January 3, 2018

Columbia University School of Art Professor Accused of Sexual Misconduct

NEW YORK—Thomas Roma, professor and director of the photography program at the Columbia University School of Art, has been accused by five former female students of sexual misconduct. The allegations arise from incidents that occurred from the mid-1990s to 1999 when Roma taught at Barnard College and the School of Visual Arts, Colin Moynihan reports for the New York Times. Roma has also held teaching positions at Yale University, Fordham University, and Cooper Union.

Mozhan Marno, and actress and an undergraduate student of Roma’s at Barnard in 1999, described a “consensual, overwhelming” encounter with Roma which he “controlled and initiated from beginning to end.” After filing a “watered-down” written complaint against Roma in January 2000, Columbia concluded then that both Marno and the professor were complicit. Suzanne Goldberg, executive vice president for university life at Columbia, said that it is “standard practice to investigate whenever we receive a report that a faculty member may have sexually harassed a student.” She also noted that the university’s response to allegations of sexual harassment have evolved significantly in the eighteen years since Marno’s complaint.

Four of Roma’s former students at the School of Visual Arts—Ash Thayer, Allison Ward, Angela Cappetta, and Ilana Rein—described to the Times unwelcome sexual advances, including oral rape and groping, that took place in the mid- and late-1990s. The women also described a familiar pattern of behavior in which Roma would be coercive and make sexual advances in exchange for mentorship and professional advancement. Joyce Kaye, a School of Visual Arts spokeswoman, said the school “does not have a record of any complaints against Mr. Roma.”

Roma’s lawyer, Douglas Jacobs, issued a statement that his client is “shocked” by the allegations from the four former SVA students and that the professor fully complied with the Columbia investigation. “The statement they are making about his asserted misconduct are replete with inaccuracies and falsehoods. All four have taken isolated, innocent incidents, none of them predatory, and have created fictitious versions of reality that are libelous and in the present political climate designed to damage his career and his personal life,” Jacobs said. “Professor Roma’s sympathies then and now lie with those who have been mistreated in any way and he completely fails to understand why these woman have chosen to create these complaints two decades after the alleged facts supposedly occurred.”

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