#MeToo inspires wave of old misconduct reports to colleges
BOSTON — For 35 years, Ruth D’Eredita tried to dismiss her former professor’s behavior — the way he touched her, groped her and kissed her. But last year, as dozens of women came forward to share similar encounters with powerful men, she started to see her memories differently.
“It made me look at that incident and say, no, it was wrong,” said D’Eredita, a 1984 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, a women’s school in Massachusetts. “I went there with a heart full of passion, eager for scholarship, just to throw myself into it, and this man looked at me as a potential sexual partner.”
She’s now among a wave of women inspired by the #MeToo movement to report past sexual misconduct to their colleges, breaking sometimes decades of silence in an attempt to acknowledge the wrongdoing, close old wounds and, in some cases, seek justice.
The reports from deep in the past also have raised big questions about how to investigate such cases and how to usher them through newer discipline systems built upon updated ideas about right and wrong.
In many ways, schools say, they face the same frustrations that arose in last month’s Senate hearing over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexually assaulting another teenager in the mid-1980s. Memories fade. No one agrees. Witnesses stay quiet.
But unlike the Senate or the White House, which have broad investigative powers, colleges are left to tease out the truth with legal authority that does not extend beyond their campuses.
“We don’t have subpoena power. We don’t have the same kind of reach or authority that courts would have,” said Rob Kent, interim chief of the Title IX office at Michigan State University.
Colleges from New England to the West Coast say they’ve seen an uptick in “historical” complaints over the past year, a shift they credit to the national reckoning sparked by #MeToo. Cases that were never reported in the past are coming to light as much as 50 years later.
In the first half of 2018, for example, Michigan State University received 22 complaints from two decades ago or longer, according to public records obtained by The Associated Press. In the previous five years combined, there were just nine cases that old.
Most cases involve women who say they were harassed or assaulted by male professors, advisers or others who worked on campus.
Ruth D’Eredita, poses for a portrait in her home in Vienna, Va., earlier this month. D’Eredita graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1984 and last October reported that a professor sexually assaulted her when she was a sophomore in college.