President Karol Mason Addresses Sexual Misconduct Allegations in Town Hall Meeting

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President Karol Mason Addresses Sexual Misconduct Allegations in Town Hall Meeting

Nanci Avalos Omaña

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John Jay is standing in the midst of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport movements, as it’s community participated in a national walk-out for survivors of harassment and also came together on campus for a Town Hall meeting to address the sexual misconduct allegations that surfaced in the college in September.

The meeting, held on October 1st, opened up with statements from President Karol Mason, Faculty Senate President Ned Benton, and Student Council President Jasmine Awad, followed by a Q&A from the John Jay community.

Over 100 people were in attendance in room L.61, including the accusers Naomi Haber and Claudia Cojocaru, and those not in the room watched the live stream online.

Haber and Cojocaru wore black and sat in the back of the room in silence, as a way of protest.

President Mason confirmed to everyone that there is still an ongoing Title IX investigation as well as an outside criminal investigation, despite Haber’s message sent through the JJAY Students app claiming that the investigation was canceled.

“The one thing I want to correct to make sure everybody understands is John Jay is continuing to investigate this matter, we have an obligation under Title IX and under state law to continue our investigation and so any inference that we are not is not true,” President Mason said.

Although questions were addressed to everyone on the panel, the majority were for President Mason, with specific questions demanding answers regarding details of the investigation.

President Mason kept alluding to Title IX’s confidentiality rule as her reason for not being able to reveal any details from either side.

“The challenge with Title IX matters is that I cannot share what’s happening with you so there is no transparency because you’ve got to maintain the integrity and fairness and due process of the process so, things you’re asking for I cannot tell you but what I can say is that we increased the resources that we have in our Title IX office,” she said.

Soon thereafter, memes began to flood the JJAY Students app, as it became obvious that the answer to almost every question was a referral to go to The Wellness Center, the Women’s Center for Gender Justice, the Public Safety office, and the Title IX office on campus.

This was the President’s go-to answer whenever students expressed concerns about no longer feeling safe on campus or when a student expressed being bullied by the accusers.

In addition, there were flyers circulating in the back of the room with a list of resources for all students.

Bridgette Cabrera, an APPLE Corps student who has worked with Richard Curtis, one of the accused professors, was actually satisfied with President Mason’s answers.

“Based on what she said, that she is not able to give details, specific answers, I understand where she’s coming from, so I’m satisfied with the answers I got because of her situation,” she said.

Cabrera also expressed concerns over the credibility that her work with Richard Curtis, through APPLE Corps, will now hold. She voiced her desire to get the recognition that she and her peers deserve for their hard work.  

Accuser Claudia Cojocaru took to Twitter to respond to the statements President Mason was giving. In one particular tweet, she called out the Title IX office for the way they treated her and Haber.

“These are the people who made us perform like circus animals, taking turns in humiliating and re-traumatizing us,” she tweeted during the meeting.

The Sentinel reached out to the accused professors’ attorneys for comments after the identities of the accusers became public and a new allegation about drug use in the college surfaced.

Anthony Marcus’ attorney failed to respond as did Ric Curtis’ attorney.

Carmen Jack Giordano, who represents Barry Spunt and Leonardo Dominguez, the fourth professor accused, said the investigator that John Jay hired to conduct a Title IX sexual harassment investigation is doing a “tremendous disservice to CUNY.”

“The investigation is supposed to be focused on accusations of sexual misconduct, but instead, the investigator is preoccupied with pot smoking,” he said.

Giordano reaffirmed his clients are not guilty and said the allegations against them “pollute the atmosphere and diminish important dialogue and advocacy against sexual harassment and violence toward women.”     

Dominguez and Haber knew each other prior to Dominguez becoming a Professor at John Jay for the first time in Spring 2017, according to Giordano.

According to text messages given to the Sentinel, Dominguez frequently met up with Haber and Cojocaru in Barry Spunt’s office in 2016 and 2017.

Giordano affirmed that Spunt had an open door policy and almost anyone that wanted to could get into his office.

Haber and Cojocaru’s attorney Edgar L. Fankbonner declined to comment on the text messages.

“There is an ongoing formal investigation by the proper authorities and for that reason, we have no comment to offer,” he said.

According to Giordano, Cojocaru was not going to be rehired as an adjunct, and she knew that.

“When John Jay received her complaint, they decided they had to rehire her as an adjunct because they’re afraid of getting sued,” he said.

Students protesting in the name of            #BelieveSurvivors on Columbus Circle and              Broadway – photo by John Eric Ilawan

The Sentinel reached out to the President’s Office for comment, and their statement was the same one given in September.

As for the John Jay community, many participated in a national walkout in the name of #BelieveSurvivors on September 24th.

Students continue to express their concern about campus safety.

“It saddens me that we have a current ongoing case with a government official, Brett Kavanaugh, and to see that it has reached our campus is really disappointing because one would think campus would be a safe zone, but it is not,” said Sari Mendoza, a junior majoring in Law and Society.

Other students like Ines Cedillo, a junior majoring in Forensic Science, hope justice is served.

“I was surprised learning that this has been happening since May, and we are only finding out about it in September,” she said. “I hope justice is served if those allegations are true, I hope our school can learn from this to prevent it from happening in the future.”

Editor Mohamed Ndiaye and Professor Capeloto’s ENG 233 class contributed to this story.

Photo: John Jay Community at the Town Hall meeting on October 1st. – taken by Jacqueline Aguilar