Woke Teachings Prime Victims for Abuse at Sarah Lawrence

The headlines are as shocking as they are salacious: “Alleged Sex Cult at Sarah Lawrence College,” was at the top of a local “Eyewitness News” digital feed. The New York Post and LoHud, the local Gannett news outlet, had similar leads. The story reads like the plot of a horrendous R-rated movie. Lawrence Ray, previously convicted of felony securities fraud, stands accused of running a sex-trafficking ring at Sarah Lawrence College, one of the prestigious Seven Sisters, for the past 10 years.

Ray is alleged to have been living inside and operating the ring from a dorm on campus before moving the operation to an Upper East Side apartment. According to federal law enforcement, Ray, like most pimps, used classic manipulation techniques to recruit members, often using his own daughter, a student at the time, to assist him.

Ray acted as a “therapist” often telling young women and some men that “they didn’t get enough love,” and what they were doing for him was for their own good. In time, the operation grew large, taking in over $1 million a year. Ray even made some of those within his thrall toil at his home as maids and lawn workers. Defiance resulted in physical beatings.

Sarah Lawrence President Cristal Collins Judd pledged full cooperation with the authorities, and denied knowledge of Ray’s activities within the school’s bucolic suburban setting. The following questions will have to be answered:

How could an adult male reside in a campus dorm for nearly 10 years without the administration’s knowledge? Was there no security presence in the dorms? What did campus administrators know, and when did they know it? These are questions for law enforcement.

The parents and populace need to ask how so many vulnerable young women and a handful of young men were lured into working for Ray, and why they lived in terror of his beatings for a decade without sounding any alarm.

Sarah Lawrence College was founded in 1926 by William Van Duzer Lawrence as a women’s college. Lawrence had named the college for his wife who had recently died. Conceived as a progressive institution, Lawrence modeled the school on Oxford. Since 1945, when President Harold Taylor assumed leadership, the school has based its educational approach upon “pragmatist” philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey.

In Democracy and Education (1916), Dewey proposed that education should be focused on training children to serve society, that it must provide or “substitute” a moral disposition by which they become interested in serving the general good.

“Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest,” Dewey wrote. “[T]hese can be created only by education.” To that end, Dewey’s substitution sought to put the scientific and classical educational works into a practical social context. In 2020, this approach has left the students at Sarah Lawrence vulnerable to society’s tyrants, not only on campus but potentially in the world as well.

Dewey advocated a reversal of what James Madison in Federalist 51 argued—that the “private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights.” Instead private goods were to be subordinated to the public good, as defined by the likes of Dewey and other luminaries.

Sarah Lawrence College, in modeling itself after Dewey, created an atmosphere where students might see their own interests degraded and their own person unimportant compared to the larger project of social change. These young adults were further damaged through constant criticism of their supposed “privileged” capitalist upbringing, their cultural heritage, and their economic status. They are berated by faculty and administrators for their alleged failure properly to serve the Marxist common good, creating feelings of enormous guilt and inadequacy. In 2019, a leftist campus group at Sarah Lawrence called the Diaspora Coalition issued a 3,500-word manifesto complete with a list of demands. Among the demands were ones to review the tenure of a conservative professor and to create a self-segregated dorm for students of color, as well as more mundane things like free laundry machines and detergent. The manifesto was supported by more than 23 professors in the school’s academic body. The conservative professor, Samuel Abrams, had previously condemned the school’s administration and fellow faculty by publicly calling attention to the schools politically biased campus curriculum and social events in a  New York Times op-ed, “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators.”

Abrams quoted an administrative email from the school’s Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement that “was soliciting ideas from the Sarah Lawrence community for a conference, open to all of us, titled ‘Our Liberation Summit.’ The conference would touch on such progressive topics as liberation spaces on campus, Black Lives Matter and justice for women as well as for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and allied people.” The school’s Office of Student Affairs, according to Abrams, was organizing events such as “Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,” “Microaggressions,” and “Understanding White Privilege.”

President Judd had privately accused Abrams of attacking the school and only moderated her position when news of the Diaspora Coalition went viral. Abrams’ sin was that he questioned the validity of a campus dedicated to offering a single ideological point of view. This, Abrams said, runs counter to a legitimate diversity of thought which compares diverse schools of thought:

. . . without offering any programming that offered a meaningful ideological alternative. These events were conducted outside the classroom, in the students’ social and recreational spaces . . .

The problem is not limited to my college. While considerable focus has been placed in recent decades on the impact of the ideological bent of college professors, when it comes to college life—living in dorms, participating in extracurricular organizations—the ever-growing ranks of administrators have the biggest influence on students and campus life across the country.

The campus-sponsored social events reflect Sarah Lawrence’s skewed curriculum. Sarah Lawrence currently offers master’s programs in many of the aforementioned progressive disciplines. But if students aren’t taught competing theories to this “common-good” Marxist ideology, they might have trouble identifying things that are in their own interest and actually protect their personal safety.

The fact that Lawrence Ray was able to conduct his operations without interruption exposes the fundamental flaw with this progressive curricula: Students who are so saturated with social justice indoctrination and with cultural guilt, that the work of a petty despot in convincing them that he is there for them, becomes that much easier. According to the federal complaint, this is exactly what Ray did.

A former associate of Ray’s, Lee Chen, told the New York Post Ray used mind games not only to control him but also his other young victims. “Oh, your parents . . . you didn’t have enough love when you were younger,” Ray told Chen, as a way of talking Chen out of throwing him out of his apartment.

“It’s difficult for me to convey to you his coercive abilities unless you’ve experienced it yourself,” Chen told the Post. Chen tried to excuse his own failure to report the activity as part of being under Ray’s psychological spell.

Victimology is often taught in forensic psychology and criminal justice programs. Part of that course of study examines the relationship between offenders and victims. Predators like the accused Lawrence Ray use a technique called trauma bonding. The abuser promises love, and a plethora of rewards to individuals who have been, or perceive themselves abused. They are never delivered.

Offenders isolate their victims from friends and family who might counter the narrative the abuser spins. “There is always manipulation involved,” writes psychologist Sharie Stines, who specializes in trauma and abuse. “Victims are prey to the manipulation because they are willing to tolerate anything for the payoff, which is that elusive promise and ever-present hope for fulfillment of some deeply personal need within the victim.”

The student victims of Sarah Lawrence College, subjected to the constant din of their worthlessness, sought love and redemption from a 60-year-old pimp who promised it, but received only misery.

The ideological structure of Sarah Lawrence primed these young adults for such manipulation. Ubiquitous and omnipresent social justice curriculums, by constantly degrading the self in service to a socialist “common good” as a Deweyan substitution for what actually constitutes their human good and flourishing, leaves our young people defenseless. Defenseless not only against predators like Ray, but against any potential tyrant who promises the moon and stars.

Popular socialist leaders like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Representative Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez (D-N.Y.) and others offer something similar to what this pimp offered these students—salve for their emotional wounds. If allowed to go unchecked, the silencing and administrative attacks on professors like Abrams, who offer an alternative to the false narratives that dominate leftist campuses, will eventually make schools like Sarah Lawrence complicit not only the victimization of their students but also, potentially, our fellow citizens.

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About Elizabeth Fortunato

Elizabeth Fortunato is a wife and mother from New York. She has a background in liberal arts and philosophy.

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