CofC finally takes sexual assault allegations seriously 

A New Tune

UPDATE: The College of Charleston Department of Public Safety has closed its investigation of sexual misconduct charges against Enrique Graf, saying that it has has "determined that there is not sufficient evidence to support an arrest or criminal charges." Read more here.

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Enrique Graf is an acclaimed piano player, someone The New York Times referred to as playing with "fiery virtuosity." Students nationwide and globally sought him out to work with him. And according to documents released by the College of Charleston, he is accused of sexually assaulting several of them. Two of the allegations were presented to CofC officials in 1994 and 2006. A third allegation was brought to the college's attention in 2013.

Recently the Post and Courier requested a large number of documents from CofC under the Freedom of Information Act. I've reviewed all the documents, as has City Paper reporter Paul Bowers. Together the documents tell a complicated story about three critical moments in the college's history.

One former student of Graf's said in an affadavit that during his first year in college, Graf "rubbed his genitals over my face and I felt as though I was paralyzed, I was shaking and the emotions were incomprehensible." He continued, "I felt violated, disgusted, and betrayed." Another claimed that "Enrique would masturbate in front of me, often asking me to masturbate in front of him as well, despite my reluctance. On a few occasions ... Enrique performed oral sex on me. Since I could not get an erection, Enrique would harass me and say things like, 'It's all in your mind' and 'You need to relax.'"

If these allegations are true, Graf may have used his status as a faculty member to make students believe he had power over them. As a prestigious piano player, he was well respected within the college's Department of Music as well as music programs at other schools. He recruited students, many of whom may have believed that he controlled piano scholarships.

A student who was allegedly abused by Graf in 1983 when the student was 16 said, "[Enrique] began to position himself as the only one who could help me obtain a successful piano career ... [He] said I needed to remove myself from my parents' upbringing so he could elevate me in my career. He made me feel as if I had to depend on him for everything." Another student claimed, "I was very frightened of Mr. Graf. He threatened that if I did not do 'what he asked,' I would lose my scholarship and on another occasion that 'I should pack.'"

In 1994, a student told the chair of the Department of Music, the dean of the School of the Arts, and even the provost that Graf had repeatedly assaulted him. Then the student withdrew his claim. Ultimately, the provost requested that Graf be "more aware of the need to avoid situations and activities which, though apparently innocent and well-intended, may furnish the factual foundation upon which serious allegations of misconduct may be erected."

In 2006 the wife of a former grad school student of Graf's contacted CofC to share the trauma her husband alledgedly experienced. She wrote, "This abuse ruined [my husband's] life, our marriage, and possibly the life of our 2-year-old daughter.... And all along Enrique is leading a happy life teaching in prestigious schools, giving concerts, and getting attention and gratitude from unaware parents!" The chair of the Department of Music and the dean of the School of the Arts were informed and reported to their superiors that they received the emails, but apparently there's no record of what happened.

In January 2013, CofC received yet another complaint from a currently enrolled student. By this time the college had a new set of administrators, and they appear to have approached the allegations very differently from their predecessors. They took the complaints quite seriously, with some administrators working hundreds of hours on this case.

Graf never had an official hearing — he resigned from the College of Charleston on June 1, just before his hearing was scheduled to begin. I don't think the hearing would have gone well for Graf. Indeed, one of the outside attorneys working for CofC on the case told Graf's attorney, "the College's case will be based on the live testimony of current and former students who will tell harrowing tales of sexual assault and abuse by Mr. Graf, not to mention live testimony concerning the provision of alcohol and illegal drugs to underage students.... This core testimony ... is more than enough to warrant Mr. Graf's dismissal."

The appearance that a college is tolerating sexual misconduct isn't confined to CofC or the Citadel, which has experienced its own troubles. College campuses nationwide have apparently accepted sexual assault, looked away in spite of horrific evidence, and blamed victims. In recent days the University of Connecticut has begun investigating allegations that one of its music professors had been molesting children for decades. Penn State's recent scandal is still being investigated to see how many high-ranking officials knew about the abuse. Schools across the country have allowed offenders to learn that the consequences of raping their classmates, their students, or even children are slaps on the wrist — if that. Some alleged offenders have learned that there are no consequences whatsoever.

It seems to me that the College of Charleston could have done more with the allegations in 1994 and 2006. However, in 2013 CofC began to address these allegations appropriately. While the investigation was ongoing, Graf was not allowed to come on campus without written permission and an escort from a campus police officer, and he was not allowed to teach or even to be around students. CofC has already changed some of its policies and is examining additional ones to make the campus safe for all students.

Current CofC administrators investigated this matter responsibly and as thoroughly as possible. I would go so far as to suggest that the college's 2013 response to these allegations is a model for best practices and should be emulated by institutions nationwide. But while I congratulate today's College of Charleston administrators, I wish we knew why it took CofC this long to take these claims seriously.

Alison Piepmeier directs the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the College of Charleston.


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