RICHMOND, Va. — As Virginia hurtled into the throes of three scandals and plunged further into political paralysis, an acclaimed professor found herself within a familiar storyline – a searing spotlight focused on her, as she leveled a stunning allegation of sexual assault.
The political science professor identified herself as Dr. Vanessa C. Tyson, releasing in graphic detail her recollection of an alleged assault at the hands of Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” Tyson wrote in a statement Wednesday.
“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual.”
Fairfax vehemently denied Tyson’s version of the 2004 encounter, where the professor alleged a romantic moment during the Democratic National Convention in Boston morphed into forced and traumatic oral sex.
“Reading Dr. Tyson’s account is painful,” Fairfax responded Wednesday evening. “I have never done anything like what she suggests.”
But a Richmond colleague who’s known Tyson for a decade strongly supported the professor’s statements, vouching for her character and integrity as the scandal hits a fever pitch.
“This is not something she’s seeking to do for any particular gain, she has no interest in politics,” said Dr. Ravi Perry in an interview.
“Everything my colleagues and I know about her in a professional setting is that she has a history of speaking the truth.”
Perry and Tyson move in the same small circle of political scientists. Perry estimated there are only about 200 African American professors of political science nation-wide, with the two seeing each other regularly during conferences.
“Given the history that I know with Dr. Tyson, there’s no reason to believe something other than what she wrote,” Perry said.
“She’s a stand-up woman with a growing, expansive and noted research career. There’s no reason to suggest that she would be saying something that is inaccurate.”
Perry is a political science chair at Virginia Commonwealth University, only blocks from the state capitol where Virginia’s top three elected officials have careened into crisis.
Tyson is a fellow at Stanford University who serves as an associate professor at Scripps College in Southern California.
She is represented by the same legal team hired by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the Stanford psychologist who accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Perry last saw Tyson during the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and the American Political Science Association Conference.
“When we have crossed paths at academic conferences, I’ve always found her to be credible,” Perry said.
But he worries with intractable anger taking hold in Richmond and across the commonwealth, Tyson could become a target of death threats and be forced into hiding, as Dr. Blasey Ford was in the aftermath of the Kavanaugh confirmation.
“I would hope that those things never happen to Vanessa Tyson,” Perry said.
“She has nothing but a reputation of good relationships not only in places where she’s worked, but also across the country.”