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Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Duke alum, faces sexual assault allegation as Virginia politics scramble

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As scandals have engulfed Virginia politicians, one Duke alumnus is at the center of the firestorm.

Justin Fairfax, Trinity '00, was elected lieutenant governor of Virginia in 2017, becoming the second African-American to win a state-wide elected position. He could also become governor if current Gov. Ralph Northam—whose 1984 medical school yearbook page was recently found to feature a photo of one person wearing blackface and a second wearing Ku Klux Klan robes—were to resign.

Northam initially apologized and acknowledged that he was one of the people shown in the yearbook photo. He quickly reversed course and denied that he was in the photo but did admit to wearing blackface at another time, when he said he was dressing as Michael Jackson. Virginia's attorney general Mark Herring—who called for Northam's resignation—also admitted to wearing blackface in college. 

However, Fairfax has now come under fire following an allegation of sexual assault. 

Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College, accused Fairfax of sexual assault when they were both attending the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Tyson alleges the sexual assault began with consensual kissing, but claims that Fairfax then "forced me to perform oral sex on him," she wrote in a statement. 

"With tremendous anguish, I am now sharing this information about my experience and setting the record straight," Tyson said in a statement. "Given his false assertions, I'm compelled to make clear what happened." 

Fairfax has issued a statement and denied the allegation to reporters, calling them "surprising and hurtful," according to NPR. He said that their encounter was consensual.

“I take this situation very seriously and continue to believe Dr. Tyson should be treated with respect,” Fairfax said Wednesday, according to The New York Times. “But, I cannot agree to a description of events that simply is not true."

Fairfax currently sits on the Sanford School Board of Visitors at Duke, according to the Board's website. Judith Kelley, dean of the Sanford School, declined to comment to The Chronicle when asked for her reaction to the allegation and whether the Board planned to take any action in response.

When The Chronicle interviewed Fairfax following his 2017 victory, he explained that he brought a love for public service to his time at Duke, earning the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship and serving as a Young Trustee. 

Following his time at the University and work with Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, Fairfax graduated from Columbia Law School in 2005 and went on to work as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. In 2013, he ran for Virginia attorney general but lost by a narrow margin. Nevertheless, he soon returned to the political playing field and won the lieutenant governor spot in 2017.