Roosevelt University, Wabash Building entrance. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

DOWNTOWN — A professor at Chicago College of Performing Arts, the music conservatory of Roosevelt University, has recently left his position amid allegations of grooming and sexual assault from one of his former students.

The professor, who not been officially named, faced a Title IX investigation after allegations of misconduct first surfaced earlier this year. But after sustained public pressure and a petition that called for the professor to be removed from the campus, 430 S. Michigan Ave., he has “separated from the University” and was no longer employed there as of August 15, officials said.

“Roosevelt University administrators began looking into the matter as soon as we became aware of the allegations,” the school said in an official statement to Block Club. “Our administrative team worked diligently to make certain that the process was thorough, fair, efficient, and ensured that all members of our community felt safe and free to come forward without fear of retaliation.

“Roosevelt University values every member of its community, including current and former students, faculty, and staff and has steps in place to ensure that our students are safe and feel comfortable voicing any and all concerns. To preserve the rights and privacy of the parties in the matter, we are not able to speak to the specifics of any investigation.” 

For Emily Zwijack, an undergraduate who says her professor groomed and assaulted her, this development is a significant step in her road to recovery, she said.

“My first reaction was that I was really mad because he [took] the easy way out,” she told Block Club. “Basically, it doesn’t stay on his record — he can go apply to teach anywhere else, and none of this will be on there.” However, she is thankful she can resume classes and not have to face seeing him on campus.

She first detailed her allegations last month on the Instagram account @sashassastory, hoping to keep them anonymous for her own safety. But after she reported the incidents to the Title IX office at Roosevelt, she came forward publicly as the author.

These posts — which contain written accounts, screenshots of text conversations and more — detail how, starting in the summer of 2022, she began confiding in the professor during long talks in his office about her personal and family struggles, specifically her mother’s cancer diagnosis.

From there, she said he engaged in a repeated pattern of grooming and sexual coercion, getting her to talk about sex and relationships and writing lengthy explicit stories and fantasies over text. She said he also solicited topless and other illicit photos of her. 

Zwijack later stated these communications then graduated to several instances of sexual assault at his office at the university. She said he then threatened her and used his power to keep her in the relationship. 

After more than a year of this dynamic, Zwijack said she finally began to successfully push back against the professor’s behavior, broke off communications and began building her report for the university.

This development has led some to question the music school’s ability to respond to similar allegations. In 2019, a longtime Roosevelt administrator was accused of sexual abuse by several students, leading to public outrage and petition calling for his removal. That professor is currently no longer employed by Roosevelt.

Comments on a petition started in support of Zwijack recalled this incident and alleged other assaults of music school students.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said one petitioner, “and the iceberg goes REALLY deep.”

Another stated, “No person should ever be put in this situation, let alone someone who is trying to receive an education. Schools should be a safe space for an individual to learn and grow.”

Zwijack said the university failed to “provide … security and support” for her while the Title IX investigation was ongoing, despite that language being included in the university’s Title IX policy.

The university initially allowed the professor to stay on campus and resume his teaching position while the investigation took place. However, in the wake of his resignation, the investigation abruptly ended. He has not been criminally charged.

When contacted by Block Club, the accused professor declined to comment.

Zwijack said her search for justice is not over. She has an emergency no-contact order against the professor, and is waiting for a longer, yearlong no-contact order to be served to him so she can get peace of mind, she said.

“I’m just talking with people and figuring out what the best thing to do is moving forward,” she said.

More than anything, though, Zwijack hopes her story will help keep it from happening to other students.

“I just hope that the history of what happened to me stays with the school, so they will always make sure it doesn’t happen again.” 

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