded guilty to criminal harassment of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who was a student at South Hadley High School at the time of her death in 2010. Prince was relentlessly bullied by classmates, including Mulveyhill, until she took her own life.

Mulveyhill, who briefly dated Prince, also faced charges of statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, and disturbance of a school assembly. These charges were dropped, and Mulveyhill was sentenced to a year of probation.

Four other students aside from Mulveyhill were also charged in connection with Prince’s death. The case sparked international conversations about bullying in schools, the responsibility of administrators to protect victims of bullying, and the consequences students should face for severe bullying.

The recent allegations against Mulveyhill have led some to criticize the college for hiring someone with Mulveyhill’s criminal record.

In a letter addressed to the Mount Holyoke community, Stephens wrote that the recent allegation is “especially troubling because it calls into question our employment practices and the ways in which we can best provide a safe environment for all members of our community,” and added that she understands why people want more information on why the accused employee was hired.

However, Stephens added that the college is “bound by certain confidentiality obligations, given the sensitive nature of this incident, as well as the open investigation and our policies related to student and personnel matters.”

Stephens also cited the state’s “statutory limitations on candidates’ disclosure of past legal issues with our own commitment to nondiscriminatory hiring practices” as a factor in the extent of information that the college can provide.

In the email, Stephens said that the college conducted a reference check on the employee, which she said is “standard practice for positions of this type.” The reference check “did not raise any concerns,” she continued.

The Hiring Practice Task Force will be composed of hiring managers and human resources leaders at the college, Stephens said, who will also receive support from external experts as they review policies and procedures. In addition to announcing the task force, Stephens said the college will establish a page on its website to regularly share information about the task force’s processes.

“These events are a reminder of the tremendous responsibility borne by those of us who constitute the faculty and staff of Mount Holyoke College,” Stephens said in the statement. “Our first responsibility is always the safety of our students and other members of the community. It is incumbent upon us to know and observe the policies in place and to create an environment of mutual respect and higher learning.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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