Prevalence of Sexual Misconduct: A Look at Dartmouth

Prevalence of Sexual Misconduct: A Look at Dartmouth

the above photo is taken from a photo series by Olivia Kurtz about sexual assault


At the end of October, three professors at Dartmouth College were put on paid leave while a criminal investigation of alleged sexual misconduct is underway. The three professors in question are Todd F. Heatherton, William M. Kelly, and Paul J. Whalen, all members of Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, whose research included studies of sexual desire and attractiveness. Their access to the Dartmouth campus has been restricted.


Few details have been released by either the college or the authorities conducting the investigation. One of the professors, Dr. Todd F. Heatherton, had been an unpaid visiting scholar at New York University (NYU) since July of 2017. Heatherton had no classroom duties, but his time there abruptly ended as soon as N.Y.U. was made aware of the investigation, mere days before the news reached the public.  N.Y.U. spokesman John Beckman told The New York Times that “N.Y.U. was unaware of the Dartmouth investigation until quite recently. The university was given no specifics about its nature or duration.”


Heatherton additionally led a center for social brain sciences, and conducted research in social behavior focusing on self-regulation, self-esteem, and self-referential processing, according to Dartmouth’s website.


Craig Wilcox, a freshman studying economics and linguistics said, “Students in the department were shocked to hear of the allegations.”


Dr. Whalen runs the eponymous Whalen Lab, which conducts research on the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions. He has also delivered a TedxDartmouth talk.


Drs. Heatherton and Kelly were included as authors of a 2012 study researching how images of food and sex affect the brain, in which 58 female freshmen underwent brain scans shortly after arriving on campus while viewing 80 images of animals, environment scenes, food items, and people –some including sexual scenes. Six month after the brain scan, the women were called back to the lab and questioned about their sexual behavior. Details are unclear as to how many accounts of alleged misconduct occured. Dr. Whalen was listed as having assisted them with the same study.


Wilcox added, “I was not expecting the alleged collusion between the professors, which I think contributed to the severity of the situation.”


Dartmouth’s president, Philip J. Hanlon, refuted the idea that they were involved in the unethical treatment of research subjects, but Simine Vazire, a tenured professor of psychology at University of California-Davis told Slate Magazine that several weeks before the news broke, she learned from a colleague that Dartmouth was seeking information about potential sexual misconduct by its faculty. On Oct. 17, Vazire told an investigator about an incident from early 2002, in which she claims Heatherton groped her at an academic conference.


When asked what Wilcox’s biggest takeaway was from the incident, he concluded, “I’ve learned that sexual misconduct is much more prevalent than I’d like to believe. Given the recent movement against Harvey Weinstein and sexual assaults in general, I think that more incidents similar to this will come to light as victims step forward.”