College responds to Dateline episode featuring former students

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • July 1, 2015

In an email to the Emerson community, President M. Lee Pelton responded to the NBC Dateline episode on campus sexual assault that featured the stories of two former Emerson students. The email was sent immediately after the episode, Crisis on Campus, aired on June 21.

The episode primarily follows the stories of Jillian Doherty, 22, and Sarah Tedesco, 20, who both say their rape cases were mishandled by the college. Doherty and Tedesco detail each of their attacks and their experiences with the college.

Doherty said on Dateline that she was raped in 2012 by a fellow Emerson student after consensual sex in his dorm room. She said that she did not report the assault to the school until the following year, when she joined a campaign started by Tedesco to improve policies surrounding sexual assault at Emerson. Doherty filed a lawsuit against Emerson in 2014 that was dismissed by a federal judge. She recently resubmitted her complaint.

Tedesco’s alleged assault happened off-campus at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology fraternity party during her freshman year in 2013. She said in the episode that she initially told the school that an MIT student had raped her, but was not taken seriously. Tedesco was rerouted to the Cambridge Police Department, who found female saliva in Tedesco’s rape kit. Tedesco then told the school that she now remembered a female sophomore Emerson student who had taken her to the party being present during the assault, according to the episode.

The episode said that Tedesco had also filed a lawsuit, and her story is identical to the claims made in an anonymous suit filed against Emerson, which also alleges that Jane Doe was raped in October 2012 by both a male MIT student and a female Emerson student, and says the college mishandled the adjudication process of her case.

In his email, Pelton wrote that Emerson expects the outcomes of both Doherty’s amended suit and the anonymous suit to be favorable for the college.

He addressed the efforts Emerson has taken to improve its policies regarding sexual assault, including the establishment of Violence Prevention and Response, increased faculty training on response, a new sexual misconduct policy, and the recent campus climate survey.

Pelton reiterated the message in a video, which he linked to in the email, and also in an attached letter he had sent to NBC Dateline producer Liz Brown.

“Emerson, in both word and deed, has been unequivocal in its commitment to prevent sexual assault, to support survivors of sexual assault,” Pelton wrote, “And to nurture an environment where students feel safe reporting sexual assaults.”