Swarthmore Student Renews Suit Alexis Clinansmith Says The College Fails To Protect Women From Sexual Harassment. She Seeks Damages.

Posted: December 23, 1994

In September, it seemed that Swarthmore College could finally close the book on a case that thrust the school into the national debate over student sexual harassment.

Well, as it turns out, there is yet another chapter. Alexis Clinansmith, a sophomore from Michigan, is pursuing the federal court lawsuit she filed against Swarthmore in August.

Initially, Clinansmith's suit sought to prevent the return of student Ewart Yearwood, who Clinansmith contends stalked and harassed her. It also sought monetary damages from the college, saying Swarthmore failed to protect her

from the harassment.

When Yearwood opted to transfer to Boston University in September, Clinansmith's lawyer, Carolyn Short, said Clinansmith might drop the lawsuit.

Instead, last month Clinansmith amended the suit, filed in U.S. District Court, dropping the demand that Yearwood be barred from the college but seeking a court order declaring Swarthmore in violation of a federal law that bans discrimination. The amended suit also renews the demand for monetary damages.

Harry Gotwals, Swarthmore's vice president for development, yesterday called the amended suit "astonishing."

"The college has gone to extraordinary lengths to support and protect her," he said. "We think her lawsuit is totally unjustified, and the college has responded vigorously to each of her allegations."

Clinansmith could not be reached for comment.

Clinansmith, now represented by the law firm of Richard A. Sprague, contends in her suit that Swarthmore has carried out its policies "in a manner that exhibits a pattern and practice of discriminatory conduct toward its female students."

The suit contends that Swarthmore failed to take meaningful action in numerous other cases involving allegations of sexual harassment and even rape.

The suit also reiterates Clinansmith's version of what happened after she refused to date Yearwood in September 1993. She says he followed her and made menacing gestures, threatening phone calls and rude remarks, thus terrifying her and distracting her from her studies.

Yearwood, a Latino scholarship student from a rough Manhattan neighborhood, maintained that Clinansmith, who is white and from an affluent Michigan suburb, had misunderstood what he insisted were well-intentioned overtures, perhaps because of cultural differences. However, he was dogged by the fact that he had been expelled from a prep school for making sexually harassing remarks to several female students.

Amid unwelcome, unexpected media attention, Swarthmore held protracted disciplinary hearings last fall on Clinansmith's complaints against Yearwood. Ultimately, college president Alfred Bloom found Yearwood guilty of intimidating Clinansmith. But rather than derail Yearwood's academic career, Bloom arranged for him to enroll for the spring 1994 semester at Boston University while undergoing counseling for his behavior.

After lengthy deliberation, Swarthmore gave Yearwood permission to return to campus in September, but he chose to transfer permanently to Boston. He said then that he hoped for "peace and quiet," away from the storm of controversy generated by his case.

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