Protests Held, Investigations Launched at Spelman and Morehouse After Twitter Account Allegedly Recounts Student’s Gang Rape

Morehouse College in Atlanta. Like Spelman College, a historically black institution for women, it is part of the Atlanta University Center Consortium. (Credit: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Morehouse College in Atlanta. Like Spelman College, a historically black institution for women, it is part of the Atlanta University Center Consortium. (Credit: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

A series of anonymous tweets purporting to recount the gang rape of a Spelman College freshman by four students from Morehouse College has spurred two investigations and set off protests at both Atlanta institutions, becoming the latest flashpoint in the debate over sexual assaults on American campuses.

But the case has left officials with questions, including: Who is she? Where did the attack occur? And when did the attack occur? Though the accuser tweeting from @RapedAtSpelman said that she had reported the attack to the dean at Spelman, the college president appeared to be still trying to identify the victim, personally tweeting at the account that told the harrowing tale.

The tweets began cryptically on May 2.

According to the user profile: “This page is anonymous because I want to be able to express myself without being attacked by AUC students for what happened to me.”

The tweets described a freshman and friends going to a party where they drank with students from the upper classes. The freshman became ill and went upstairs to a bathroom to throw up. After leaving the bathroom, she was raped by four Morehouse students, according to the account.

It was not immediately clear if a police report had been filed. The Atlanta Police Department did not immediately reply to a voice mail message and emailed requests for comment.

Two days after the tweets appeared, Mary Schmidt Campbell, the president of Spelman College, and John Silvanus Wilson Jr., the president of Morehouse College, said in separate statements that they were investigating the episode and trying to find the victim and the alleged attackers.

“Because the Twitter account is anonymous, I tweeted an invitation to @RapedAtSpelman to reach out to me personally so I, and the College, can provide full assistance and support,” Ms. Campbell wrote.

“The information anonymously shared on Twitter was our very first indication of this incident,” Mr. Wilson wrote. “Now that we are aware of these allegations, we are determined to pursue the investigation to the fullest extent possible.”

The tweets also set off protests on both campuses — Spelman, a historically black college for women, and the nearby Morehouse, a private, historically all-male liberal arts college, are both part of the Atlanta University Center Consortium.

The debate over how colleges can better treat women who have reported sexual assaults has widened in recent years, including a case last month atthe Mormon-run Brigham Young University, where women complained they had been subjected to Honor Code investigations after reporting rape.

Amid the effort to hold universities accountable, Rolling Stone magazine had to publish a retraction for a widely disputed article about a gang rape at the University of Virginia and faced a lawsuit — developments that advocates feared would distract from the effort to change a flawed system.

In the Atlanta case, both statements from the college presidents said the campuses had taken steps to address sexual assaults. Mr. Wilson wrote that there was determination to “change the culture on and around campus, and ‘get right’ a problem that has confounded the industry of higher education and the country.”

The Twitter writer @RapedAtSpelman described harsh treatment after she reported the attack:

“When I got to the meeting with the Dean and Public Safety they asked me what was I wearing, why did I separate from my friends, & why was I drinking underage. The Dean also said that Spelman & Morehouse are brother & sister so I should give them a pass. I never felt so worthless in my life.”

Audrey Arthur, a spokeswoman for Spelman College, did not reply immediately to a question by email about whether a police inquiry was underway. She could not be reached by phone. An official who answered the phone at the Spelman campus’s public safety office declined to answer questions about whether a police report had been filed and referred a reporter to the campus switchboard.

The Twitter user also spoke of fearing potential blame if her true identity were revealed.

Other tweets said: “I got so depressed that I wanted to take my own life and I started to self-harm. I don’t want to be at a school that does not make me feel safe and wants to silence me. So I would like to say goodbye to Spelman and to the amazing people I’ve met along the way.”

“I urge you to continue to express your opposition to sexual violence and I stand with you in your efforts to call attention to areas that need to be addressed and improved.”