Crime, Law and Justice

Carleton alum alleges grooming, sexual assault by campus staffer

Skinner Memorial Chapel
Skinner Memorial Chapel, on the campus of Carleton College in Northfield.
Tom Weber | MPR News file photo

In a federal lawsuit, a former Carleton College student alleges that a campus dance instructor groomed and sexually assaulted her.

The alleged victim, who’s named as Jane Doe in the complaint, attended the school in Northfield from 2019 to 2022. She took salsa classes from Don Smith, whose primary campus job was assistant director of institutional research.

According to Doe’s suit, Smith allegedly claimed to be a champion dancer, positioned himself as her mentor and continually pressured her for sex. In the fall of 2021, when Doe was a junior, she enrolled in his intermediate salsa class while also serving as his paid co-instructor for the beginners’ class.

According to the lawsuit, Smith also told Doe about his “violent tendencies” and said that he was a “diagnosed sociopath who had intense issues with anger and violence.” He allegedly required her to meet at his home near campus every weekend to plan lessons and practice, and chided her for not being “assertive or sensual enough.”

In one alleged incident in November 2021, Smith offered his guest bedroom to Doe, who needed a place to stay briefly after the dorms closed at the end of fall term. Smith allegedly gave Doe alcohol during a game of truth or dare and she awoke the next morning with red marks around her throat.

The following January, Doe alleges that Smith struck and bit her after she reluctantly returned to his home when he offered her a birthday gift.

Doe’s attorney Tamara Holder said in a phone interview with MPR News on Thursday that there is no evidence to indicate that Smith has any professional expertise in salsa dancing.

“When you look for him online there is literally nothing,” Holder said. “The fact that they put this guy on campus is truly stunning.”

Holder also alleges that he used his administrative position to access Doe’s personal and financial information.

Smith could not be reached for comment.

Holder said given recent high-profile cases of abuse against children and young adults in institutional settings, Carleton has no excuse for ignoring concerns about Smith.

“I think that in this day and age, post Larry Nassar, Boy Scouts, that this school should have done something and they didn’t,” Holder said.

According to the complaint, Doe reported the assaults in separate meetings with two different administrators in the spring of 2022 and unsuccessfully sought a restraining order against Smith. Four days after Doe told Carleton’s Title IX coordinator about the attack, the college fired Smith and banned him from campus.

In a statement emailed to MPR News on Thursday, Carleton says it took "immediate action to terminate his employment, involve law enforcement, and bar him from our campus.” The school says that it has “robust and effective processes in place to prevent, report, and respond to sexual misconduct, and these processes were utilized in supporting Ms. Doe.”