At least three Barrett Honors professors are no longer teaching at Arizona State University after their contracts were not renewed. FOX 10 uncovered a pattern of sexual relationships between students and professors within the honors college. Relationships that ultimately led to some professors leaving the University, and some students claiming sexual abuse.
It’s considered the crown jewel of ASU, but recently some of the activities going on outside of the college have raised eyebrows.
“I could see these male professors taking advantage of their students and sleeping with them,” said Jasmine Lester.
According to ASU personnel records in the last two years the contracts of three Barrett Honors professors were not renewed. ASU did not say why, but each professor was under scrutiny after admitting to having sexual relationships with students.
Dr. Joel Hunter’s contract was not renewed in March of this year. An internal investigation by the university found he violated ASU’s policies against student-professor relationships and harassment.
Dr. David Conz’s contract was not renewed in April of 2013. According to Tempe Police, Conz was let go after the university found out he was in a sexual relationship with a student. The report indicated that Conz told the student he blamed her for using his job, a week later he took his own life.
Dr. Eric Susser’s contract was not renewed in 2012. Susser says the separation was mutual. An ASU investigation reveals he admitted to having had a sexual relationship with three honors students. He told officials each relationship was consensual.
“What we hear less about on college campuses is the way power can undermine consent, and that’s what were trying to call attention to at Barrett,” said Jasmine Lester.
Jasmine Lester is the founder of Sun Devils Against Sexual Abuse; she says she was at one point involved with one of her professors. Now, she’s speaking out on behalf of others like her, who now feel they were sexually abused.
Yes, the relationships took place between consenting adults but the university Senate wants to re-define the concept of “consent.”
A bill that was put forth would make it clear; “there is a presumption that an intimate relationship between a faculty member and an undergraduate student is NOT consensual.”..because While a faculty member may perceive a relationship as consensual, the student may not feel the same way and may not be able to voice it otherwise.”
The student who was involved with Dr. Hunter wants to remain anonymous because she is still a student at Barrett, and she is scared of retaliation but she wanted to share her story.
She said; “Even though it wasn’t an exchange of sexual favors for academic ones, he coerced me into sexual things I didn’t want to do because I was thinking in the back of my mind “I don’t want to upset him and get a bad grade on the next paper, and he just wrote me a nice letter of recommendation so I guess I owe him.”
She filed a formal complaint with the university several months after the relationship ended.
“I felt like I had to protect him and was worried that getting help would jeopardize his job, so I suffered in silence, and the pain grew worse and I self-harmed and almost killed myself,” she said.
“It is essentially a complete loss of control of vulnerability, and those are the same kind of feelings traditional sexual abuse victims struggle with, it’s the lack of control of their emotions body sexuality,” said Dr. Michael Yasinski.
“We’re not talking about relationships that have gone wrong, we are talking about relationships that started out wrong,” said Lester.
ASU is among several schools under federal investigation for the way it handled sexual abuse and sexual harassment complaints. The university’s recent investigation into Dr. Hunter concluded the student; “was not in a position to effectively consent to the relationship, and that Dr. Hunter’s conduct was unwelcome and non-consensual.”
It’s the recognition that Lester and the students who have come forward with their stories were waiting for. They hope it will begin to change the culture at ASU’s Barrett Honors College.
“I’m doing this because I see how the administration has allowed this to happen, and I want to use my experience to do whatever I can so that this won’t keep happening,” said Lester.