Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious New Hampshire boarding school, is reportedly under investigation by the county attorney and local police department for mishandling sexual assault and abuse. After 17-year-old student Michaella Henry told two deans that she was groped by fellow student Chukwudi Ikpeazu in October 2015, she was directed to the school’s reverend instead of the police.
As reported by the Boston Globe, the school’s reverend Robert Thompson urged reconciliation between Henry and Ikpeazu. After Ikpeazu took responsibility for his actions, Thompson had him agree to an “act of penance”—delivering baked goods to Henry. (Ikpeazu was known for his baking around campus.) School authorities meanwhile never reported her story to the police, or to her parents.
The weekly bread deliveries did nothing to help Henry, who explained to the Globe that the regular encounters with her alleged attacker increased her anxiety. Yet Henry says that Thompson told her she “did a great service” for Ikpeazu, because “gave him an opportunity to express his regret and to take responsibility for what he had done.”
She took her story to the police in May. Ikpeazu was arrested in June and is now facing a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault. His lawyers declined to comment to the Boston Globe.
This isn’t the first time that the school has faced scrutiny for sexual abuse and misconduct. Former admissions official Arthur Peekel was recently charged with sexually assaulting a student in the 70s, and former teacher Rick Shubart was banned from campus after admitting to sexual misconduct with students in the 70s and 80s. Photography teacher Steve Lewis also confessed to sexual encounters with a student “decades ago” and was fired in April. Nearby St. Paul’s School in Concord already made national headlines after then-student Owen Labrie was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old student in 2014.
Students and alums at Phillips Exeter are speaking out against the recent incidents. A petition vowing to withhold donations over the mishandled complaints has gained 700 signatures from alumnae. One student wrote a piece for Jezebel in 2015 about her frustrations with Phillips Exeter’s administration turning a deaf ear to her concerns about rape culture on campus in the wake of Owen Labrie’s trial. “What I’m saying is not that elite institutions are breeding assault intentionally,” she wrote, “but that the side effects of elitism can nudge some prep school students closer to violent ground.”
Phillips Exeter principal Lisa MacFarlane released a statement on Wednesday, reports the Globe, where she expressed “grave concern” over the recent allegations, but that “we cannot comment further, other than to say we approach this investigation with humility, openness, and a sincere desire to improve.”