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Report: Racist graffiti and attack on Simon’s Rock student likely ‘staged’

According to Simon's Rock administrators, who did not disclose the name of the firm that the college hired, the investigators spent several days on campus, interviewed 29 people, conferred with Great Barrington police, and reviewed documentary evidence.

Great Barrington — After an extensive probe, a team of investigators hired by Bard College at Simon’s Rock have concluded that a reported assault and earlier reports of racist graffiti on the campus were likely events “staged in order to provoke further conversation on campus about racism.”

Those findings, first reported by the Berkshire Eagle, were disclosed by Simon’s Rock administrators in a Dec. 23 email to the college community. Click here to read the email in its entirety.

The college’s investigation is consistent with the conclusion reached in October by the office of Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, who cast doubt on the veracity of the student victim’s claims, noting that, after three interviews and an examination of the available evidence, key elements of the student’s story simply did not line up.

The Daniel Art Center at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington. Photo: Terry Cowgill

After an extensive investigation of their own, police and the DA’s office dropped the investigation in November. The alleged assault was reported Sept. 27 and the two incidents of racist graffiti were reported earlier, on Sept. 12 and Sept. 25.

According to Simon’s Rock administrators, who did not disclose the name of the firm that the college hired, the investigators spent several days on campus, interviewed 29 people, conferred with Great Barrington police, and reviewed documentary evidence, “including communications sent by College employees and officials; photographs of the graffiti; and the physical location and surroundings of the reported assault.”

“After thorough investigations were completed, neither the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office nor our own independent investigator was able to find sufficient evidence to determine that an assault occurred on campus,” stated the email, which was signed by provost and vice president Ian Bickford (who is currently on leave), acting provost Dimitri Papadimitriou and vice provost Sue Lyon.

Bard College at Simon’s Rock acting provost Dimitri Papadimitriou. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

The college says that investigators found no individual or group claiming responsibility or acknowledging — even anonymously — “the hateful language or symbols found on campus, which tends to be inconsistent with attempts to stoke fear in a community.”

Perhaps most significantly, based on interviews and documentary evidence, the independent investigators concluded it was likely “that events on campus were staged in order to provoke further conversation on campus about racism.”

The college did not say whether the student who made the false report had been disciplined or expelled. Harrington has said that “police and prosecutors have determined there is insufficient evidence to charge the student with making a false report to law enforcement.”

Multiple law enforcement agencies, including Simon’s Rock Campus Safety, Great Barrington Police Department, State Police Detective Unit assigned to the DA’s Office, State Police Crime Scene Services Section, and forensic scientists assigned to the State Police Crime Lab “devoted significant resources to investigating this matter given the disturbing nature of the report and the concerns over potential racial motivations for the attack,” Harrington said in November.

The Mods, an apartment-style residence for Bard College at Simon’s Rock students, located between the Daniel Arts Center and the Kellogg Music Center. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The student claimed to have been assaulted, rendered unconscious and dragged approximately 75 yards into the woods. The student reported later waking with cuts through her clothing, resulting in cuts to her torso. However, those superficial wounds did not align with the cuts on her clothing, police said.

While acknowledging the investigation’s conclusions, the administrators insisted that the community “cannot close our eyes or minds to the reality of racial injustice or our responsibility to those most vulnerable to hate.” The college’s goal, they added, of “a more equitable, inclusive, and safe community remains steadfast and ongoing.”

The Campus Safety department at Simon’s Rock received a call shortly before 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, with a report that a student of color had been assaulted in a wooded area on campus. The student, whose name and age have not been released, was transported by ambulance to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, and treated for minor injuries and discharged. The incident was preceded by the appearance of anti-Semitic graffiti and racial slurs written on the walls of campus buildings.

The incident alarmed students, faculty and staff on the wooded 275-acre campus on Alford Road. The college canceled classes for a week and one professor reportedly resigned because she felt the college had mishandled these and other similar incidents.

Simon’s Rock says it has hired Emergency Response Consulting to conduct a campus safety audit that will review programs, services, policies and procedures as well as a thorough review of the physical environment.

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