Visiting professor relieved of duties after alleged misuse of social media
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.”