Justin Fairfax asked to step down from Sanford's Board of Visitors after sexual assault allegations, including one from his time at Duke

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Justin Fairfax, Trinity ‘00 and lieutenant governor of Virginia, now faces a second allegation of sexual assault. This one allegedly occurred during his time at Duke. 

Fairfax, who was a member of the Sanford School of Public Policy's Board of Visitors according to its website as of Wednesday, is no longer listed on the site. 

When reached Friday afternoon by phone, Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, confirmed the school is asking him to step down from the Board until the "deeply disturbing" allegations are resolved.

In an email to the Sanford community Friday from Dean Judith Kelley and provided to The Chronicle by Schoenfeld, Kelley informed them of the change. 

"I am writing to let you know that Justin Fairfax will be asked to step down from the Sanford School Board of Visitors pending the resolution of the serious and deeply distressing allegations that have been made against him," Kelley wrote. "Sexual assault is abhorrent and unfortunately can occur right around us. I urge everyone to take survivors of sexual assault seriously, and to help build an environment that is safe and supportive for everyone."

Fairfax, who was recently accused of sexually assaulting a woman while working at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, has now been accused by a Duke alumna of sexually assaulting her while they were undergraduate students on campus.

“I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation,” Fairfax said in a statement reported by the Washington Post Friday afternoon. “It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever.”

The allegations come as political uncertainty engulfs Virginia following a photo from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook showing someone in a Ku Klux Klan costume and another in black face—a photo the governor originally said he was in before walking back that statement. 

The new allegation comes from Meredith Watson, a Duke alumna who accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000, when they were undergraduates at Duke. The allegations became public Friday afternoon through a statement from her legal team that was posted on Twitter by reporter Ben Jacobs. 

While at Duke, Fairfax was a Reginaldo Howard Scholar and a Young Trustee. 

Allegations against Fairfax first emerged Sunday on a conservative website from Stanford University fellow Vanessa Tyson, who released a personal statement Wednesday after hearing Fairfax describe their interaction as consensual in a statement, claiming that he was victim to a smear campaign and threatening to pursue legal action against Tyson.

Tyson accused Fairfax of forcing her to "perform oral sex" during an encounter at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July 2004. According to Tyson’s account, Fairfax and she met on the first day of the Convention and became friends. When he asked her to come with him to his hotel room to pick something up, she explained she reciprocated his initial advances when he began to kiss her, but that the interaction soon became forceful.

“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” Tyson said in her statement. 

In response to Tyson’s statement, Fairfax issued another statement of denial, stating that he had “never done anything like what she suggests.” Although the alleged assault took place in 2004, Tyson said she did not begin to disclose the events to anyone until she heard of Fairfax’s campaign for lieutenant governor in 2017. 

In a lunch with colleagues in the fall of 2018, Tyson described being sexually assaulted at the 2004 Convention by a politician who had been successful since then. 

“What she told us was pretty much exactly what was in the statement that she released but with vastly less detail,” said Elizabeth Armstrong, a fellow at Stanford with Tyson. 

Tyson explained that she decided to come forward to the public now after learning that Fairfax might become the new governor of Virginia. 

Watson’s allegation, which was made public Friday afternoon, said that the pair were friends but never dated. The release said the attack was “premeditated and aggressive,” and that Watson told friends about the rape in a series of Facebook messages and emails. 

Her legal team said in the statement that they have accounts from former classmates corroborating that she told them about the rape at that time. According to the statement, the details of the alleged attack are similar to the ones contained in Tyson’s allegations. 

In the statement, Watson called on Fairfax to resign from public office. 

“At this time, Ms. Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” the statement said.

This is a developing story. Updates will be added as they become available. 

Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham

Email: breanna.bradham@duke.edu


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