A lot of people in that building were pretty fragile
April 29, 2019 9:24 AM   Subscribe

The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence What happened to the group of bright college students who fell under the sway of a classmate’s father? (Ezra Marcus and James D. Walsh for New York, includes descriptions of violence and abuse) posted by box (49 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I can't really read it because I've known lots of abusive cult-leadery men and I don't need any more of that in my head, but how in the FSM's name did Sarah Lawrence allow this guy to live on campus?
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:38 AM on April 29 [15 favorites]

Evicting probably wouldn't have helped, since he manipulated them just as easily in private housing, but SLC should have at least done the minimal oversight of evicting the *convicted felon* non-student from housing.
posted by tavella at 9:46 AM on April 29 [8 favorites]

SLC should have at least done the minimal oversight of evicting the *convicted felon* non-student from housing

This is where I am at. What the ever loving fuck?! The Dean of Students saying, "Oh, well, we can't stop a father visiting his daughter." I may have gone to college a long time ago, but I work at a university now and they absolutely can and will stop a grownass man from squatting in a college dorm indefinitely. It doesn't matter if he's related to a student. You can't just move yourself in to college property and set up light housekeeping if you're not a student. SLC should be sued into oblivion and I am baffled as to why they have not been already.

Anyway, hooboy. That was a lot. Terrifying.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:17 AM on April 29 [46 favorites]

“Part of why I got in a cult at all was because I had no idea how one finds a place to live in New York.”

Not to undermine any of the other terrible stuff going on here, but this really underscores how much having access to safe, available, affordable housing can help people avoid and escape fucked-up situations.
posted by ITheCosmos at 10:36 AM on April 29 [88 favorites]

That was horrifying. So many of our systems of dealing with the world -- whether informal and personal ones, or formal institutional and legal ones -- rely on the antagonist not being a skilled sociopath. More or less by definition. I guess the only good news is that Ray didn't try and take over a country.
posted by PandaMomentum at 10:40 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

I guess the only good news is that Ray didn't try and take over a country.

Are you sure? Some of that CIA/NATO stuff...
posted by jacquilynne at 11:04 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

It seems really irresponsible to actually interview cult leaders for articles like this one. It can't and will never give any insight and it only serves to legitimize them for future victims. These journalists will now forever be part of Larry's fabulations.
posted by muddgirl at 11:04 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]

“My intentions are honorable intentions,” he says. “It’s the way I’ve lived my life, even through 20 years of this.”
It was having a relationship with someone who convincingly said that their intentions were honourable but who did some Larry-like things that put me on team actions-matter-more-than-intentions.
posted by clawsoon at 11:06 AM on April 29 [15 favorites]

Inhuman. JFC...
posted by j_curiouser at 11:18 AM on April 29

Wow. That's obviously a terrible guy, but holy cow Sarah Lawrence is screwed. How haven't they been sued yet?!
posted by kevinbelt at 11:59 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]

holy cow Sarah Lawrence is screwed. How haven't they been sued yet?!

I wouldn't be sure they'll ever be sued. They're probably highly indemnified by a lack of actual complaints. If people had complained about his behavior, it'd be one thing. But he was welcomed in, and was not publicly disruptive.

It's the same reason why they can't legally remove these folks from him, despite being self-evidently cult behavior. They're over 18, consenting adults.
posted by explosion at 12:08 PM on April 29

But at least set of parents did complain, and SLC said 'oh, well, can't do anything about that'. So I don't think they are quite as safe as you think, at least if the parents were paying all or part of the college costs. Also, if you allow a hazardous condition in your housing to continue after you are notified of it, I'm pretty sure that you can't claim immunity from lawsuits when someone gets hurt even if they didn't personally complain, though IANAL.
posted by tavella at 12:18 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]

I still can't get over the fact that they apparently didn't have a policy against a student moving her father into her dorm room. I could swear that when I was in college, there was a limit on how long you could have a guest stay in your room.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:20 PM on April 29 [26 favorites]

This article was a great reminder that not all cults are religious and splashy/colorful. They can be as "mundane" as some middle aged dude insinuating himself amongst a group of vulnerable college kids. Terrifying and horrifying. I bet that guy has buried a few bodies in his time that we'll never know about.
posted by treepour at 12:31 PM on April 29 [6 favorites]

Here's the Sarah Lawrence Student Handbook about guests:
The privilege of having guests shall not be construed to permit or encourage extended visits by persons not enrolled as residential students at Sarah Lawrence. Students in campus housing have two basic rights: the right to access their rooms and the right to sleep at any time without visitors present. Students who have roommates must obtain the permission of the roommate(s) to have an overnight guest. Guest passes are valid for up to four consecutive days. A guest may not be registered more than twice in a 30-day period, and there must be at least seven days between each pass period.

If a residential student has a guest (defined as a non-student or non-residential student) staying beyond four days, both the student and the guest may face disciplinary sanctions. In the event of a complaint about a guest or other consideration, the College reserves the right to define the length and terms of the guest’s access to campus and may restrict a guest from campus at any time. If a guest has caused problems on campus, a letter may be issued informing that person they are no longer welcome here. If that person then returns to campus, the police may be called and the student may be subject to disciplinary action. If a guest is responsible for damage on campus, Campus Operations may enlist the help of the student host in collecting the cost of repair from the guest.
So, they totally have a policy about this (as is to be expected--every residential college in the country has similar guest policies because of exactly this kind of "awful person gaining access to students" scenario). I'm not sure what the parents of the student said to the Dean of Students (did they not adequately communicate that it wasn't just a dad visiting a student, but a dad living with that student and all of that student's housemates?) but, like, this was a clear failure of the college to enforce its own policies.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:37 PM on April 29 [18 favorites]

Charlie Manson is alive and well.

I may have gone to college a long time ago, but I work at a university now and they absolutely can and will stop a grownass man from squatting in a college dorm indefinitely.

Yeah, given the degree to which key cards and IDs regulate every student's and employee's activity on the average college and university campus, Sarah Lawrence's failure to evict a middle-aged man with a criminal record from one of their dormitories appears to be a shocking abdication of their duty to their residents.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:02 PM on April 29 [14 favorites]

Damn, I'd like to think that although I've encountered manipulative people in my daily life, I
haven't had anyone to that level of evil.

Great writing otherwise.

Calling them "kids" is a bit disingenuous because they were legally adults. People of all ages can be susceptible to this abuse and manipulation especially if they are going through or recently through psychological issues (one student attempting suicide in high school, another stating "I was having a lot of difficulty making sense of things, I wasn’t in a good place").

As someone who went to a college the same size as SL and relatively short amount of time, I'm really intrigued how SL administration didn't put a stop to this.
posted by fizzix at 1:48 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

An 18 year old may be an adult, but I'd still feel comfortable calling most of them kids, at least from the perspective of middle age. Though it's certainly true that there's no age that is immune to cultish manipulations, people at the beginning of adulthood and end of life tend to be the most vulnerable, as many a cult knows.
posted by tavella at 2:01 PM on April 29 [8 favorites]

The most startling thing about this story is the swerve into this guy's role as political matchmaker to the...current administration?? and then back to racking up bills for imaginary damages from his followers/victims.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:16 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]

This is terrifying. I feel for the parents. But how can the college overlook him living in their housing?
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:22 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

2 things I recognize in this story are college freshmen who are overwhelmed by and obsessed their own feelings and college administrators who just stonefaced do not care about literally anything that goes on in student housing. It's like the Wild West. I feel like we are all focusing on that because none of this had to happen and never should have happened and it was all already against the existing rules. The rules are only as good as the individuals who decide whether or not to care about them.
posted by bleep at 2:40 PM on April 29 [8 favorites]

I found this tumbler post, supposedly written by Claudia in 2013. It’s chilling to read the details from her perspective.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 3:02 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

Not reading that^^^
posted by j_curiouser at 3:13 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]

In the late 1980s at my school, there was a former student in her 30s sleeping in the common room of our dorm for almost six months. She had a series of relationships with women in the dorm, mostly seniors. There were rules against it, I suppose, and some people must have minded, but we felt sorry for her and she became kind of a dorm Aunt. Nobody did anything about it. The school must have known. Fortunately for us, she was only a little odd but it’s easy for me to look back and see how something much more malicious could have happened.
posted by frumiousb at 3:38 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

SLC should be sued into oblivion and I am baffled as to why they have not been already.

The students were legal adults. If they chose to enter into a cult, there's not much legal claim against the school. Liability for an independent third party's actions is generally difficult to establish, and most (though definitely not all!) of the conduct described here isn't even illegal to begin with.
posted by praemunire at 3:48 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

The thing is, I can totally see how a college administrator could look at that situation and think that here was a student who was facing a difficult life situation. Her father had just got out of prison and didn't have anywhere to go. This was a young woman who was dealing with serious problems, of a type which most Sarah Lawrence students don't confront, and it would be really heartless to enforce the no-guest rule, especially since her dorm-mates didn't mind. I have definitely pulled the "look, this student is dealing with disproportionately serious shit, and this rule is going to make it worse, so could we maybe be a little flexible here?" line in the past, and sometimes people with power will be a little flexible in those situations. On the other hand, this rule exists for a reason, and there were a lot of ways that this could have gone wrong that were more likely than the father using the dorm to recruit for his cult.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:51 PM on April 29 [5 favorites]

Yeah like the grown man sexually abusing all of the vulnerable legal adults who were children a few months ago which was definitely happening and apparently everyone knew because Claudia was telling everyone including the Dean.
posted by bleep at 3:55 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]

Except a quick google would reveal that the reason he went to prison meant that the administration should not be being soft-hearted (more like soft-headed), but keeping him the fuck away from her and any other young people, to their (considerable in this case) ability.
posted by tavella at 4:03 PM on April 29 [9 favorites]

Sarah Lawrence has enough money that someone in student services probably could've gotten the kid some money to put her dad up in the nearest Comfort Inn for a few days, but there is absolutely no way he should have been in campus housing. That's just an atrocious abdication of responsibility on their part.
posted by TwoStride at 5:43 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]

Horrifying indeed.
My daughter was in that same class at SLC. She lived in Slonim (3, not 9) the following year.
Could she have been a victim? I like to think that she is way too strong and way too smart for something like this. And I really do think she is. And I would have been stronger than those parents and would not have settled for the dean’s no balls answer. But who knows

“I didn’t want to go back home, and this was my alternative,” Daniel says. “Part of why I got in a cult at all was because I had no idea how one finds a place to live in New York.”
posted by SLC Mom at 6:24 PM on April 29 [5 favorites]

Also, they were sophomores, not first years, which is a time of both increased responsibility and vulnerability.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:30 PM on April 29

the grown man sexually abusing all of the vulnerable legal adults who were children a few months ago

College sophomores. Age of consent in NY is 17. No accusations of assault. If a college sophomore wants to sleep with a creepy older dude, again, not much for the cops (or the college administration) to be doing.

This is not in any way to excuse this psycho con man, but it illustrates the problems in dealing with this kind of behavior. Which continued off-campus for years, so I doubt even kicking him out would've solved the problem.
posted by praemunire at 7:36 PM on April 29

This story has so many weird angles. Do a quick bing for “Larry Ray Kerik”.
On the one hand it seems to check a lot of boxes for abuse. On the other there seems to be a long history of thinly veiled smear jobs going back and forth between Ray and Kerik.
posted by simra at 8:07 PM on April 29

not much for the cops (or the college administration) to be doing.
Like enforcing the college's own rules about non-students in dorms?
posted by bleep at 8:28 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

Yeah, hair-splitting about age of consent (which is...maybe not the hill to defend anymore) is irrelevant in the face of completely typical liability-type rules that every university has to prevent like a thousand different horrible dorm situations including "he doesn't even go here". Somebody could have shut this down fast, and didn't. That's not to say the whole party couldn't have moved to 93rd Street earlier, but I don't think he could have entrenched himself so thoroughly if his presence hadn't been implicitly condoned by the school's lack of action for an entire school year.

And that kind of thing is a big deal when you're dealing with newly-minted adults or anybody in a new unfamiliar situation. When shit happens and you look around and nobody's saying "no you can't do this", it starts to seem like it's fine and normal and what you should expect. This is a way that experienced adults often let down new ones, or exploit instead of correct.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:18 PM on April 29 [8 favorites]

The linked twitter account above seems to suggest the school did take actions but they're prevented from discussing them because of unspecified ongoing legal cases? And that one of the reporters here, an alumnus of the school, may have some kind of unspecified ulterior motive for how the reporting on this was handled, e.g. framing it as if it's about the college's wrongdoing. It's not clear from her tweets exactly what she's suggesting is going on.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:24 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]

The fact that she managed to overlook the entire companion article that discussed the reporting, including the fact that the author went to SLC himself, does not leave me overly impressed with the thread. And the vague assertions of wrongdoing in reporting the thing at all... well it's certainly not the magazine's responsibility to hold off publication for the sake of SLC's legal team. And if they were tied up with lawsuits, they could say just that -- "Sarah Lawrence cannot comment on this matter due to ongoing legal matters." They didn't.

I somewhat cynically wonder, given that she's a writer and apparently has inside info on the story, if she had been working on a story herself and got beaten to the post.
posted by tavella at 10:07 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

I didn't even realize those photos were from a photo shoot. WTF?
posted by muddgirl at 10:20 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

The fact that she managed to overlook the entire companion article that discussed the reporting

Agreed that this does seem kinda sloppy, but as far as weirdest things in that thread go, why on earth is Louise Mensch all over her (like, responding to multiple posts in the thread to repeatedly make the same point) about it?
posted by naoko at 11:29 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

Sarah Lawrence's administration, from the get go, sounds like they wanted any excuse to avoid a confrontation and any reason at all to make sure they knew as little as possible about what was going on with Larry in that dorm - for what I can only imagine was their negligent hope that they could then later feign ignorance when something serious came to public light. I assume that was their "brilliant" longterm legal strategy, anyway.

There is no way in hell this would have been permitted in my dorm (I also didn't go to SLC) but I'm pretty sure I am not alone in that. Our RAs would have reported it. I could also see our campus security showing up. "Parent" or not, we weren't allowed to keep squatters. But as I type this I am realizing how naive I sound. (One time the male head of our all-female dorm - yeah I don't get it either - had his old college pals, all men, show up and stay in the empty dorm rooms for a weekend. They left us notes on our door wipe board giving us their phone numbers and asking us out. We reported them, they got kicked out, and he got in some kind of wrist-slap trouble that allowed him to still keep his job. So, yeah, folks always somehow still get away with it.)

My heart breaks for the victims and their parents. He is actively destroying lives but out running around free; meanwhile, people of color are serving significantly more time for a single Marijuana offense than this man has served altogether.

It may be a common refrain but it's a true one and I won't stop pointing it out. We jail the wrong people because we've criminalized skin color and the system is rigged to ensure that keeps happening.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:21 AM on April 30 [7 favorites]

Yeah, hair-splitting about age of consent (which is...maybe not the hill to defend anymore) is irrelevant in the face of completely typical liability-type rules that every university has to prevent like a thousand different horrible dorm situations including "he doesn't even go here".

People in this thread were asking why SLC hasn't been sued (assuming it actually hasn't). I'm answering that question, which is largely a separate issue from whether SLC is morally liable. "Liability-type rules" are generally overprotective in the sense that they are written to put a healthy margin between the realm of actual legal liability and what the institution does, which means that just because they are broken doesn't necessarily mean that the institution is liable, but rather that the institution has taken on more risk of a difficult lawsuit than it wants. The mere fact that the college appears to have ignored its own restrictions on overnight guests means nothing in a strictly legal sense. New York has a bit more tenant-favorable case law for landlord liability for predictable harm than most states (which mostly have none), but, as a general rule, it's very hard to attribute liability for a third party's actions on premises to a landlord, and it looks like most of the actually illegal conduct (at least as described here, obviously it's certainly possible that things happened that didn't get reported) took place off-campus, anyway.

I'm not sure what the hair-splitting is, though. We have a bright-line age of consent; that's just how the law works. If these students were below the age of consent, there would be no question that any sexual activity he engaged in with any of these students would have been illegal, and a college standing by while a fifteen-year-old got raped should expect to be sued. Once you are nineteen years old, though, the law lets you consent to even exploitative sexual relationships, and there's not really a basis for a college--except maybe one of the extremely conservative colleges that explicitly police student sexual conduct--to intervene. Note that for many of these kids, their parents knew, and they couldn't do anything about it.

If I were a college administrator, would I let some student's dad live in student housing indefinitely? Of course not, for like fifteen different reasons, including the extreme creepiness, which would weigh much more heavily in my mind than whether or not we could be sued. I wouldn't want bad things happening to my students on campus even if we would never have to settle a lawsuit over them. I don't know what that SLC administrator was thinking. If I were their boss, I'd probably fire them. But there are some fairly severe limitations on the power, and thus the legal responsibility, of a college to control otherwise legal student conduct. And that's probably why SLC hasn't been sued. (Either that or they did a good job of settling quietly, but even that's against a certain legal backdrop.)

(Knowing all this, I would also not send a child of mine whom I deemed fragile, vulnerable, or otherwise unable to take care of themselves off to a residential college.)
posted by praemunire at 8:43 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]

This is where the severe cracks in the justice system lays.

This all began before the daughter went off to college. She was already a disciple and active participant. Why? Because of the brainwashing and abuse that preceded the divorce.

The question is why this guy wasn't identified and locked up during all the graft and involvement in the behavior before the divorce. Everything after is just continued collateral damage.

The daughter, being older than the rest of the students, was a natural focal point and likely influencer/leader. Normal human dynamics, especially at that transition age - gravitate towards older, experienced, seemingly wiser, charismatic folks - even if it's a 6 month difference, it matters.

Once the group was already under HER influence, the real predator moved in and took over. The game was over before he ever showed up at SLC.
posted by rich at 12:52 PM on April 30

He *was* locked up, for a substantial sentence. It's not actually the justice system's fault that they can't lock people up for being sociopathic assholes in the absence of a particular crime. He served his time, they had to let him out.
posted by tavella at 2:27 PM on April 30

Hum... actually I tried to read this article but just couldn't. Focus. I've lost my ability to read or listen to complicated things and it frightens me.
posted by catbird at 6:08 PM on April 30

This has been sticking for me for some reason.

I've tried to dig a little more to see what else was going on (thanks to armacy).

From my reading of the following tweet from Mariah Smith, a student and a RA at SL (she didn't specify what years she attended but that it overlapped with the students in the story for at least one year) makes an inference that Res Life did some actions towards Ray but she didn't specify.

said "I know for a fact that there was cause for concern about this man on campus. SLC isn't an angels playground, it has issues, but something about the authors claiming Al Green/ResLife turned their heads is a LEAP."

Given what is in the article, I don't know what SLC could have done that was omitted from the article that would frankly absolve SLC staff (Al Green, was Dean of Studies and Student Life, from 1999 to 2015). She also mentioned that there was outstanding legal matters but doesn't mention any further than that..

I also tried to see if there was anything in the courts but unfortunately the County court where Sarah Lawrence is located, Westchester County, charges for all electronic court documents
posted by fizzix at 5:10 PM on May 4

Well, take that quote apart:

"I know for a fact that there was cause for concern about this man on campus."

I don't think anyone doubts there was *cause* for concern, but note that she does not state that anything was done about that concern.

"SLC isn't an angels playground, it has issues, but something about the authors claiming Al Green/ResLife turned their heads is a LEAP."

'Something' about? That's really vague. Certainly it appears that she has no actual evidence that anything was done, just her feelings that surely something was. Yet we have very specific quotes from one of the families that they asked for something to be done and were told that nothing would be done.

Pretty much all the thread is like that; comments about ethics and vague assertions about things in the background but no real specifics apart from saying that the author didn't inform that they went to SLC... which they did, in an entire companion article.

There was someone on Twitter talking about how Green was the highest ranking PoC administrator at SLC and got extra crap for that, so it is possible she feels defensive about him for that reason, but it's possible to be both treated in a racist way and also to have not done a good job with something. I'd personally be *very* curious if anyone from the administration ever talked to Ray; he obviously was very good at the con, so I wonder if he convinced them that he was just being the house-father to these fragile people and they needed him blah blah blah.
posted by tavella at 8:54 PM on May 4

Well that's pretty fucking gross, considering this is still an ongoing situation for a couple families, and there are still young people trapped with this dude. This is like the dictionary definition of "too soon".
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:29 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]

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