Students are outraged and weirded out over an alleged sex cult at a $56,000-per-year private college

Sarah Lawrence College.

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Sarah Lawrence College.
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Nicole Einbinder

  • A bombshell New York Magazine article detailed how Larry Ray, an ex-convict and father of a Sarah Lawrence College student, allegedly moved onto the campus and manipulated her and her roomates with physical, mental, and sexual abuse.
  • The article describes how Ray’s cult first originated in Slonim Woods 9, a two-story brick dorm close to the center of campus, before Larry moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. While some in Slonim 9 escaped Larry’s grasp, some, to this day, remain under his spell, according to the story.
  • Since being published, the story has garnered national attention, and is even slated to be adapted into a film.
  • Sarah Lawrence students expressed shock over the story, and many also questioned the administration’s handling of the incident. Others described issues with the school’s guest policy.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Sarah Lawrence College is a world of its own.

At first glance, the school – a private, liberal arts college with less than 1,700 total students in Yonkers, New York – reminded me of the red brick towns of New England, despite being situated only miles away from the bustle of Manhattan.

The school, where tuition costs over $56,000 per year, is a collision of collegiate charm and urban chaos, a safe haven for students as they make the leap from childhood to adulthood and begin to make sense of life around them. On a gloomy Friday morning before the last week of school, which students refer to as conference week, girls with pony tails and boys donning sweats and sleepy eyes trudge along to class, quietly counting down the days before summer break.

At Sarah Lawrence on this particular day, however, the mood is different. Yes, the students obviously want school to be over. But, for many of them, they really want to escape the drama that has recently consumed their campus.

“There are lots of different papers that students are trying to finish and everyone’s generally stressed and depressed,” a 20-year-old student, who asked to remain anonymous, told me in an empty room above the school’s dining hall. She pauses to consider her words, then continued to speak: “Conference season is always hellish but, this one in particular, it just feels like we’re all ready to leave at this point.”

A few weeks ago, Sarah Lawrence’s bubble of recluse was suddenly burst and its’ name cemented on the national stage. A bombshell article in New York Magazine, “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence,” by James D. Walsh and Ezra Marcus, an alumni of the school, details how Larry Ray, an ex-convict and father of a student, moved onto the campus and manipulated her and her roomates with physical, mental, and sexual abuse.

The cult first originated in Slonim Woods 9, a two-story brick dorm close to the center of the school, before Ray moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. The article claims that while complaints had been made about Ray, the school’s dean of student life at the time, Allen Green, told concerned parents that there wasn’t anything he could do because a father had the right to visit his daughter on campus.

Slonim Woods 9.

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Slonim Woods 9.
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Nicole Einbinder

In a statement provided to INSIDER from President Cristie Collins Judd, which was also recently emailed to the entire Sarah Lawrence community, the school denied having any knowledge about Ray living on campus.

“First and foremost, the College did not knowingly allow this parent to inhabit his daughter’s dormitory apartment, as claimed in media reports. The College has conducted a thorough search of its records across many offices as well as interviewed current and former staff reponsible for the safety and well-being of students who were at Sarah Lawrence at the time of the events alleged to have occurred on our campus,” the statement reads.

“On the basis of that review, we have found no evidence to support the claim that this parent lived on the campus during the 2010-11 academic year, nor that college employees who were responsible for our students’ safety ignored such reports or any College policy impacting student health and safety in this regard.”

When I first read the New York Magazine article, I was stunned.

It alleges that Ray manipulated students, claiming the purpose of intense group interrogations was to “was to reveal deep personal truths;” that he instructed two of the students to have sex as he watched, sometimes participating in the “sessions;” that he alienated them from their families, who grew increasingly worried about their kids; and, at one point, that he “crushed pieces of aluminum foil into little balls and rolled them inside a string of Saran Wrap, fashioning what Daniel [one of the students] described as a ‘necklace’ of metal lumps. Larry called it a garrote. In front of the group, Larry ordered Daniel to wrap the contraption around his testicles and penis, then Larry began twisting it. The metal cut off circulation to his genitals and dug into his flesh.”

The story notes that while some of the Slonim 9 escaped Ray’s grasp, others, to this day, remain under his spell. Walsh and Marcus reported that Isabella, one of the Slonim 9 students, sometimes “acts like his assistant, carrying his computer and screening his phone calls; other times she’s more clearly his girlfriend, as when they flirt on the streets of Manhattan, or his corroborating witness, confidently answering questions about her poisoning.”

Slonim Woods residence halls.

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Slonim Woods residence halls.
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Nicole Einbinder

Now, the story, which has garnered national attention, is even slated to be adapted into a film featuring actor Mark Wahlberg, according to The Hollywood Reporter. While many across the country are revolted by Ray’s alleged actions, I wanted to know how current Sarah Lawrence students are reacting to this incident – and whether they feel their school has done enough to respond.

As the anonymous 20-year-old student I mentioned earlier told me: “I suppose what’s most intimidating about the fact that it’s real and has happened is that it seems, from the article, that the students involved were these young adults who had so much ahead of them. They’re like us, with talents not yet realized and they’re in a position of getting to learn new things about what they can do and who they are, and seeing that they were so impressionable kind of makes me take stock. Like, it could have happened to anyone here.”

This is what current Sarah Lawrence students are saying in response to the scandal that has rocked their campus.

Shock across Sarah Lawrence

When Austin Jones, a 22-year-old senior from Maryland, first found out about the incident, he was shocked.

During his sophomore and junior years at Sarah Lawrence, Jones, a former member of the school’s basketball team, called Slonim 9 home. He has fond memories of his time there: the house, which consisted mostly of other athletes, was particularly tight-knit, he said, adding that they almost always had people over to hang out or just goof off together.

On the night the story first broke, his friend woke him up in a hurry. “You got to read this article,” Jones recalls him saying. He couldn’t believe that the article described his former home.

“You have this image of the house in your head as like a good time, lots of good memories, and then you find out the history and that a couple years before you got there that what happened in the article happened, it kind of just makes you have a bad taste in your mouth,” he said. “It doesn’t make you feel good.”

Austin Jones.

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Austin Jones.
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Nicole Einbinder

Multiple students who were interviewed for this story described a similar reaction. They said the majority of students discussed it on campus, with some professors also bringing it up in class.

“I read it really late at night, which I probably shouldn’t have done because I didn’t realize when I first started reading it that it kept getting worse and worse. And I thought I was going to have a nightmare,” said Clare Walsh, a 19-year-old sophomore from Maine. “I was just very shocked and weirded out.”

Haley Beecher, a first-year student from Massachusetts, said that when the article was published, the campus went into a frenzy. Mandy, a 21-year-old student who requested for only her first name to be included in this story, added that when she walked into her morning class following the article’s release, they spent the first 20 minutes discussing what had transpired on campus. “Everyone was so freaked out and angry,” she said. “Like, how could this happen? Why did the school let this happen?”

After the article came out, the school’s Dean of Studies and Student Life sent an email, reviewed by INSIDER, to students that laid out Sarah Lawrence’s guest policy. On May 9, the school followed up with the second statement.

But, many of the students said that they felt the school’s response wasn’t enough. They also question why the school’s statement differs from what was relayed in the New York Magazine article. For instance, the piece descibes how “according to Claudia’s mother, Green, the dean of students, approached her and Claudia’s father and said, ‘Well, I’m glad I won’t be seeing [Larry] anymore.'” But, according to the school’s statement, the administration had no knowledge about Ray ever living at Sarah Lawrence.

Haley Beecher.

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Haley Beecher.
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Nicole Einbinder

“They sent us an email and it was pretty vague,” said Shea Sprague, a 18-year-old student from California. “It kind of re-outlined our guest policy and then acknowledged the fact that we are an open campus. I think they definitely could have been more specific.”

Cal George, a 19-year-old student from Massachusetts, said the incident “just adds another layer onto the administration ignoring things,” while 18-year-old Eugenia Jablon from Venezuela said “there’s some real issues with transparency between the administration and the student body in general.” The 20-year-old student who asked to remain anonymous told me: “there’s almost a running joke that the administration doesn’t do enough.”

Beecher said she feels that the school is more concerned with its image, rather than focusing on the students and ensuring they feel safe and heard. She wishes the administration would have at least issued an apology.

“Sarah Lawrence has this image of like a really close-knit community, of diversity, all people are welcome, and it’s a comforting environment and that’s kind of their main selling point to new students,” she said. “But, at the same time, I think they are damaging relationships with students who actually go here. I guess I don’t have that much trust in them.”

A tragedy hits close to home

When I ask students how they describe Sarah Lawrence, a few key words are repeatedly relayed: many describe the student body as artsy, creative, and extremely smart. They are proud of their school and, for the most part, do feel safe on campus.

But, they also question how Ray was able to manipulate former students.

“I feel like kids here are very vulnerable,” Alicia Blanco, a 20-year-old student from Brazil tells me as we sit at “The Pub,” a dining venue on campus. “They are a lot of artsy kids, very depressed, and so someone like [Larry] coming in and giving them direction in life… I feel like it’d be really easy to get into that.”

Sarah Lawrence College.

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Sarah Lawrence College.
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Nicole Einbinder

Sprague, the student from California, said she wasn’t surprised that something like this happened at Sarah Lawrence. She echoed Blanco’s sentiment about students being vulnerable.

“It makes sense that that kind of thing would happen here. Like as shocking as it was, when I was reading the article I completely understood how it was able to happen,” Sprague said, adding, “I don’t know if it could happen anymore but, years ago when it did happen, I’m not super surprised.”

Various students described issues with Sarah Lawrence’s guest policy. While, on paper, the student handbook notes that students are required to register and obtain passes for all guests, that policy is rarely enforced, they say.

Jablon said that there is a security desk in her dorm on the campus, but that swipe access is not required and it’s extremely easy to enter the building. “I could totally bring someone up to my dorm right now if I wanted to and just have them live there for literally an indefinite amount of time and nobody would know,” she said.

“I definitely think students go around [the guest policy],” added Sprague. “After that article came out, it’s definitely a little bit scary how easy it is for people to spend the night.”

Sarah Lawrence is a tiny, secluded community. As Jones, the senior from Maryland, explained to me, the school can be cliquey at times. He said that sense of isolation could have enabled something as atrocious as the alleged cult on campus to occur.

But, after a day of talking to students, it seems that they are also united in their reaction: they are angry, they are confused, they want accountability and, after a grueling semester, they are ready to move on. Some have spoken out about it in class or among their friend groups. Others continue to grapple with it internally, questioning both their administration’s response and whether they, like the students who came before them, could have somehow also found themselves drawn into Ray’s manipulative hands.

“We never tend to think that tragedies can happen at home, but to know that a lot of this story takes place four-to-five minutes from where I live right now is a little overwhelming,” the anonymous 20-year-old student said. “It’s just insane.”

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