Early Tuesday morning, Lawrence “Larry” Ray was arrested in his New Jersey home on an array of charges, including sex trafficking, extortion, and forced labor of Sarah Lawrence College students dating back to 2010. The New York Times released an article Tuesday following the arrest, in which they highlighted the gruesome and upsetting details that spawned from an article published last April by New York Magazine. After the arrest and the release of the article yesterday morning, the media blew up in search of the why’s and how’s that lead such a prestigious school to hold a secret as large as this.
Larry was a convict, recently released from prison, when he first came to live with 8 students, including his daughter, in Slonim Woods 9, a town home like structure- part of Sarah Lawrence’s on campus housing. He used tactics such as manipulation and intimidation to create the perfect dynamic of a predator-prey relationship. Prosecutors stated that he “subjected his victims to sexual and psychological manipulation and physical abuse.” However, the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is how did these students find themselves here, being subjected to such circumstances, and “willing” nonetheless?
Talia Ray, at the time a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence and daughter of Larry Ray, spoke nothing but positively about her father. Believing for many years, due to heavy manipulation by her father, that he was in fact an innocent man trapped and locked up by powerful, evil men. She believed her father was protecting her from her “abusive” mother and further, the world. So, when he needed a place to stay after being released from prison, her friends wanted to do what they could to help. Therefore, they welcomed Larry into Slonim Woods 9. In their eyes, having him around was beneficial. According to the New York Magazine article, he provided “guidance,” “counseling,” clothes, transportation, meals, and a place to stay on the Upper East Side after the end of their sophomore year.
There are a large portion of students at Sarah Lawrence that do not fit the “elite” classification. They often are far from home, have complicated family ties, and are from a lower socio-economic status. They have quite literally put everything into going to Sarah Lawrence, to chase their dreams in New York City, and to be 100% themselves. Many, like myself, do not have the means to go home outside of winter break, and find themselves feeling isolated in a wealthy, entitled bubble that is the Sarah Lawrence community. So, when someone can provide solutions to problems faced daily, often times you find yourself desperate enough to take them up on it. Of course this is not everyone, but it is the case for some of the students that found themselves in this now infamous sex cult. Daniel, one of the eight, reported to New York Magazine that, “Part of why I got in a cult at all was because I had no idea how one finds a place to live in New York.”
However, the media has a different spin on how these students ended up in this position. Multiple accounts describe Sarah Lawrence students as lost, introverted, and bookish. In a way this is victim blaming based solely on personality, personal interest, and a misguided depiction of a “liberal arts student.” Of course there is truth to this description of some students, but the population doesn’t increase solely because it is Sarah Lawrence. You can find this type of student at any university in the United States, yet this problem isn’t nationwide, it’s isolated to this campus.
Sarah Lawrence’s response? They were unaware. Yet, I have a hard time believing this. Larry Ray is described, at the time, to be a heavier-set 50 year old bald man. Someone with this demeanor would drastically stand out on campus. Most students are in their late teens to mid 20’s, especially if they are residing on campus. There is the occasional passerby or adult student, but normally if someone is middle aged, they are part of the staff or faculty. Even if he could have passed as an adult student, the student body is so small that everyone knows everyone. You see the same people, and even if you don’t know them by name, you would be able to identify them. Currently, Sarah Lawrence is roughly 1,600 students combined for both undergraduate and graduate, and it takes only about 15 minutes to walk the entire campus. Blending in is not an easy task. However, after the New York Magazine article, Sarah Lawrence sent an email to the student body in which they stated that the article, and attached media was “uninformed, inaccurate, and highly irresponsible.”
The article stated that the school was made aware several times of what was occurring. Parents contacted Allen “Al” Green, Dean of Student Life, Equity, and Inclusion, making complaints of Larry and in response the school responded their “hands were tied.” Green stated that the school couldn’t stop a parent from visiting their child, but couldn’t they if it is true that they prioritize student health and safety? The school has continuously stated they have no record of Ray living on campus, only that he was visiting. However, the article continued to address how one of the eight students of Slonim Woods 9 emailed Green an in-length description of what was occurring, entitled ‘The Truth.” Yet, they had no knowledge? Al Green stepped down shortly after the release of New York Magazine article in April. The school insists this has nothing to do with the article, but rather that Green was already planning on retirement.
I knew Green personally. My sophomore year at Sarah Lawrence I had to open a Title IX case against a friend who had repeatedly sexually assaulted me. Green was wonderful in my meeting, prioritizing my wants and needs, as well as my mental health. However, I still felt that his promises would not be kept on my protection, since my assaulter was continuously showing up at my house, which was Slonim Woods 2, the same community that the sex cult took place in. It took me to involve several male friends to approach the assaulter for him to finally get the message. He eventually transferred from the school once news broke out and the student body began to isolate him. This community tie is a crucial aspect of Sarah Lawrence’s student body. The students often feel safety in numbers to be of more protection than the administration and security. This is marked by demonstrations, protests, and even signs along campus which highlight how the protections put in place are nothing more than a fraud.
Unfortunately, this is not my only run in with improper protection at Sarah Lawrence. That same year I was studying in my room when a drunken middle aged man knocked on my window and was stumbling around my building, Slonim Woods 2. I called security, and it took them 30 minutes to arrive, though the drive was at most 2 minutes. Once they arrived, they looped around the cul de sac outside my window, and drove away. That area is primarily pedestrian walkways, but they never once left their vehicle. An hour later the drunken man returned.
My freshman year I was walking on the main road of campus, where several security vans were parked when I was harassed by a group of strangers. They screamed profanity, threw a bottle of urine at me, and tried to hit me with their car. This all happened just feet behind a parked security van. The strangers reappeared several times that week, and the only way I received updates on this was because students were sending out alerts and other horror stories of harassment they faced by the same car in a Facebook group. The school’s response? Put out more security vans. Because that went so well the first time.
Now that The New York Times article has been released, the school yet again has sent out a letter to the student body. In it they stated “The charges in the indictment are serious, wide-ranging, disturbing, and upsetting. As always the safety and well-being of our students and alumni is a priority for the College.”
Being a student at Sarah Lawrence College is not all negative. The school has opened many doors for me professionally, the professors care deeply about their students, and for the state I was in upon graduating high school, it was the perfect place for me to explore all my interests. My education, for the most part, has been top notch, and by having the freedom that a liberal arts school can provide, I have been able to study such a wide range of topics that I find passion in. Creative Writing, Psychology, and Cultural/Religious Studies? Sure, why not. I truly believe this is because of the professors, the supportive staff, and the community of Sarah Lawrence that prides itself on its individuality and drive for betterment.
I am set to graduate in the spring along with the Senior Class of 2020 that must now defend their education that they worked so hard to obtain, due to the administration’s failure to protect its students. The news of Larry Ray, and the “Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence” will forever cast a dark shadow on the faculty, administration, alumni, students, and staff who put everything into this institution. All I can hope is that the administration of Sarah Lawrence has learned a valuable lesson on the true meaning of health and safety, and will continue to make efforts to right all those they wronged a decade ago.