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Lawsuit: Dartmouth Failed to Prevent Harassment, Sexual Assault in Psychology Department For Years

Kathleen Brown
Meandering Lens Photography

Seven current and former students in Dartmouth's Psychological and Brain Sciences Department are suing the school over alleged mishandling of sexual assault and harassment reports, saying administrators ignored years of criminal behavior by tenured faculty members.

Read the full text of the suit here.

A complaint filed in federal district court in New Hampshire Thursday describes a “21st Century Animal House,” where female students were harassed, assaulted and raped. The lawsuit seeks $70 million in damages.

Two of the plaintiffs filed Title IX complaints with the college last year, after which administrators hired an external investigator and placed three professors– Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and Bill Kelley – on paid leave. The three men were eventually forced out this spring.

A criminal probe by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office remains ongoing.

“We respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the characterizations of Dartmouth’s actions in the complaint and will respond through our own court filings,” a Dartmouth spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.

Dartmouth is in the process of revising its sexual misconduct policies such that they’re consistent for faculty, students and staff. The school is also reviewing all academic departments for issues around sexual harassment, power dynamics, diversity and inclusion, College President Phil Hanlon announced recently.

But that’s not enough, said Vassiki Chauhan, a current graduate student and one of the plaintiffs. “It’s too late and it’s too little,” she said.

The lawsuit describes an alcohol-soaked  environment in the psychology department where professional meetings were conducted in bars or at professors’ homes, women were valued based on their physical attractiveness, and students faced retaliation if they failed to tolerate unwelcome sexual attention.

Dartmouth administrators encouraged victims to continue working with their harassers after the women filed Title IX complaints in the spring of 2017, plaintiffs contend, and waited months before removing the men from campus.

During that time, Whalen raped Chauhan after repeatedly serving her drinks, she said. According to the legal filing, it was just the latest in a string of criminal sexual advances toward multiple women dating back years.  

Dartmouth has failed to examine how a discriminatory culture was allowed to persist for more than a decade, the plaintiffs contend, endangering increasingly more women as the years went on.

At least two women have publicly reported harassment in the department that occured in the early 2000s.

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