———-UPDATE Wednesday, Dec. 6———-
The Elm received the following comment from Dr. Wang late Tuesday, Dec. 5:
“May I just say that I am extremely remorseful about any inappropriate actions. Although it was never my intention to harm anyone, I should have known better not to violate the college policy. I have addressed all the mistakes and this was an important lesson that I will never forget for the rest of my life. To this end, I deeply apologize to those being affected.”
———–The original story, which will appear in print, appears below———–
A visiting professor of economics is no longer teaching at Washington College after allegedly sending several female students inappropriate messages and misrepresenting himself via Facebook, which is in violation of Washington College’s social media policy.
The Elm does not name victims of sexual assault, harassment, or misconduct.
Dr. Michael Wang, who was hired to teach three courses vacated by Dr. Andy Helms, was relieved of his teaching duties on Thursday, Nov. 30 after two students filed a report together with the Department of Public Safety on Monday, Nov. 27.
An investigation was launched immediately, said Candace Wannamaker, Title IX coordinator. Due to the fact he was a faculty member and it was a Title IX inquiry, she and Carolyn Burton, assistant Title IX coordinator and director of Human Resources, met and continued the investigation.
Dr. Wang was asked to leave campus Wednesday and it was determined he would no longer continue teaching Thursday, Wannamaker said. The economics department was notified that same day to cover Dr. Wang’s three courses. Different department members took over teaching responsibilities on Friday.
Dean and Provost Patrice DiQuinzio confirmed that Dr. Wang was no longer teaching at the College and that other professors had stepped in to fill the classes.
The Elm reached out to Dr. Wang for comment, but by press time Monday, he did not respond.
According to Burton, as with most faculty members, the hiring department reviews the applicants. The applicant completes an interview and the College completes reference checks and a background check. Burton confirmed that Dr. Wang had cleared the reference check and background check.
A campus-wide email was not sent out for two reasons, Wannamaker said.
“All of the communication was done via email. Had this been an actual, physical assault, it would have been a campus-wide email,” she said.
Wannamaker said while his actions were not illegal, it did violate policy.
“It was not conduct becoming of a faculty member,” she said.
In the College’s social media policy, the guidelines state that individuals must “be transparent about your role at WC.” It has been confirmed to The Elm that Dr. Wang allegedly posed as “Violet Lau” on Facebook and friended more than 200 people associated with WC, according to an analysis of Lau’s profile.
Using Lau’s profile, Dr. Wang reached out to at least seven students. The Elm obtained screenshots of those messages.
Acting as Lau, Dr. Wang messaged students in the period between September and November. In all of the messages given to The Elm, Lau would say she wasn’t sure how she had become friends with the student through Facebook before asking them basic questions about themselves.
One student said that she was messaged throughout the course of one to two days. She said she is particularly careful when it came to accepting friends she doesn’t know, but when she saw that she and Lau had nearly 60 friends in common from the College, she accepted.
Dr. Wang, posing as Lau, started by asking what year the student was, what she was majoring in, and where she was from.
“It seem[ed] so normal, I [was] not even questioning it,” she said.
The conversation led to an invitation to get coffee, and the student said it was “still, normal to me.”
After some more back and forth, it became evident that Lau knew more about the student and one of her economics courses than she volunteered, such as the day, time, and professor.
“I like to think of myself as a very smart person,” she said. “If it was a boy, I totally wouldn’t have answered it. Because it was a girl and [member of] the WC community—we’re so small…It’s not something I expected.”
The messages to other students follow a similar pattern, but others escalated to a sexual nature.
Another student spoke with Dr. Wang, posing as Lau, for weeks. Lau told the student she wanted to be a porn star and asked the student about her sexual habits. She sent the student several photos that had allegedly been published in a Japanese adult magazine.
Lau began referring to the student as “sister” or “sis.”
After speaking to Lau for a while, it was suggested that the student reach out to her brother, whom Lau identified as Dr. Wang.
Dr. Wang began messaging the student as himself, while also messaging the student as Lau.
The student said she became suspicious and thought she was being catfished—lured into a relationship through a fictitious profile.
She Googled all of Lau’s photographs on her profile and began messaging Lau for her Snapchat or to set up time to FaceTime, the student said. Lau refused each request. Eventually, Lau asked if the student doubted her authenticity and stopped talking to the student.
In one case, on Nov. 5, Dr. Wang, using his own profile, reached out to a student. When he told her he was a professor, she stopped responding.
“The students who brought forward these concerns did exactly the right thing,” Dr. DiQuinzio said. “Providing a safe learning environment in which all students are treated with respect is our top priority, so if students feel that an interaction with a professor or staff member does not meet that standard they should report it.”
Another student told The Elm the situation made her feel disgusted and violated.
“I feel sick thinking about it,” she said. “And I’m tired. I’m tired of men in positions of authority preying on young women. I’m tired of having to be on guard all the time. I’m tired of being a sex object and a fantasy for any man who decides to focus on me, and I’m tired of not being a person.”
Students are encouraged by the administration to reach out to Counseling Services at 410-778-7261 or Dr. Miranda Altman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Students who would like to report similar incidents, or any incident of sexually harassment or assault, should contact Public Safety at 410-778-7810 or visit their office in the basement of Wicomico.
Molly Igoe and Abby Wargo, news editors, and Caroline Harvey, copy editor, contributed research and reporting.