August 18, 2019 | 74° F

Rutgers student gets degree 36 years after making sexual harassment complaints

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Joyce Leuchten was dismissed from Rutgers when she was in her mid-40s, a week before she was due to graduate, after she reported a professor at the time for sexual misconduct. Thirty-six years later, she has graduated with her master’s degree from the Rutgers School of Social Work. 

Joyce Leuchten recently received her master’s degree diploma from the current Dean of the Rutgers’ School of Social Work Cathryn Potter, 36 years after she reported sexual misconduct made by a now-deceased professor. 

Leuchten was dismissed from Rutgers when she was in her mid-40s, just weeks before graduating. She had complained to administration about her professor’s advances, describing that he put pressure on her and she began to feel uncomfortable. He would constantly ask her on dates despite her polite opposition, put letters in her locker and even would touch her leg during office hour appointments, according to an NJ Advance Media article

When she spoke with administration, Leuchten explained that she did not want to do anything about the incidents until she earned her degree.

"I think they took that to mean I was going to sue or something after I graduated," she said. "But I had no intention of suing or doing anything. I just wanted to get my degree and work."

Not long after, she was removed from Rutgers and received a failing grade. On Dec, 10 2017, NJ Advance Media released the column that revealed Leuchten’s story at last. She thereafter received dozens of letters mentioning her courage and bravery.

A campaign led by Jon Brecka, a social worker from Livingston who had specifically wrote to Leuchten, was the catalyst behind bringing Leuchten’s truth to light. Through this effort, Potter became aware of the situation and planned to speak with Leuchten. Leucthen took a box of evidence — filled with transcripts, letters from the offending professor and positive letters from those who unfairly dismissed her — to her meeting with Potter.

Potter took all of this information, and months later, with the aid of President Robert L. Barchi and school lawyers, decided to give Leuchten her degree. 

Potter wanted to tie the loose ends that caused Leuchten years of depression. 

"It doesn't erase the 36 years of Joyce's story but I do admire how her life unfolded and she found so many other ways to make a difference,” Potter said. “This is a person we would have been proud of as an alumna of our school.” 

Elizabeth Kilpatrick

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