English Prof. John Casey accused of sexual harassment by former students

U.Va. opens Title IX investigation into allegations

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Two former University students have accused English Prof. John Casey of sexual and gender-based harassment. 

Courtesy University of Virginia

The University has opened a Title IX investigation after two former students have come forward and filed complaints about English Prof. John Casey, who they claim committed various forms of sexual and gender-based harassment when they were students at the University. 

Emma Eisenberg, a 2014 University graduate, filed a complaint against Casey earlier this month, and the University’s Title IX office has since initiated an investigation into her complaint, according to a notice Eisenberg received from the University on Nov. 20. 

Eisenberg studied in the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University from 2012 to 2014 and publicized the filing of her complaint on Twitter. 

According to the notice of investigation — a copy of which Eisenberg provided to The Cavalier Daily — her complaint alleged that Casey “repeatedly touched [her] and other female MFA fiction students on [their] shoulders, buttocks, and lower backs and made sexual and gender-based comments.” 

These comments included referring to women and characters in a story about his life as “c—ts,” commenting on the appearances and sexual attractiveness of female authors and students and calling female students “hysterical.” Eisenberg’s complaint said the reported incidents happened between 2012 and 2014.

Eisenberg’s complaint also alleged that Casey provided significantly more attention to male students in both teaching and advising.

The University’s notice also referenced another woman who filed a complaint shortly after Eisenberg and claimed that Casey “repeatedly made comments about her looks, outfits and sex appeal.” This is alleged to have taken place from 2009 to 2010 while she was earning her MFA in Creative Writing. Her allegations are included in the investigation into Eisenberg’s claims. 

Casey declined a request for comment, only saying via email that “the matter is currently sub judice” — a term used to describe something that is yet to be decided in a judicial proceeding. 

University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said in an email that “The University takes seriously any report of sexual harassment and is investigating this matter in accordance with its applicable policy and procedures.” 

Eisenberg said the sexual assault and harassment allegations made against prominent men nationwide inspired her to speak out and file the complaint against Casey. 

"It had always bugged me, in my gut I knew there was something wrong about those experiences, but it was so openly talked about within the program that I figured I was over-reacting,” Eisenberg said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Seeing this recent flood of women coming forward confirmed what I had always known — his behavior was problematic and inappropriate."

Numerous female MFA graduates have reached out to Eisenberg via Twitter and Facebook after she announced her complaint. Some offered words of support while others shared similar experiences. 

Holly LeCraw, an author who knew Casey during her time at Sewanee: The University of the South, tweeted that she was “not shocked at all” by the allegations.

Eisenberg also said that two female MFA students raised concerns about Casey to the English Department in 2000. One of the women did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Casey has taught at the University since the 1970s and has written eight books, one of which won a National Book Award in 1998. Colleagues have previously revered Casey for reading students’ manuscripts and helping to connect them with agents and editors.

The University’s Title IX office appointed Title IX investigator Paul Apicella and LaTosha Barnes, an Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights specialist, to look into Eisenberg’s case. The notice of investigation said the Title IX office aims to finish investigations and resolutions within 60 days, meaning by Jan. 19, 2018. 

Apicella and Barnes did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

According to the notice of investigation, a review panel will assume Casey is innocent until proven guilty, but will look at whether it is more likely than not that Casey violated the the University’s Preventing and Addressing Discrimination and Harassment Policy (PADH), the policy in use in 2012 and 2014 when the reported incidents happened. 

"It is appropriate for Professor Casey to be held accountable for his actions, but exactly how is up to the University,” Eisenberg said. “I hope that the result of this complaint is only that he is no longer actively teaching students." 

Correction: This article previously incorrectly identified Stephen Cushman and Mark Edmundson as English Department chairs in 2000. Their names have been removed from this article. 

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