Phillips Exeter Admits Baking Monkey Bread Isn’t Adequate Punishment for Sexual Assault

After a gross mishandling of a sexual assault case, the school faces legal investigations and threats from alumni about withholding donations.

All is not well behind the picture-perfect red-brick walls.

Phillips Exeter Academy is lauded as one of the nation’s top private high schools, sending students to Ivies left and right. With a record like that, some really smart people must be running the school, right? Book-smart, maybe. But they sure are dumb when it comes to handling sexual assault.

A wide-ranging investigation by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team revealed that when student Michaella Henry came forward to share that Chukwudi “Chudi” Ikpeazu, a popular track star, had groped her backside and underneath her shirt as she repeated “no,” school officials guided her toward a solution that avoided involving the police. Instead, the school’s minister, Reverend Robert Thompson, moderated a meeting with Ikpeazu to find a resolution informally.

The resolution they came up with? Bread. Ikpeazu would bake monkey bread to deliver to Henry once a week, in the hopes that the cinnamon sugar pull apart biscuits would somehow make up for a sexual assault that caused panic attacks.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.

“I was so ashamed of it,” Henry told the Globe. “I was being reminded once a week that he assaulted me.”

The Globe also reported that part-way through the year, Ikpeazu stopped making the deliveries.

A look into the mastermind who devised this disaster: Reverend Robert Thompson has been serving as Exeter’s minister for about thirty years. He was the first school official to encourage Henry to avoid speaking to police officers—but not the last. According to the Globe’s investigation, when Henry mentioned Ikpeazu’s monkey bread (apparently a famous commodity around campus)—as a joke—Thompson decided it was the perfect penance.

Surprising? Coming from Thompson, not so much.

After the Globe exposed the cover-up of former Exeter teacher Rick Schubart’s sexual relations with students, Thompson threw his support behind Schubart and posted a Facebook status reading: “I love Rick Schubart.”

Spoken like a man who believes baking bread is a viable punishment for sexual assault.

The reverend wasn’t the only school official who dismissed Henry’s case. According to the Globe, when Henry sought out a meeting in April to reevaluate the case, Arthur Cosgrove, dean of residential life, insisted that the encounter had been harassment, rather than assault, and did not take any new action to punish Ikpeazu.

Rosanna Salcedo, dean of multicultural affairs, later backed up Cosgrove. The Globe reported:

“Salcedo said it was irrational for the senior to feel she was unsafe on campus, Michaella recalled. And Michaella needed to stop telling people she had been assaulted because it hadn’t been confirmed.

“What are you talking about?” Michaella interrupted. Chudi had admitted it in front of two faculty members in December, she said.

Salcedo responded that Michaella could not determine on her own if an assault took place.”

New Hampshire law’s definition of sexual assault includes any unwanted sexual contact—such as groping a person’s backside and feeling under her shirt—and according to the Exeter handbook must be reported to the police. Seems like something Henry could be sure about on her own. Insisting that she was only harassed allowed Exeter to avoid the police and bad PR.

How convenient.

Weeks before graduating, Henry did what Exeter had been legally required to do, and reported to the police. Ikpeazu now faces a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault. Exeter also awaits the results of investigations into its mishandling of sexual assault cases, and faces a letter signed by nearly seven hundred alumni who vowed to cease donations until Exeter improved its record on sexual assault.

Facing these legal and monetary pressures, Exeter officials finally admitted that baking bread and hiding crimes from the police wasn’t the best way to handle a sexual assault.

“Without question, the situation could and should have been handled in a better way,” wrote Nicie Panetta, the President of the Trustees and Lisa MacFarlane, principal of the elite boarding school in a July 19 letter to alumni, proving that when money speaks, the powerful execs listen.

When victims of sexual assault speak? Not so much.