#MeToo need not apply: Faculty support Ithaca College President after disclosure of 2001 sexual abuse conviction
Shirley Collado pleaded ‘no contest’ to having sexual relations with former psychiatric patient, yet campus defenders accept her current claims of innocence.
On July 1, 2017, Shirley Collado became President of Ithaca College, where she also serves as a professor in the Department of Psychology.
Collado’s Ithaca College page describes her prior accomplishments, including:
With over 16 years of senior management experience prior to joining the Ithaca College community, Collado has been able to develop diverse, inclusive learning communities through her proven track record of strong leadership, robust fundraising, prioritized collaboration, budget management, strategic planning, and faculty recruitment and retention. Her leadership and management background has been further enriched by extensive board experience in various sectors including a premier private research university, a progressive K–12 independent school, and several successful not-for-profit organizations….
… Collado served at Middlebury College as vice president for student affairs and dean of the college, and associate professor of psychology. She oversaw and supported a dynamic student body and academic community while managing numerous departments and offices. She successfully led transformative initiatives that strengthened the residential life experience for students; earned national recognition for an overhaul to the new-student orientation program; and developed forward-looking sexual misconduct and judicial policies.
Collado’s appointment came after a period of campus turmoil at Ithaca College, which led to the resignation of president Tom Rochon after Black Lives Matter protests:
Embattled Ithaca College President Tom Rochon announced Thursday that he will step down from his position effective July 1, 2017.
“This timing will enable the board of trustees the necessary time to organize and execute a thoughtful and comprehensive search for my successor,” he said in a statement released on the college’s website.
His move comes after months of protests on the Ithaca, N.Y., campus demanding his resignation, which began in early November.
Students argued Rochon, who has served as the college’s president since 2008, responded poorly to several alleged racist incidents on campus and fostered a negative racial climate. The majority of students and faculty alike voted “no confidence” in Rochon in December – polling at 78% and 71.75%, respectively.
Collado’s appointment was promoted by the college as a break with the mosly white male past leadership:
Before an arena packed with thousands of students, faculty, staff, alumni and distinguished guests from across the country, Shirley M. Collado was inaugurated as the ninth president in Ithaca College’s 125-year history on Saturday, Nov. 4.
Collado is the second woman to hold the office, and the first person of color. She is also the first Dominican American to be named president of a college in the U.S.
By all appearances, the first months were what you would expect from a new president. Until a bombshell dropped in early January of this year.
Anonymously Mailed Package Re 2001 Conviction
Someone anonymously mailed packages to the student newspaper and others of documents from a court case in which Collado was involved in the District of Columbia, which resulted in Collado pleading “no contest” to a charge of sexual abuse of a former psychiatric patient.
It appears that Collado had disclosed the conviction to the Trustees before hiring, but it is not clear from the Trustee’s statement the depth of that disclosure or Trustee review. The campus, however, was caught unaware, as the conviction had not been publicly disclosed.
On January 16, 2018, The Ithacan published the story, Ithaca College President Shirley Collado pleaded no contest to sexual abuse charge in 2001
Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado was accused of sexually abusing a female patient while working as a psychologist in Washington, D.C., in 2000 and was convicted of sexual abuse in 2001.
Prosecutors argued Collado took advantage of a vulnerable, sexual-abuse survivor with mental illness by entering into a monthslong sexual relationship that started when Collado was the patient’s therapist. Collado denies having any sexual contact with the patient.
Collado admits to living with the patient after the latter was discharged from The Center at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington. This violated her employment contract at The Center — a program specializing in post-traumatic and dissociative conditions at a private psychiatric hospital — as it was considered to be an unethical outside relationship and grounds for immediate termination. Collado said she was trying to help her by providing her a place to stay.
Collado pleaded nolo contendere — no contest — to one count of misdemeanor sexual abuse in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in August 2001 for a sole charge of placing her hand on the patient’s clothed breast with sexual intent while Collado was her therapist. Collado knew, or had reason to know, that the sexual contact was against the patient’s permission, as the patient was an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital, according to the charge against Collado….
Collado was sentenced on Nov. 20, 2001. The prosecution requested she be sentenced to go to counseling for mental health providers who sexually assault their patients, perform 120 hours of community service, and write the victim a letter of apology. Dorsey sentenced her to a 30-day suspended sentence, 18 months of supervised probation, an order to stay away from the patient, and 80 hours of community service.
The student newspaper noted that Collado denies that she engaged in any sexual relationship with the patient, and says that she only pleaded ‘no contest’ because she couldn’t afford to fight the case and had personal troubles of her own:
Collado maintains her innocence and said she never had any sexual contact with the patient.
“I didn’t have the legal resources; I didn’t have the financial resources to, and I didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to really take this on the way I would have preferred,” Collado told The Ithacan. “So I took a different route. And like many people in this country, young people in this country, people of color, people who don’t have networks, that was me. This happens all the time, where you make this really difficult choice, even if it goes completely against the truth of who you are.”
The court file reviewed by the student newspaper, however, contained evidence that contradicted Collado’s claim of innocence:
Marcus-Kurn wrote that the patient’s two therapists and The Center’s director — it is unclear whether Marcus-Kurn is referring to Joan Turkus, The Center’s medical director, or Christine Courtois, The Center’s clinical director — all believed the patient’s allegations. Marcus-Kurn wrote that the two therapists had known the patient for a long period of time through numerous hospitalizations.
“They both find her to be an extremely truthful person, and although she may have flashbacks of prior abuse or may relive traumatic experiences, her therapists have stated that she does not fabricate or hallucinate things that simply did not happen,” Marcus-Kurn wrote. “In other words, she has not experienced psychotic episodes and has never been diagnosed as psychotic.”
One of Collado’s co-workers at The Center, who was familiar with the situation and wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the story, told The Ithacan they believe the patient’s allegation that she and Collado had a sexual relationship.
“She had no reason to lie about them,” the co-worker said. “She had no reason to lie.”
CNYCentral.com also reviewed the file, and interviewed a witness (it’s unclear if it’s the same witness interviewed by The Ithacan) who called into question Collado’s denial:
One therapist contacted this week, who did not want to be identified said, “the patient is very credible.” The therapist criticized President Collado for not giving a complete account. “Dr. Collado is very charismatic. She can carry the day because of that. She put the statement out ahead of time. It diminished some of the response.”
Faculty, Staff Rally Around Collado, Question Accusations
In the day and age of the #MeToo movement, one would have expected campus-wide revulsion to turn the campus sentiment against Collado.
But that is not what happened. To the contrary, the campus community has mostly rallied around Collado, accepting her claims of innocence, on the one hand, and dismissing her possible guilt as a one-time abberation from an otherwise stellar and ethical career.
The Ithaca College faculty Senate passed a motion backing Collado:
The Ithaca College Faculty Council passed a motion in support of President Shirley M. Collado at its meeting Jan. 23.
At the end of the meeting, the council passed a motion to go into executive session, restricted to faculty council members, so all guests, including The Ithacan, were asked to leave. Tom Swensen, professor and chair of the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences and chair of Faculty Council, said that during the executive session, the council discussed and passed a motion in support of Collado following the revelation of sexual abuse allegations against her and her subsequent conviction after pleading no contest. Swensen said the executive session was put in motion because it would allow faculty council members to be more open to discussing the sensitive topic.
“I don’t think we would have been able to have the same depth of conversation if everybody was there, visitors were there, if the press was there,” Swensen said. “It was something we needed to do.”
Not all faculty council members wanted the motion in support of President Collado to be passed, Swensen said.
Almost 200 faculty and staff signed a letter supporting Collado, accepting her denials and and calling into question the accusations against her, Letter to the Editor: Faculty and staff support Collado (emphasis added):
…. Then and now, President Collado claims she was innocent, but a lack of resources and support as well as a recent and devastating personal trauma left her feeling incapable of fighting the charge. Hence, she accepted a conviction, underwent probation and did community service as required, and proceeded to go on with her life. As her professional accomplishments demonstrate, she has done so with integrity, industry and honor in the years since, and has earned the respect, admiration and devotion of countless people with whom she has worked, as evidenced by the letters of support and praise that have been published in The Ithacan since its story first appeared.
We rehearse these background details for several reasons. We think it is important to remind both our own community and those beyond it that there has been no cover-up here: President Collado was transparent throughout the hiring process and beyond, though to varying degrees with different constituencies. It is true that the campus did not know the full details of the “steps” President Collado took “to end the legal action” that was brought against her, though she said enough in the “IC View” interview we just quoted to enable anyone who so wished to learn more, court cases being a matter of public record. For those who believe she should have been more forthcoming, we urge them to recall, as we emphasize in our first paragraph, that this matter was resolved in a court of law. While she asserts that she was innocent, she nevertheless accepted and abided by the terms of her conviction. Does she not deserve the right to carry on with her life with some degree of privacy, while also being honest, as she was, with those who had the primary responsibility for deciding whether to employ her?
While maintaining her innocence, President Collado freely admits that it was an error of judgment to allow a former psychiatric patient to move into her home. However, this was an error she describes as having been born out of compassion at a moment when she had recently endured a terrible loss—the suicide of her husband. Again, her youth and lack of resources should be taken into account when reflecting on this past mistake, as well as the fact that there is nothing in her life since then that would indicate a pattern. Indeed, in just five and a half short months, President Collado has unified our campus in a manner that contrasts strikingly with the discord, conflict, and suspicion that prevailed at Ithaca College for some time before her arrival. She has rapidly gained our affection, our admiration and our trust, and these recent disclosures have not altered that, though they will no doubt spark productive and nuanced conversations on our campus about how people move forward after terrible events, recover and learn from their own failings and those of others, and need not be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to them.
In short, we hereby affirm our faith and confidence in President Collado and in the process that brought her to our campus, as well as our optimism about the future toward which we trust she will ably steer our college.
A group of faculty and staff also paid for and distributed stickers in support of Collado that were handed out at a campus event:
A clarification to the article “Collado emphasizes commitment to leadership at All-College Gathering”
The article that summarized the All-College Gathering mentioned “Stickers that said “President Collado has my full support” were handed out at the entrance of the Athletics and Events Center by Sybil Conrad, assistant director of Campus Center and Events Services, and others.”
We would like to clarify that a small group of faculty and staff came up with the idea of having these stickers available to those who wished to show support for the President. The stickers were privately purchased and were available to anyone who wanted one. Those of us distributing the stickers were clear in our messaging that they were available but not expected or required.
Our small group, not unlike those faculty and staff who circulated a letter to the editor in support of President Collado, developed the stickers and paid for them privately as a way to “affirm our faith and confidence in President Collado”.
A major donor to the college, Adelaide Park Gomer, the head of the Park Foundation (a major supporter of liberal causes), announced her support for Collado, dismissing the accusations against her (emphasis added):
Dr. Shirley Collado has been a Godsend for Ithaca College. She arrived to heal a fractured and wounded campus after a firestorm of anger and no-confidence votes from students, faculty and staff frustrated with what they felt was an insufficient response to racist incidents on campus. She arrived with accolades from Rutgers University – Newark, where she was the former executive vice chancellor and COO, and with praise from Middlebury College where she served as vice president for student affairs and dean of the college, and associate professor of psychology. She arrived with a track record of service for the greater good. Dr. Collado’s mission is to move IC, in her words, “toward a more diverse student body and college experience,” by incorporating “diversity into every aspect of the institution.”
I feel it important to take a stand against the allegations contained in the article about Dr. Collado. Before we pass judgment on Dr. Collado’s character, let’s remind ourselves that the accusations arrived anonymously.
As a longtime member of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, I am relieved that the Board, who thoroughly vetted her prior to her being hired, stands 100% behind her. She has been welcomed with open arms by the IC faculty, students and staff. One of the most uplifting moments I have experienced lately was during her inauguration. The excitement expressed at the A and E Center for her arrival as the new president was remarkable. I feel she is the perfect leader at this important juncture to shepherd the College into a progressive and harmonious future.
Anne Hendershott at Minding the Campus notes how Collado, with faculty help, has assumed the role of victim and the Editor-in-Chief of The Ithacan is under attack for publishing the story:
In contrast, Aidan Quigley, the beleaguered editor-in-chief of The Ithacan who broke the story after receiving a packet of court materials in the mail on the 2001 case from an anonymous sender, seems to be receiving few campus accolades for his courageous reporting. Letters to the editor of The Ithacan, from some Ithaca faculty members, took a harsh position against the student editor. Professor Nick Kowalczyk called Quigley’s story “shoddy reporting at best…. That this story broke quickly on Fox News and within 18 hours was commented upon no less than 922 right-wing trolls, whose comments are rife with misogyny and bigotry and white fragility suggests exactly where the sender of the anonymous package hoped for the story to land.”
Ignoring the 2001 court documents, including the witness statements, Kowalczyk simply assumes Collado’s innocence. Likewise, Harriet Malinowitz, an Ithaca lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies wrote, “As a part-time faculty and as LGBTQ faculty, I have had my views explicitly sought by her and discussed with the kind of reflectiveness and care one usually only dreams of from a higher ed administrator. I think that she is a gem. …I am sure she is suffering greatly right now, and I hope others will join me in extending her massive outpourings of support.”
Identity Politics At Play?
The widespread belief in Collado’s account of events is not universal, though it’s understandable that not many students, staff and faculty are speaking out publicly.
Student Evan Popp wrote in the school newspaper how identity politics may be responsible for the campus rallying around Collado (emphasis added):
In addition, some reactions to the story have followed a dangerous logical thread. A common argument by the story’s critics is that because Collado is likeable and has been a breath of fresh air, we should believe her denial of the sexual abuse allegation. But that attitude opens the door to free passes in the future and saps the community of the will to hold Collado accountable. In addition, complete belief of Collado’s denial rejects her accuser at a time when speaking up about sexual abuse is encouraged.
The argument has also been made that the criticism of Collado following the story is racist and/or sexist. However, the end result of this argument seems to indicate that women of color in positions of power shouldn’t be criticized in any way — a dangerous line of reasoning.
Patient Stands By Her Accusations — Faculty/Staff Cognitive Dissonance?
Against this backdrop of Collado proclaiming her innocence, a key component of campus support, the patient at issue has come forward to the student newspaper.
The patient is standing by her accusations, as this update to the original Ithacan story states:
Update Jan. 31: The patient who alleged she and Shirley M. Collado — who was her therapist in 2000 and is now the president of Ithaca College — entered into a sexual relationship in 2000 has come forward to affirm that she stands by the account of the case she gave the prosecution in 2001. The patient also said she did not send the anonymous packages that were circulating with information about the case and does not know who did.
The patient who alleged she and Shirley M. Collado entered into a sexual relationship in 2000 has come forward to affirm that she stands by the account of the case she gave the prosecution in 2001. https://t.co/S5uHJptzi3
— The Ithacan (@IthacanOnline) January 31, 2018
Will this patient be believed? This was not some random anonymous accusation, it was prosecuted and there was evidence to support it.
There’s an inherent conflict in the campus defense of Collado. If Collado’s allege victim is to be believed, then Collado’s continued protestations of innocence would reflect someone who has not accepted responsibility. If Collado’s alleged victim is not to be believed in this circumstance of a prosecution and conviction, then the #MeToo movement means nothing on campus.
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