Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder kissed a 20-year-old student at Virginia Commonwealth University without her consent, according to an investigation conducted by an outside attorney hired by the school.
The investigation found Wilder was responsible for “non-consensual sexual contact” but cleared him of three other allegations made by the woman: sexual exploitation, sex- or gender-based discrimination, and retaliation.
The student, Sydney Black, filed a formal complaint with VCU in December 2018, and several months later the university hired an attorney who specializes in federal civil rights law.
Black, who is now 22, has said Wilder, 88, kissed her and made other overtures, including suggestions that she could live at his house and accompany him on foreign travel. He also offered to pay for law school, she said.
She got to know the nation’s first elected African American governor in 2017, while she worked as an office assistant at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, where he is a distinguished professor. Black has said that after she rebuffed his advances, Wilder told her there was no longer funding for her position.
The university on Tuesday sent Black a two-page letter marked “sensitive and private” that summarizes the investigation’s findings, as well as a 262-page report.
A spokesman for the university, Mike Porter, declined to comment on the investigation or even confirm it had taken place, citing student and employee privacy. He responded to detailed questions with a link to VCU’s policy on Sexual Misconduct/Violence and Sex/Gender Discrimination.
Wilder on Wednesday did not respond to emails, messages left on his cellphone and a request for comment made through his blog, Wilder Visions. An assistant to Wilder also did not respond to an email.
Black’s attorney, Jason V. Wolfrey of Blacksburg, released a statement: “We are pleased the investigation has validated Sydney’s report to VCU about Mr. Wilder’s conduct.”
Black’s mother, Margo Stokes of Roanoke, said she would like Wilder to resign from the university, which is in his hometown of Richmond.
“No one else’s child should have to go through what my child went through,” she said in a phone interview Monday evening. “He should step down. It’s just over. It’s over. He owes my child an apology. It’s just really sad that he put her through all this.”
Wilder has until July 16 to contest the finding that he is responsible for non-consensual sexual contact, which would trigger a hearing by VCU’s Review Panel to determine if the investigation was conducted properly.
If he accepts the findings, both sides would have to agree to a sanction. The Review Panel would step in if both sides cannot agree on a sanction, which could range from counseling to demotion, suspension and termination of employment, according to the policy.
VCU renewed Wilder’s annual employment contract on May 31, more than three months after the start of the investigation.
He is paid $150,000 annually to teach up to 24 credit hours, according to the latest copy of the contract, which expires June 30, 2020.
The university did not respond to questions about why his contract was renewed in the midst of the investigation.
Black has said she waited almost two years to report Wilder to VCU, as well as Richmond police, because she worried about the influence someone with his power and connections could have over her education and career prospects.
Police produced a two-page police incident report, dated Jan. 3, that says a 20-year-old woman reported that an assault had occurred Feb. 16, 2017, in a residence in the same block where Wilder owns a condo. No charges were filed.
Black said the situation depressed her and caused her to withdraw from classes. Although she briefly re-enrolled, she now plans to continue her studies elsewhere.
Black has said Wilder began to take an interest in her education after she was hired as an office assistant at the Wilder school in November 2015.
She was flattered by the attention from a leader she admired and accepted when he invited her to dinner at a riverfront restaurant in Richmond to celebrate her 20th birthday.
During dinner, she said, he ordered her vodka martinis and told her he could help her get accepted at the Howard University School of Law, where he is a board member.
After dinner, Wilder, who is divorced, drove her to his nearby condo, Black said. As they talked, she said, “he reached over and put his hand on my right leg, and I just kind of looked at him, and as soon as I looked at him, he kissed me on my mouth. I immediately jerked away.”
She said that she questioned Wilder and that he admitted he was in the wrong.
Weeks later, he invited her to brunch at his country house, where he showed her a room where he said she could live, rent-free, she said. Black said she declined Wilder’s offers and told him she was looking for a mentorship, not a personal relationship.
They had little contact until May 2017, when Wilder informed her there was no longer funding for her position at VCU, she said.