BY LIZ LEWIS ’22
Former Mount Holyoke staff member Sean Mulveyhill, according to a Boston Globe article published on April 11, is facing allegations of sexual assault against a Mount Holyoke student. He was fired from his position in Dining Services on March 22 after being placed on administrative leave for several weeks.
The current allegations against Mulveyhill concern a Mount Holyoke student who, according to the Boston Globe, reported to police that “Mulveyhill assaulted her in his home, about 2 miles from the campus, on Feb. 24, after she had given him a ride.”
“Sean Mulveyhill raped me,” wrote the student in an affidavit to the Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown.
The reported assault is currently under investigation by local law enforcement and Campus Police, according to a statement from the College to the parents of Mount Holyoke students.
Mulveyhill has also been placed under a harassment prevention order, according to the Boston Globe. “The testimony presented at the hearing, together with the documents admitted into evidence in the form of the text messages and photographs, is sufficient for the Court to find that the Plaintiff has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant ‘through force, threat or duress’ caused the Plaintiff to involuntarily engage in sexual relations,” Judge Bruce Melikian wrote in his prepared findings.
Mulveyhill was fired for violation of the College’s recently updated Title IX policy, which prohibits even consensual relationships between students and faculty or staff. Additionally, the East Hampshire District Court’s harassment prevention order would have prevented him from attending work.
Mulveyhill is represented by Michelle Cruz FP’98, former head of the Connecticut office of the Victim’s Advocate and a Mount Holyoke alumna, according to her website.
Mulveyhill’s name is not new to South Hadley news. In 2011, 15-year-old South Hadley High School student Phoebe Prince took her own life after enduring vicious bullying and harassment from her peers. Mulveyhill, who was 18 at the time and had briefly dated Prince, “pleaded guilty to criminal harassment of Prince and was sentenced to a year of probation.” In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped additional charges of statutory rape and a civil rights violation.
The death of Phoebe Prince, according to the Boston Globe, caused a national conversation on “the extent that young people should be held accountable when harassment leads to the suicide of another person,” as well as leading to the “creation of anti-bullying laws in Massachusetts.” Mulveyhill was also charged with breaking and entering into a South Hadley home in 2013.
In an email to the Mount Holyoke community on March 14 in response to the Boston Globe article regarding the assault, President Sonya Stephens announced the creation of a Hiring Practice Task Force composed of “leaders in the Department of Human Resources and hiring managers at the College.” The task force is set to review Mount Holyoke’s current hiring policies and procedures and will provide recommendations prior to the start of the next school year.
Some parents of Mount Holyoke students, according to the Boston Globe, “ask with incredulity how Mulveyhill was able to land a job” at a gender inclusive women’s college, “much less a school in the same small town where Prince lived and died.” Parents also asked why Mulveyhill was hired as a bartender, a position in which he could socialize with students and even serve them drinks.
According to the Boston Globe, College spokesperson Charles L. Greene II has assured the community that “the College provides students, faculty and staff with training and resources on healthy and appropriate conduct,” including training in Title IX protocol. Greene also added that the College performs background checks for new hires, and that they are in “the process of reviewing those specific policies and procedures.”
In an interview with the Boston Globe, adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England School of Law Wendy Murphy said that “Under Title IX, colleges and universities have an ‘affirmative duty’ to prevent the hiring of someone with a past like Mulveyhill’s with a thorough background check,” and that the behaviors he demonstrated in the Prince case and his record of breaking and entering should have been immediate dealbreakers.
In an email sent to the parents of Mount Holyoke students on Feb. 28, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Life Marcella Runell Hall assured the community that these allegations are being taken very seriously, and that as the College works “in partnership with local law enforcement and campus police” to investigate, “an independent Title IX investigation” has also been initiated.
This controversy comes in the wake of a national discussion about sexual assault on college campuses. With the #MeToo movement continuing to command national attention, sexual violence has been a prominent subject of scrutiny in the last few years. College campuses have long been recognized as hotspots of sexual violence. According to the website for Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, RAINN.org, 23.1 percent of female undergraduate students and 5.4 percent of male undergraduates “experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation” during their time at college.
Groups like the Every Voice Coalition have brought this issue to the attention of lawmakers in Massachusetts. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, on Tuesday, April 9, “the [Massachusetts] Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education took public testimony from advocates and survivors of sexual assault on eight bills concerning sexual misconduct and disciplinary procedures on college campuses” which would, if passed, require colleges to “make public violent crime statistics, inform students of their rights and provide resources for student survivors.”
The two bills in question, H.1208 and H.1209, would require a number of general changes to the ways that colleges in Massachusetts approach sexual misconduct, involving a mandatory climate survey and publication of its results, according to the Gazette.
Included in the bills are new potential regulations which require institutions to provide “mandatory annual dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking primary prevention and awareness programming for newly-enrolled students and newly-hired employees” including, among other things, a variety of safe, accessible and anonymous ways to report harmful incidents.
Among those testifying on April 9 was UMass, Amherst student Nora Gallo, who, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “testified alongside her father, UMass Amherst professor Peter Houlihan, about her experience as a victim of sexual harassment and assault on campus.” In an interview with the Mount Holyoke News, Gallo wrote, “When the option [to testify] was brought to me I was extremely anxious. These two bills H.1208 and H.1209 are incredibly important and I knew my testimony along with all the others in support of the two bills would have an impact. I wouldn’t have been able to without the support of my family and friends.”
Gallo is currently a team leader for the UMass, Amherst chapter of the Every Voice Coalition, a group that aims to combat sexual violence on Massachusetts campuses by combining the voices of advocates and survivors. “As a student so many of my friends would disclose to me their assaults […] it was just not enough to support my friends individually,” Gallo wrote. “I needed to do something to make a greater impact in my community. It not only has helped me to heal the trauma I have from being assaulted […] [but] I know [that] coming forward and sharing my story [lets people] know they are not alone, that they are believed, and inspires them to share their stories. Because together we can really stop sexual assault and create a culture of consent.”According to Gallo, “Every Voice Coalition is a state-wide all-volunteer campaign comprised of students, community members, survivors and allies.” Gallo’s work with the organization is largely based on education and organizing. “As a team Lead, I help organize students and community members by spreading the word,” said Gallo, “so events like the Advocacy Day Summit can happen with a large attendance and […] people [can] come to days like Make Your Voice Heard at the State House where my peers and I testified.”
In the future, Gallo hopes “for a culture within the Five College Consortium where a survivor is believed and supported…[and] where sexual harassment and assault is NEVER an issue swept under the rug.” Gallo considers the Coalition’s primary goal to be to “educate students on consent and create a safe environment for survivors.”
As a student at UMass, Amherst, a school she says is sometimes socially recognized for its party culture, Gallo hopes that the “zoo” label will fade away, ideally in favor of an environment where “survivors can be recognized and supported.” To Gallo, a university’s “rates of sexual assault do not reflect the university as a whole, but the student body. What the rates do reflect is the lack of action universities are taking to create a safe environment.” Gallo hopes that soon “the action taken to combat sexual assault will be the defining factor schools should be proud of.”