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Ex-Morehouse Student Says College Ignored Sexual Harassment Complaint Against Professor During Study Abroad

By Sharelle Burt

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Studying abroad is a time when you bask in other cultures and make lifelong connections with your peers. Being pressured with unwanted advances isn’t supposed to be a part of that experience.

 

On a trip to Brazil in 2015, a first-year student at Morehouse College in Atlanta claims the school did nothing after he filed a sexual harassment complaint against a professor. According to the victim’s attorney, Cade Parian, professor Robert Peterson ordered alcoholic drinks for the student on the flight to South America and groped his genitals. Peterson also ordered drinks for other underage students at a pool party and sent sexually explicit photos.

 

A faculty member reported the allegations to a department chair at the college, but it wasn’t forwarded to the office in charge of handling such complaints. The student said he filed a formal complaint in December 2017. Since Morehouse claims they didn’t receive it, the victim resubmitted the claim in January, saying “Peterson was known as a professor that exchanged good grades for sex.”

 

Peterson was put on administrative leave, but after an external investigator recommended termination, Peterson was let go. The student, however, has since left the historically black college, suffering academically and claims administrators did little to help him after he attempted to return to this semester. He is now seeking unspecified monetary and punitive damages. A lawsuit was filed Monday in Fulton County Superior Court where allegations were “vehemently denied” denied by the accused.

 

Incidents like these aren’t unusual while on trips abroad. In 2012, a study found that female undergraduates experience a high risk of rape and other forms of sexual assault when studying abroad in non-English speaking countries. Emilee Franklin, a student at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, is one example. Franklin claimed back in 2015 she was sexually assaulted while studying abroad in Ireland. After invited by the school to share her experiences with other students, Franklin claimed administrators went out of their way to stop her. The school’s chief student affairs officer, Steve Lyons, sent Franklin an email saying “if you were to show up anyway I will cancel the meeting and follow up with current students individually.” 

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