‘I was hurt’: Morehouse president talks about campus rape allegations

Update: In August of 2016, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard had decided not to prosecute cases referenced below. See https://www.ajc.com/news/local/declines-bring-charges-georgia-tech-morehouse-rape-cases/fqMxHIYoovZ570G0fSKqCM/ for details.

Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson said he’s confident the school acted quickly and appropriately in responding to allegations that three Morehouse basketball players raped a Spelman student in a dorm room.

In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wilson said he has been in communication with Spelman President Beverly Daniel Tatum about that incident and another alleged assault involving a Spelman student at the hands of a Morehouse student.

But perhaps the most important conversation he and Morehouse administrators will have, he said, is one with students, focused on sex, drugs, alcohol and the expectations of good conduct.

“We are going to deal with these issues in a more aggressive way as we use this spring and summer to set ourselves up to have a different kind of approach to student development,” said Wilson, who is just months into his new job after a stint working in the White House. “I want to see if we can give that process more strength and texture.”

Police say Chukwudi Ndudikwa, Malcolm Jamal Frank and Tevin Mgbo, all members of the Morehouse basketball team, drugged, kidnapped and raped an 18-year-old Spelman College freshman in a campus dormitory room on March 8. Reports suggest the victim might have been under the influence of “Molly,” a suddenly hot party drug.

In another incident, former football player Lucien Kidd was charged with raping another Spelman student. All four students were arrested in mid-April, and Wilson said each student has been “separated” from the college.

On Friday, Wilson talked about the impact the crisis has had on the nation’s only historically black college for men, and how President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit could alter the narrative — at least for a little while.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

You are still relatively new to the campus as far as your presidency is concerned. How has this incident shaped things?

This goes straight to character. I am concerned about character development in our students. I came here concerned about that. We need African-American men of high character. Morehouse has been known to shape men that way. When these things happen on campus, and I say this is my trial by fire, I am concerned about it.

You are a 1979 Morehouse graduate. Are you surprised at how students have changed?

Not really, because I have a son, so I have not been too distant from the evolution of youth culture. But it is a challenge. Personally, when we got the report of alleged sexual assault … I have twin daughters. So when this happened, my first thought was what would I want to see happen as I think about the safety of my own daughters.

What is Morehouse’s official policy on handling such crimes and turning it over to the police?

We got in touch with the Atlanta Police Department immediately. There are obligations under the Clery Act that we followed. I am confident that we were by the book on this. I was very clear immediately that we take this matter seriously. That it needs to be handled with care. Again, you don’t presume guilt or innocence, you just handle it responsibly.

What was it like standing in front of your students and telling them four of their brothers had been accused of rape?

It was hard. Really hard. They knew that I was hurt by it. I have come here looking to move Morehouse to a stronger, higher place, and it is hard to have that conversation when something like this happens. You don’t want people wondering what you are about. Morehouse has had an awesome brand for a long time, so people haven’t wondered what Morehouse is about. But when things like this happen … if it happens too often, they might begin to.

What is the status of the four men and have you talked to them?

I have not spoken with them. It is under investigation. It is very sensitive and that is about all I can say on that.

Will this have a lasting impact on Morehouse’s image?

Our image is pretty solid. We have years and years of producing strong men who are the antithesis of this kind of thing. That is a hard history to overshadow with behavior to the contrary. I don’t see the threat in those terms. On the other hand, we are not perfect. We are an institution, made up of human beings.

What is the campus policy on drug and alcohol use?

It is prohibited. That kind of conduct is at odds with what we are trying to do to develop Morehouse men.

Will this have any impact on the president coming?

No. Not at all. I am not aware of any impact at all. His arrival here later this month is just a great thing for us.

Will this shift the conversation?

It is going to be a magical event. The idea of about 500 African-American men being addressed by the most powerful man in the free world who happens to be an African-American man is a powerful image. We expect that it will be a great day in the history of Morehouse College.

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