Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
Bryn Mawr College is facing a civil rights lawsuit alleging that former Spanish professor David Barreto sexually assaulted a current Bryn Mawr student in June 2019. The lawsuit, currently pending in federal court in Philadelphia, also claims that Bryn Mawr allowed Barreto to continue teaching despite a pattern of engaging in sexual misconduct with students, an allegation that the college has denied.
The 22-year-old Bryn Mawr student is identified under the pseudonym of Jane Doe in the lawsuit, Doe v. Bryn Mawr College, et al., filed in June 2021. The case was first reported by Philadelphia magazine last year.
In the lawsuit, the Bryn Mawr student says that Barreto took her and another student out to dinner on June 19, 2019, to celebrate the end of the semester. Afterward, they went to the other student’s apartment building in Philadelphia, where Barreto allegedly pressed himself against the Bryn Mawr student and kissed her without her consent. According to the suit, Barreto repeatedly told the student that he “wanted to fuck her” and “forgave her [school]work” because of this.
Inside the apartment, the Bryn Mawr student claims that Barreto again began to touch her without her consent, even after she pretended to fall asleep in an attempt to deter him. At some point during the night, Barreto allegedly told the Bryn Mawr student, “You haven’t heard about me?” which she interpreted as a reference to his alleged reputation for engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with students.
The Bryn Mawr student’s mother contacted the college the next month. She spoke to Kim Callahan, who is responsible for investigating Title IX complaints at the Bi-Co Consortium. Title IX is part of a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education, including sexual harassment or sexual assault. According to Bryn Mawr’s response to the lawsuit, the student’s mother did not disclose her daughter’s identity or mention Barreto at this point.
On September 4, 2019, the Bryn Mawr student met with Callahan to report the alleged assault. Callahan promptly set up a meeting with Barreto for the next day, but Barreto did not show up. After he was told about the purpose of the meeting, he resigned from the college on September 6. Callahan then told the Bryn Mawr student that Barreto’s resignation had ended the Title IX investigation and that Barreto was banned from campus.
Barreto has denied the allegations against him in court filings through his attorney, Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Michael van der Veen, who gained national attention for defending former president Donald Trump at his second impeachment trial.
The lawsuit further claims that multiple students had reported Barreto to the college before the date of the alleged assault and that college administrators had warned Barreto not to engage in sexual misconduct with students. However, it does not contain any specific details to support these claims.
Bryn Mawr has denied that it knew about any previous sexual misconduct on Barreto’s part. “We investigated all allegations brought to our attention regarding the professor and found no evidence that any reports of sexual misconduct by the professor were made to the College before June 2019,” said Jennifer Walters, Bryn Mawr Dean of the Undergraduate College.
The lawsuit against Barreto and Bryn Mawr comes as the college faces criticism from some students over the handling of Title IX cases at Haverford and Bryn Mawr. In an online document shared via flyers posted across both campuses, Jeanne Wolkiewicz BMC ’24 called for changes, writing that her Title IX case left her feeling “invalidated, unsupported, and guilty, not to mention retraumatized.” She also said that college administrators, including Dean Walters and Kimberly Taylor, the Bi-Co Title IX Coordinator, had broken their promises to include survivors of sexual assault in conversations to improve the colleges’ Title IX procedures.
In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Bryn Mawr has not commented on the student’s allegations against Barreto. However, the college has argued that it is not legally liable because it “does not bear responsibility for an alleged assault on property not owned by the College and in circumstances that were not under Bryn Mawr’s control.” It also noted that it promptly responded once the student filed a Title IX complaint and banned Barreto from campus after he resigned.
Barreto, whose full legal name is Nelson David Gomez Barreto, was a lecturer in Bryn Mawr’s Spanish department during the 2018–19 school year. An analysis of records on Moodle, the college’s course management system, shows that Barreto primarily taught beginning Spanish classes. He previously was an instructor at Franklin & Marshall College from 2012 to 2015.
Leonardo Valencia, an instructor at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, Ecuador, confirmed that Barreto had led several colloquia and virtually taught one seminar in the literary and cultural studies department at the university in April 2020, but that he was no longer employed there.
If you have been affected by problems with Bryn Mawr or Haverford’s Title IX policies and would like to confidentially share your story, please reach out to The Clerk and the Bi-College News at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.