A week after six women filed a lawsuit accusing LSU of failing to properly investigate complaints of sexual misconduct against a former graduate student from France, LSU has removed the chair of the Department of French Studies, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Adelaide Russo, the department chair, has been removed "effective immediately," according to an email that LSU College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Troy Blanchard sent to colleagues, obtained by The Advocate | The Times-Picayune. Russo remains a professor at LSU but is on sabbatical.
Russo repeatedly defended former graduate student Edouard d'Espalungue d'Arros and allowed him to work directly with undergraduate students despite d'Espalungue being arrested in 2018 and later charged with third-degree rape, according to the lawsuit.
She spent two and a half years wondering if she made the right decision after the night that had come to eclipse the happier parts of her life.
Blanchard wrote that leadership from the Office of Academic Affairs, LSU Human Resources and the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX recommended Russo's removal. LSU confirmed the authenticity of his email.
"I share the leadership's concerns and the position of department chair is an at-will administrative appointment," Blanchard wrote. "Her term as department chair will conclude effective immediately. Please move forward with the department's governance procedures for selecting a department chair."
The removal is the first major move that LSU has taken in response to reports that officials both at LSU and in the criminal justice system failed to prevent d'Espalungue from sexually assaulting and harassing several women, despite repeated complaints about him. At least seven women — six connected to LSU — have reported that d'Espalungue raped, groped or sexually harassed them.
D'Espalungue was arrested in 2018 after a UL Lafayette student reported that he raped her on a religious retreat near Alexandria. But after he bonded out of jail, he returned to LSU, and the criminal case in Rapides Parish stalled. Grand jury proceedings were rescheduled three times.
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Within weeks of his arrest, women in the LSU French department also started complaining about him, according to the lawsuit. One graduate student reported that she told Russo she was uncomfortable about the way that d'Espalungue spoke about her body and her marital status, but Russo told her she should accept the comments as compliments, the lawsuit says.
A professor also told Blanchard within a month of d'Espalungue's arrest that four students had complained he had sexually harassed them, and that the students described d’Espalungue as “very aggressive.” She said Russo was dismissive.
In November 2018, d’Espalungue and Russo met with an associate dean who told them that d'Espalungue should not be in the classroom, the lawsuit says. They both said he was "not leading anything on campus," but he emailed undergraduates about a film screening the same day.
On Dec. 15, 2018, the professor emailed LSU's Title IX office to complain that Russo had told staffers that d’Espalungue "is innocent before asking if we have concerns or issues feeling comfortable.”
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Complaints about Russo and d'Espalungue continued at LSU through 2019 and 2020, while he launched an LSU-backed American Journal of French Studies. In April 2019, he presided over an awards ceremony for high school essay contestants for the journal immediately after a Department of French Studies awards ceremony that Russo presided over, the lawsuit says.
On Sept. 8, 2020, a student reported to LSU that d'Espalungue raped her after they went on a picnic together. She received a rape kit and LSU ultimately suspended d’Espalungue for a year over her case, but did not mete out any additional punishments based on several other complaints filed against him.
His late 2020 suspension from LSU was never communicated to the UL Lafayette student whose criminal rape case against him in Rapides Parish was still pending at the time. Shortly after, d’Espalanuge petitioned a Rapides Parish judge to visit his home in France over the 2020 holidays. The Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office did not object to the request, and the judge agreed to it.
D’Espalungue has never returned to the U.S., despite being indicted earlier this year and charged with third-degree rape.