A political science professor who has accused Virginia’s lieutenant governor of sexual assault — contributing to turmoil in that state’s government — once taught at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
Vanessa C. Tyson, 42, was at the small liberal arts college in Cumberland County for about eight years until June 2015, the college confirmed Thursday. She’s now an associate professor of politics and expert in black history at Scripps College in California, and a political science fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
On Wednesday, Tyson released a statement saying Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax had forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax has denied the allegation. He is potentially in line to become governor as Virginia reels from a scandal that now involves its top three officials.
At Dickinson, Tyson taught topics including American government; political representation; and marginalization of groups through racism, sexism, and homophobia, according to the Dickinsonian, the student newspaper. She’s a graduate of Princeton University and has a doctorate from the University of Chicago.
Dickinson declined to say why Tyson left. She was not tenured. A 2016 opinion column in the Dickinsonian by Peter Soeller, a 2014 alumnus, alleged that she had been unfairly removed “after issues with her department.”
“Tyson was not a radical,” Soeller wrote. “While holding more left-wing personal opinions, the professionalism in which Tyson conducted herself ensured that she did not mix her beliefs with her classes. Yet, she was sacked nonetheless.”
In an interview Thursday, Soeller said he had Tyson for a class on Congress, and she was “wonderful” and “very thought provoking.”
Soeller, 26, a street photographer in New York, said he was “really not surprised" to learn his former professor came forward with the accusation. “She was going to stick up for herself. She sticks up for what she believes in," he said. "That’s how she conducts herself as a teacher.”
Tyson has helped victims of sexual assault and has talked about being a victim of incest and molestation, according to the New York Times.
In her statement Wednesday, she described how she met Fairfax at the convention, where she was working, and they struck up a cordial relationship.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” she wrote. “Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch. Only then did I realize that he had unbuckled his belt, unzipped his pants, and taken out his penis. He then forced his penis into my mouth. Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not because his hand was holding down my neck and he was much stronger than me. As I cried and gagged, Mr. Fairfax forced me to perform oral sex on him.”
She wrote that she suffered humiliation and shame and did not see him again after that. She had previously disclosed her allegation to the Washington Post, which she said decided last year not to run the story. Her statement came as Fairfax emerged as a potential replacement for the current governor, Ralph Northam.