WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Rhode Island Congressional candidate Don Carlson “misinterpreted” a conversation with a student at Williams College while he was a professor there in 2019, he said Friday, a move for which he “apologized profusely” at the time.
Carlson responded in a video statement Friday to the allegation in an investigative report by WPRI 12, which said Carlson was asked not to return to teach at the college after he allegedly sent a text message to a graduating senior in which “he suggested a relationship modeled on a website where people can pay to go on dates.”
The WPRI report said Carlson “allegedly indicated he would have liked to have given the student about $5,000 to help the student financially.”
In the video, Carlson said he offered the $5,000 to the student as “seed capital” to start a geothermal company on the West coast after graduation. The plan never came to fruition and he didn’t pay the money, Carlson said.
“We also had an awkward conversation one time, where he was describing a dating website to me and I somehow misinterpreted the description as a suggestion of a different relationship after graduation,” Carlson said. “I was wrong about that. He gently corrected me and I apologized profusely.”
“I never had any romantic relationship with that man or with any student, present or former, at any institution with which I’ve been affiliated,” Carlson said. “And no cash changed hands.”
Carlson acknowledged that the incident was reported to the college by a different student. His campaign did not provide copies of the text messages in question, and declined to make Carlson available for an interview.
Reached by the Globe, Williams College spokesperson Jim Reische confirmed that the college asked Carlson not to return after the 2018-2019 school year. He said he could not comment on any specific allegations.
“WPRI was correct in reporting that we told Don in the summer of 2019 that he would not be returning to teach at Williams in the future,” Reische said.
“The allegations are disturbing, and our thoughts go out to everyone affected,” Reische continued. “While we can’t comment on specific personnel matters, we want anyone who has experienced sexual harassment or unwanted attention at Williams to know that you can contact our Title IX office and you’ll have our full support. We respond to allegations in a way that considers both the individual’s wishes about whether and when to file a formal complaint, and our responsibility to protect our educational environment from harassment or discrimination.”
After the initial report aired, Carlson’s campaign told the Globe: “Don has never made an overture to a student,” and accused the station of “homophobic rumor-mongering.” (The WPRI report did not mention Carlson’s sexuality or the gender of the student, but Carlson, who is openly gay, said in his video statement Friday that the student was male.)
The campaign also provided a statement from the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, which previously endorsed both Carlson and another candidate who later dropped out, Nick Autiello, in the congressional race. The group said the report opened the door to “homophobic tropes and innuendo without providing evidence – only hearsay.”
Carlson’s video on Friday was posted after WPRI aired a follow-up report with details of the content of the text messages.
In the video, Carlson did not address the fact that Williams College asked him to leave. In a statement to the Globe his campaign said that he had always intended to leave the college to return to his consulting firm.
Reische told the Globe: “We’re relieved to hear that Don Carlson has no interest in trying to teach here again.”
Carlson is one of 12 Democrats running in the September 5 primary to replace David Cicilline in Congress. A millionaire investor from Jamestown, R.I., he took a leave of absence from his current job a Yale Law School in order to run in the race.
“Don Carlson was hired following a thorough vetting process conducted by a professional firm. We never received any information about these allegations or any other issues of concern,” Debra Kroszner, spokesperson for Yale Law School, said in a statement to the Globe. “Mr. Carlson is currently on a leave of absence from Yale Law School to pursue his congressional campaign. We will take care to review and address any and all new facts that arise as appropriate.”
Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, another one of the candidates, issued a statement about the allegation Thursday night.
“As a mother, I am disturbed by what we are learning about Mr. Carlson,” Matos said. “My thoughts are with the people affected by this and I will keep them in my prayers. These are serious allegations and Rhode Islanders need a leader they know and trust.”
Carlson’s campaign said he still plans to attend the Aug. 29 debate hosted by WPRI.
“Of course, Don will be taking part in the WPRI debate, he is looking forward to it,” spokesperson Chelsea DeCesare said.