Former Dickinson Prof. Alleges Assault from Va. Lt. Governor

Rachael Franchini ’19, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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A former Dickinson professor is deepening the controversy concerning the potential resignation of current Va. Governor Ralph Northam by accusing the man poised to replace him of sexually assaulting her in 2004. Northam is alleged to be in blackface or Ku Klux Klan robes in a picture recently unearthed from graduate school, prompting strong pressure to resign.

Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College and a fellow of political science at Stanford University, has alleged that Justin Fairfax, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, assaulted her at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax was a campaign staffer at the time.

Tyson was a member of the political science department at Dickinson and left in 2014. She taught topics ranging from American government to political representation, marginalization of groups through racism, sexism and homophobia. 

David Strand, Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science and chair of the political science department, confirmed that she taught at Dickinson for “several years” and “was a member of our [the political science] department.”

The incident became public when Tyson gave friend Adria Scharf permission to share a message:

“Imagine you were sexually assaulted during the DNC convention in Boston in 2004 by a campaign staffer and you spend the next 13 years trying to forget it ever happened until one day you find out he’s the Democratic candidate for statewide office in a state some 3000 miles away, and he wins that election in November 2017. Then by strange, horrible luck, it seems increasingly likely that he’ll get a very big promotion,” the post reads. 

The right-wing website Big League Politics, which also released the racist photo Northam is alleged to be in, published a story following this post connecting Tyson’s words to Fairfax, who won the race as Lieutenant Governor in 2017. Fairfax’s team released a statement denying the allegations.

According to Fairfax’s statement, which was posted on his Twitter page, this allegation surfaced when he was elected Lt. Governor when Tyson took the story to The Washington Post. Fairfax claims The Post investigated the story and found “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations.” The Post denied such inconsistencies in a Feb. 4 article, clarifying “The Post could not find anyone who could corroborate either version,” in reference to Tyson’s and Fairfax’s perspectives of the encounter. Both have confirmed that there was a sexual encounter between the two at the time indicated by Tyson, according to a video posted by CBS evening news, however they are at odds about whether it was consensual. 

Fairfax has also indicated that he thinks the allegations are part of a “smear” campaign because he is in a position to ascend politically, and initially implied that Northam could be behind such efforts. However, Fairfax later told reporters he had “no indication” of any involvement from Northam, according to a Feb. 4 article from The New York Times. 

Attempts to contact Tyson were not successful prior to print time.