An elite New England boarding school is currently under fire – and rightly so – for its unconventional punishment of a student who was accused of sexual assault.
17-year-old Michaella Henry told officials at Phillips Exeter Academy that she was groped by Chukwudi “Chudi” Ikpeazu, a fellow student, who she says put his hands under her clothes and groped her even after she repeatedly told him to stop. This happened in the basement of the campus church.
The academy decided to sentence Ikpeazu to “penance,” which in this instance meant baking bread for Henry.
Ikpeazu was told to personally bring the bread to Henry for part of the school year, which forced her to meet up with him repeatedly. According to The Boston Globe, the arrangement left Henry feeling anxious and stressed out. Ikpeazu, on the other hand, continued all of his school activities and leadership positions, which include track captain and senior class leader.
After reporting the situation to the school, Henry learned from a friend that she had undergone an almost identical situation with Ikpeazu. The girls then met with A.J. Cosgrove, the dean of residential life, and Melissa Mischke, the dean of students, to report what happened.
Cosgrove told the girls: “The good news is you don’t have to report this to the police because there was no penetration.”
After the arrest, both Henry and Ikpeazu were required to sign a no-contact order that was provided by the school. If either party violated it, they could be expelled from campus.
One night, Henry was having a panic attack about the assault when Rosanna Salcedo, the dean of multicultural affairs, showed up in her dorm and brought her to her office. She said it was irrational to feel unsafe on campus and that she needed to stop telling people she had been assaulted because it was unconfirmed.
Henry, confused, told the dean that Ikpeazu had already admitted to the situation in front of two faculty members. Salcedo responded that the situation was still unconfirmed because Henry could not determine on her own if an assault took place.
Henry then went to the police and reported her situation for a second time. Ikpeazu was arrested and will be arraigned in August on misdemeanor sexual assault charges.
A troubling detail of this case is that in the weeks and months following the October encounter, the school never reported it to the police nor called Henry’s parents.
“I was beside myself,” Andrea Henry said to The Boston Globe. “But I didn’t want Exeter to retaliate against her…You don’t know what to do. My child was in their care. I was worried about her life.”
Police are not investigating Exeter for its handling of Henry’s case and for other instances of sexual misconduct by both students and staff.