When Your College’s President is a Rapist (and No One Cares)

This is yet another survivor story. TW abuse, rape.

In 2017 our alma mater, Ithaca College, announced that the college’s new president would be Dr. Shirley Collado. We, along with the majority of the campus community, were thrilled at the announcement; Dr. Collado is a woman of color with backgrounds in psychology and sociology, and with a focus on trauma specifically. It seemed like she was going to be a wonderful and much-needed figurehead for the campus community.

In December 2017 we participated in the TEDxIthacaCollege event where we gave our talk on child abuse and DID. At that event we had a personal exchange with Dr. Collado where she looked us in the eye, shook our hand, and told us how much she was looking forward to watching our talk.

One month later, IC’s newspaper The Ithacan published this exposé revealing that Dr. Collado was convicted of abusing one of her patients, a woman with DID: https://theithacan.org/news/ithaca-college-president-shirley-collado-has-2001-sexual-abuse-conviction/

The abuse is documented and corroborated by several sources from the institute in question, and Dr. Collado pled no contendere. She denies the abuse but admits to inviting the patient to live with her; which is in and of itself a massive ethical violation and grounds for termination from the institute. It’s also worth noting that the institute in question, The Center at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington (PIW) is a clinic that specializes in treating PTSD and dissociative disorders like DID; Dr. Collado was working with vulnerable, traumatized, already abused survivors and still thought it was acceptable to breach such a massive ethical boundary.

What struck us most was how little most of the campus community seemed to care. The Board of Trustees revealed that they’d known from the start and didn’t think it was an issue, much less something they should share with the rest of the community; a petition circulated among faculty and staff to share their support of her; and we watched countless peers, some even survivors themselves, mimic all the same apologistic phrases we hear constantly: it was a long time ago so we can’t know for certain, the victim is unreliable because they’re mentally ill, DID is a “controversial diagnosis”, women don’t rape / abuse other women, etc.

We were one of the only people publicly criticizing her, and we received messages from faculty and staff saying “thank you for speaking up, my whole department supports her and I’m terrified to say anything for fear of losing my job.” But because Dr. Collado is a woman of color, any and all criticisms of her were dismissed as racism. The author of that Ithacan piece is white, so despite all of the documented facts and corroborations in that article, it was waved off as a smear campaign. Our criticisms as survivors were similarly painted as racist; and to be clear, it’s absolutely true that people of color are more likely to be falsely accused of rape than white people. It is true, it is a fact, so we understand why people were hesitant to buy into the allegations right away; but we kept waiting for folks to actually read the article, actually look at the facts, look at the fact that she admitted to it herself, and that never came. Instead, we started seeing stickers handed out around campus reading “I Stand With Dr. Collado.”

We had friends, other survivors, drop out of school as a result. We talked to dozens of other survivors, faculty and staff and students alike, who were reeling and had nowhere to go to express it. The college offered two hour-long sessions through the Advocacy Center, a local non-profit that works with survivors, and that was the extent of the college’s response.

When we graduated, the ceremony was held outside on one of the athletic fields with a jumbotron up to project the stage to the crowd, so we could see each student crossing the stage to shake Dr. Collado’s hand and accept their diploma. We spent the entire ceremony desperately trying to think of a way out of it; but with the jumbotron, there was no way for us to avoid shaking her hand without turning it into a spectacle that we knew would be spun as an act of racism. We don’t remember crossing the stage or shaking her hand, just blacking out and dissociating until we were back in our seats.

Now, Dr. Collado and the rest of IC’s administration are slashing vulnerable faculty and staff positions in the midst of a global pandemic, and finally (Finally!) people are starting to see that Dr. Collado isn’t for us, isn’t for the greater campus community. We keep waiting for people to reflect, to reconsider that maybe those accusations were true after all, but so far we’re waiting in vain. This isn’t intended to be a “we told you so” – we just want to emphasize that someone who abuses their power in one arena will do it in others as well, and Dr. Collado is no exception.

And Dr. Collado, in the event that this does get back to you somehow: we remember. If no one else, the survivors you tried to silence do remember.

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