Part Two of our limited series on The Dashing Despoiler
As stated in one of the federal civil lawsuits, “Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros is a charming, handsome, and successful serial sexual predator from France who was a graduate student and employee at LSU.” His success over more than three years of continued sexual harassment, sexual assaults, and rapes of young women in south Louisiana was enabled – individually and institutionally.
I think that this state has so much potential, and I just think that the people you can meet here are just so welcoming and so warm.”
A Culture of Non-Compliance
LSU has been lax in adhering to the requirements of Title IX, and in enforcing its provisions.
Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational institution that receives federal funds, and it has been the law of the land since 1972. That’s two years before Louisiana changed the designation of women as legal “chattel” (property) of their husbands, fathers, sons, or whoever was their nearest male relative when the state adopted its present constitution in 1974.
The discrimination banned under Title IX includes more than just inequity in the number of athletics programs open to females. It also includes bans on sexual harassment and sexual violence and requires schools to “respond promptly and effectively” to complaints.
Sadly, LSU has – as delineated in its own commissioned reports – has thus far failed to effectively and consistently comply. The Husch Blackwell Report is the most recently released and self-reported documentation of the university’s systemic inattentiveness to the magnitude of the problem. This report, issued March 3, 2021, notes there had been at least five reviews (including three from external consultants) regarding LSU’s Title IX issues over the preceding five years. And still, as the report unequivocally states, “There was a lack of effective leadership at the University with respect to Title IX.”
LSU’s Board of Supervisors retained the Kansas City, Missouri-headquartered law firm in November 2020, in response to a series of USA Today investigative articles, most particularly the one headlined “LSU mishandled sexual misconduct complaints against students, including top athletes.” While the firm’s inquiries focused most heavily on purported problems within student athletics – football in particular – they also encountered more than a few sexual misconduct incidents within entirely academic programs. The report noted that, overall, the university harbored “a culture that does not promote reporting incidents of sexual misconduct.”
A Myriad of Contributing Factors
As delineated in the Husch Blackwell Report, the university’s Title IX Coordinator was overworked, required to wear too many hats. She was responsible for Title IX compliance (and investigating all complaints on NON-compliance) for the flagship in Baton Rouge, along with all the other LSU System campuses – in Alexandria, Eunice, Shreveport, along with the medical schools in Shreveport and New Orleans. She was also the system-wide coordinator for Clery Act compliance (campus safety), and for the Baton Rouge campus’ ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance. That means – at a minimum – monitoring safety and accessibility for approximately 50,000 students across nine campuses, investigating complaints of violations and filing reports on those investigations with campus, system, state, and federal agencies.
Many complaints were kept within the students’ own departments of colleges, or – if they reached the Title IX Office – were handed off to Student Advocacy and Accountability, under the auspices of the university’s Office of the Dean of Students. SAA is officially tasked with “promoting academic integrity and appropriate standards of conduct” for students within the university. Think allegations of cheating on exams, plagiarizing a research paper, drunk and disorderly in the dorm, or streaking across the parade ground. Problematic, certainly, but nowhere near the magnitude of violation – or felony – of rape. It’s like having small claims court try a murder case.
Cases that actually got reported to LSU campus police rarely, if ever, were forwarded to the university’s Title IX Office, due to LSUPD policy (based on a flawed interpretation of state privacy law) which prohibited sharing information regarding reports of sexual violence of assault without a waiver signed by the victim. The Husch Blackwell Report notes that, on the contrary, while public disclosure of victim information is prohibited, sharing reports of crimes involving sexual offenses with the Title IX Coordinator is mandatory reporting.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX guidance explains why this is necessary.
“The Title IX coordinator must have knowledge of all Title IX reports and complaints at the school” in order to evaluate whether there are “circumstances that suggest there is an increased risk of the alleged perpetrator committing additional acts of sexual violence or other violence (e.g., whether there have been other sexual violence complaints about the same alleged perpetrator, whether the alleged perpetrator has a history of arrests or records from a prior school indicating a history of violence, whether the alleged perpetrator threatened further sexual violence or other violence against the student or others.)”
The fallout from the USA Today articles and Husch Blackwell’s report confirming the veracity of those news items have damaged and even potentially ended the careers of athletes, coaches, and administrators. It has generated outrage in women around the state, including alumni, professors, and legislators, and has prompted student protest marches and legislative public hearings. It has also led to several lawsuits, as well as prompted federal investigations of the university’s policies and procedures.
None of this, however, has mended the damaged lives of the women victimized by all these predatory men.
For many of those preyed upon by Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros, the harm was facilitated and exacerbated by a woman who had been part of the feminism faculty.
Selling Out the Sisterhood
Adelaide Russo, Ph.D. – “Addie” to her friends and fellow academicians – used to say her greatest goal was to head the French Studies Department at LSU. That was nearly twenty years ago, when she was teaching Women’s and Gender Studies courses in addition to classes in French literature. I know. I was a student in one of her classes on Women Surrealists, and I heard her make that statement more than once.
Dr. Russo was the daughter of another Dr. Russo – John – a pediatrician, and Matilda, a nurse. Born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Addie attended MacDuffie School, a selective private college preparatory school in Granby, Massachusetts. She told several of her fellow female professors at LSU that she’d been teased and bullied there, because of her Italian surname. This led one of Addie’s peers I spoke with to wonder aloud why – if she was making a career in French Studies – she did not legally change her last name to the identifiably French spelling, as “Rousseau.” But I digress…
Russo became a Vixen in her undergraduate college years. That’s the mascot of Sweet Briar College, a private women’s college near Lynchburg, Virginia, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. Following that, she went on to Columbia University, her father’s alma mater, for Master’s and then her doctorate.
Those who had had more extended dealings with her than I offered the following observations and critiques, which – in retrospect – might be seen as predictive of Dr. Adelaide Russo’s actions and inactions in dealing with Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros and complaints she received about his behavior.
Addie was described as tending to “gush,” in different ways, depending on whether she was dealing with women or talking about men. With women, she tended to try and dominate. She would hijack discussions in meetings, and use passive voice – “it is known” – to try and give her commentary more weight than it deserved. She would hum when her statements lagged, in order to retain the floor. And certain of the other professors – at least some within the Women’s and Gender Studies affiliated faculty – made a concerted effort to squelch her when she would go on a tear, in order to move the meeting along and keep it on topic.
She was known to focus on and defer to men. One professor remembered Russo going on “ad infinitum, ad nauseum” about her interactions with French philosopher Paul Ricoeur while she was a student at Columbia. Other of her former peers mentioned that she always seemed to find a way to speak of her connections to male Frenchmen and male French scholars.
That matches with my observations when taking her course on Women Surrealists. Her lectures were all about the male surrealists. When women of the movement were mentioned, she framed them almost exclusives as mere “muses” to the men. We the students were the ones who researched the women, writing our papers about them with little direct guidance from Dr. Russo.
Some of her peers saw her as a social climber, reflecting back on Addie being very proud that she hung out with the “best families” in the Baton Rouge area, specifically mentioning her dinners and visits with the Parlange family, owners of a St; Francisville plantation. Others mentioned how, prior to being named LSU’s head of French Studies, Adelaide Russo dressed in modish French fashion, and wore her hair in the latest chic style. These comments were followed by the observation that after achieving her goal of chairing French Studies, “Addie went downhill,” with heavy alcohol consumption mentioned as either a cause or a symptom.
How does all this connect with Addie’s role in the Edouard d’Esplaungue d’Arros saga?
When Edouard, the son of a French baron and his wife, a noted legal expert who teaches at the Sorbonne, was arrested for rape in Rapides Parish, Dr. Russo contravened LSU’s removing him as a French instructor by hiring him as her research assistant, as well as asking him to keep grading and writing comments on papers and tests from students in the classes he had been teaching. She allowed him to continue participating in the weekly French table and to continue hosting French cinema night. She also provided him with the keys to her house, so he could ‘run errands” for her.
And, regarding TV and newspaper reports on his rape arrest, she informed the French Department grad students and faculty that “Edouard is innocent,” urging them to be supportive of him and respect his privacy. And she warned them not to discuss the rape allegation further, as such would violate FERPA, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. (Not true. FERPA protects the privacy of student records, which is not the same as a public news report of a criminal arrest.)
Two grad students instead informed her they’d been sexually harassed by d’Espalungue and seen him coming on to undergrads. Addie Russo dismissed their complaints as “misinterpreting” Edouard’s comments and actions, which – she said – should be received as “compliments.” When they, along with a full professor in the French Department, took their concerns to Russo’s superior – the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences – and Addie was asked about d’Espalungue’s continuing leadership of activities within the French Department, she denied he was “leading anything.” She repeated these denials when questioned again about renewed complaints more than two months later.
While Russo aided Edouard in setting up and launching the American Journal of French Studies – complete with his using the alias of “Ed Darras” – over subsequent months (which ended up being a catalog of potential prey for d’Espalungue), she became overtly hostile toward the grad students who had complained about him. Between that and Edouard taking advantage of Russo’s protection to snark at and otherwise verbally harass them in front of others, both of the grad students dropped out.
After d’Espalungue’s rape of an undergrad in September 2020 prompted a new investigation Russo sent an email to faculty and graduate students in the French Department. The October 5, 2020, directive told them to report any Title IX complaints to her and she would decide whether they should be forwarded. She wrote, “All instances covered by these regulations must be reported to the Department Chair, and I will instruct you to contact the Dean’s Office and the Title IX office if you have reason to lodge a complaint.” (emphasis mine)
Is French Studies the department described by this paragraph in the Husch Blackwell report?
“For example, we met with a group of former and current students and employees in one academic department who reported that their department chair instructed all members of the department to communicate concerns or reports to the chair “and to no one else,” implemented a “gag order” in mandating that once reported to the chair, the matter could not be discussed with anyone else, and retaliated against individuals who questioned or disregarded this mandate.”
What we do know is that Adelaide Russo has been removed as chair of LSU’s Department of French Studies, and at last report was in France.
And Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros has now been a fugitive from American justice for more than a year, while he promotes himself in France as a “digital financial analyst,” claiming to be devoue et integre. (Translation: “dedicated and absolutely honest.”)