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Dr. Vanessa C. Tyson ’98, Associate Professor of Politics at Scripps College, released a statement on Wednesday describing an alleged sexual assault at the 2004 Democratic National Convention by Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. 

In the statement, Tyson wrote that “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault.”

“Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcibly pushed my head towards his crotch,” Tyson wrote. “Only then did I notice that he had unbuckled his belt, unzipped his pants, and taken out his penis.” 

She wrote that Fairfax then forced her to perform oral sex on him. According to her, she was “utterly shocked and terrified.” She wrote that she tried to move her head away, but was unable to, as his hand was holding her neck and “he was much stronger than me.” 

She wrote that she did not tell anyone about the assault for years, until in October 2017, when she learned of Fairfax’s campaign for lieutenant governor. She then “felt it was crucial to tell close friends of mine in Virginia, who were voters, about the assault.” 

Watching the #MeToo movement unfold in that same month, in which prominent actresses and other women revealed the stories of their sexual assaults, Tyson wrote that she felt empowered to speak to others about her assault.

“I felt a responsibility to myself, the beloved students I teach, and the brave women I’ve tried to help overcome their own trauma,” she wrote. “By December 2017, I not only told many friends that Mr. Fairfax had sexually assaulted me, but I also reached out to a personal friend at The Washington Post and spoke to his colleague about the assault.”

No story was published, however, because, according to the Post, they were unable to corroborate the stories of either Tyson or a mutual friend of Tyson and Fairfax. 

Fairfax claimed in a written statement issued Monday that the paper had found “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations.” The Post denied Fairfax’s assertions.

In her response, Tyson called Fairfax’s attempts to discredit her “deceitful, offensive, and profoundly unsettling.”

Tyson recalled her assault last week after many called for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to step down after a racist photo from his medical school yearbook page emerged. The photo showed  two men, one in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb. Northam denied that he was in the photo but admitted to previously blackening his face for a Michael Jackson costume. 

Tyson wrote that upon hearing the news and reading stories suggesting that “Mr. Fairfax would be sworn in as Governor,” she issued a now-deleted post on Facebook last week revealing that she had been sexually assaulted by a Democrat in a state office who would likely get a “BIG promotion.” 

After news stories emerged Sunday night covering Tyson’s post, Fairfax issued a statement saying that he had a “consensual encounter” with her in 2004, after which she did not indicate that anything had made her uncomfortable. 

Tyson earned a B.A. in Politics and a certificate in African American Studies from the University, where she was also awarded the Ruth B. Simmons Thesis Prize and the 1998 Spirit of Princeton award. She earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.

She has an extensive background in U.S. politics and policy formation and has advocated for sexual-violence awareness. Tyson was one of the founding members of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center Survivor Speaker’s Bureau. 

On Thursday morning, students released an online statement, titled“Solidarity with Dr. Vanessa Tyson ’98,” to show support for Tyson. 

The statement demands for Fairfax’s “immediate resignation” due to the “alleged assault and his vicious attacks on Tyson” being “disqualifying for a public servant.” 

Zachariah Sippy ’22 drafted the statement with the help of Chaya Holch ’22 and Rafi Lehmann ’20 after learning from a tweet by Topher Spiro, vice president for Health Policy and senior fellow for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress, that he had attended the University with Tyson as an undergraduate. 

“That made me realize that Dr. Tyson went here, which is something I hadn’t heard,” Sippy said.

Sippy is an opinion columnist for The Daily Princetonian.

He recalled wanting to address what he saw as a lack of political action on campus, especially during U.S. Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings for sexual-assault allegations. 

“I think people often talk about the orange bubble, and one aspect of the orange bubble is ... political apathy,” Sippy said. “Princeton does a great job at privileging the academy above all else, and I think that’s a reason a lot of us come here, and few institutions are as well-equipped to do so. I think that comes at a sacrifice.” 

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