Vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor re­lieved of du­ties after al­leged mis­use of so­cial me­dia

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By BROOKE SCHULTZ

CH­ESTER­TOWN — A vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics is no longer teach­ing after al­legedly send­ing sev­eral fe­male stu­dents in­ap­pro­pri­ate mes­sages and mis­rep­re­sent­ing him­self via Face­book, which is in vi­o­la­tion of Washington Col­lege’s so­cial me­dia pol­icy.

The Elm and the Kent County News do not name vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault, ha­rass­ment or mis­con­duct.

Pro­fes­sor Michael Wang, who was hired at Washington Col­lege to teach three cour­ses va­cated by eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor Andy Helms, was re­lieved of his teach­ing du­ties Nov. 30 after two stu­dents filed a re­port to­gether with the col­lege’s Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety Nov. 27.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched im­me­di­ately, said Candace Wan­na­maker, Washington Col­lege’s Ti­tle IX co­or­di­na­tor. Due to the fact Wang was a fac­ulty mem­ber and it was a Ti­tle IX in­quiry, Wan­na­maker and Carolyn Bur­ton, as­sis­tant Ti­tle IX co­or­di­na­tor and di­rec­tor of hu­man re­sources, met and con­tin­ued the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Wang was asked to leave cam­pus Nov. 29 and it was de­ter­mined he would no longer con­tinue teach­ing the fol­low­ing day, Wan­na­maker said. The eco­nom­ics depart­ment was no­ti­fied that same day to cover Wang’s three cour­ses. Dif­fer­ent depart­ment mem­bers took over teach­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Dean and Provost Pa­trice DiQuinzio con­firmed that Wang was no longer teach­ing at the col­lege and that other pro­fes­sors had stepped in to fill the classes.

Wang told The Elm in an email on Dec. 5 that he was “ex­tremely re­morse­ful about any in­ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tions.”

“Although it was never my in­ten­tion to harm any­one, I should have known bet­ter not to vi­o­late the col­lege pol­icy. I have ad­dressed all the mis­takes and this was an im­por­tant les­son that I will never for­get for the rest of my life. To this end, I deeply apol­o­gize to those be­ing af­fected,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Bur­ton, as with most fac­ulty mem­bers, the hir­ing depart­ment reviews the ap­pli­cants. The ap­pli­cant com­pletes an in­ter­view and the col­lege com­pletes ref­er­ence checks and a back­ground check. Bur­ton con­firmed that Wang had cleared the ref­er­ence and back­ground checks.

On Dec. 6, DiQuinzio sent out an email to staff, fac­ulty and stu­dents. The email sum­ma­rized the time­line of events.

“We urge you to be cau­tious in us­ing so­cial me­dia and text messaging,” the email said.

Sev­eral links were listed for stu- dents to “refresh your­selves about good prac­tices for on­line safety,” the email said.

Wan­na­maker said while Wang’s ac­tions were not il­le­gal, they did vi­o­late pol­icy.

“It was not con­duct be­com­ing of a fac­ulty mem­ber,” she said.

In the col­lege’s so­cial me­dia pol­icy, the guide­lines state that in­di­vid­u­als must “be trans­par­ent about your role at WC.” It has been con­firmed to The Elm that Wang al­legedly posed as “Vi­o­let Lau” on Face­book and friended more than 200 peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with the col­lege, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of Lau’s pro­file.

Us­ing Lau’s pro­file, Wang reached out to at least seven stu­dents. The Elm ob­tained screen­shots of those mes­sages.

Act­ing as Lau, Wang mes­saged stu­dents in the pe­riod be­tween Septem­ber and Novem­ber. In all of the mes­sages given to The Elm, Lau would say she wasn’t sure how she had be­come friends with the stu­dent through Face­book be­fore ask­ing them ba­sic ques­tions about them­selves.

One stu­dent said that she was mes­saged through­out the course of one to two days. She said she is par­tic­u­larly care­ful when it came to ac­cept­ing friends she doesn’t know, but when she saw that she and Lau had nearly 60 friends in com­mon from the col­lege, she ac­cepted.

Wang, pos­ing as Lau, started by ask­ing what year the stu­dent was, what she was ma­jor­ing in and where she was from.

“It seem(ed) so nor­mal, I (was) not even ques­tion­ing it,” she said.

The con­ver­sa­tion led to an in­vi­ta­tion to get cof­fee, and the stu­dent said it was “still, nor­mal to me.”

After some more back and forth, it be­came ev­i­dent that Lau knew more about the stu­dent and one of her eco­nom­ics cour­ses than she vol­un­teered, such as the day, time and pro­fes­sor.

“I like to think of my­self as a very smart per­son,” she said. “If it was a boy, I to­tally wouldn’t have an­swered it. Be­cause it was a girl and (mem­ber of) the WC com­mu­nity — we’re so small. ... It’s not some­thing I ex­pected.”

The mes­sages to other stu­dents fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern, but oth­ers es­ca­lated to a sex­ual na­ture.

An­other stu­dent spoke with Wang, pos­ing as Lau, for weeks. Lau told the stu­dent she wanted to be a porn star and asked the stu­dent about her sex­ual habits. She sent the stu­dent sev­eral pho­tos that had al­legedly been pub­lished in a Ja­panese adult mag­a­zine.

Lau be­gan re­fer­ring to the stu­dent as “sis­ter” or “sis.”

After speak­ing to Lau for a while, it was sug­gested that the stu­dent reach out to her brother, whom Lau iden­ti­fied as Wang.

Wang be­gan messaging the stu­dent as him­self, while also messaging the stu­dent as Lau.

The stu­dent said she be­came sus­pi­cious and thought she was be­ing cat­fished — lured into a re­la­tion­ship through a fic­ti­tious pro­file.

She Googled all of Lau’s pho­to­graphs on her pro­file and be­gan messaging Lau for her Snapchat or to set up time to FaceTime, the stu­dent said. Lau re­fused each re­quest. Even­tu­ally, Lau asked if the stu­dent doubted her au­then­tic­ity and stopped talk­ing to the stu­dent.

In one case, on Nov. 5, Wang, us­ing his own pro­file, reached out to a stu­dent. When he told her he was a pro­fes­sor, she stopped re­spond­ing.

“The stu­dents who brought for­ward these con­cerns did ex­actly the right thing,” DiQuinzio said. “Pro­vid­ing a safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment in which all stu­dents are treated with re­spect is our top pri­or­ity, so if stu­dents feel that an in­ter­ac­tion with a pro­fes­sor or staff mem­ber does not meet that stan­dard they should re­port it.”

An­other stu­dent told The Elm the sit­u­a­tion made her feel dis­gusted and vi­o­lated.

“I feel sick think­ing about it,” she said. “And I’m tired. I’m tired of men in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity prey­ing on young women. I’m tired of hav­ing to be on guard all the time. I’m tired of be­ing a sex ob­ject and a fan­tasy for any man who de­cides to fo­cus on me, and I’m tired of not be­ing a per­son.”

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