With Democratic primary voters beginning to cast early ballots in the race for the 1st House district in Massachusetts, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is admitting he had sexual relationships with college students, following a report by the student newspaper at UMass Amherst. In a statement, Morse acknowledged showing "poor judgment."
The Daily Collegian reported Friday that the College Democrats of Massachusetts cut off contact with Morse, who is challenging Rep. Richard Neal as he seeks a 17th term in Congress.
The newspaper reports the 31-year-old Morse, who is openly gay and serving his fourth term as mayor, "regularly" matched with students as young as 18 on dating apps. The paper also says the College Democrats took issue with Morse meeting students at campaign events, adding them on social media accounts and then messaging them.
According to the paper, the College Democrats also accused Morse of having "sexual contact with college students" at the Five College Consortium and at UMass Amherst, where Morse teaches.
The Morse campaign, in a statement provided to MassLive, responded:
“Growing up gay and closeted in a small city like Holyoke, I struggled with accepting my sexuality, and in high school, I had a hard time finding other openly gay students. As I’ve become more comfortable with myself and my sexuality, like any young, single, openly gay man, I have had consensual adult relationships, including some with college students. I want to be clear — every relationship I’ve had has been consensual, However, I also recognize that I have to be cognizant of my position of power. Navigating life as both a young gay man and an elected official can be difficult, but that doesn’t excuse poor judgment. That’s why I want to sincerely apologize to anyone I have made feel uncomfortable. I am committed to meeting with any person or group, including the College Dems, to answer any questions and address any concerns. I’m sure that my opponent will be eager to twist this into something it’s not to score political points, but I would caution him against indulging in old negative stereotypes about gay men. I will not apologize for living life out of the closet, for going on dates, and having consensual conversations.”
WAMC News has asked the campaign for further details.
In a statement, UMass Amherst says it is launching an immediate review. The college says Morse last taught at UMass in Fall 2019 and the college has no plans to rehire the Holyoke mayor.
“The allegations that Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse engaged in inappropriate behavior with UMass Amherst students are serious and deeply concerning, and the university is launching an immediate review of the matter to determine whether the alleged actions during his time as a university lecturer were in violation of university policy or federal Title IX law,” UMass said in a statement. “The university has reached out to students to provide them resources and support. UMass was previously unaware of the concerns brought forward by the members of the College Democrats. The university’s policy on consensual relationships between faculty and students notes that dating or sexual relationships between faculty and students or post-docs are inherently problematic because of the unequal power dynamic between the parties to the relationship, the responsibility of faculty for evaluating students’ work, the possibility that other faculty and students may be adversely affected, and because such relationships diminish the trust and respect that ordinarily characterize the faculty-student relationship and are therefore inconsistent with the educational mission of the university. Therefore, faculty are prohibited from entering into a sexual relationship with any student or postdoc for whom the faculty member has any responsibility for supervision, evaluation, grading, advising, employment, or other instructional or supervisory activity. Morse is not a current UMass employee. He previously served as an adjunct instructor in Urban Government and Politics, last teaching the course in Fall 2019. The university has no plans to rehire Morse. He taught the course in Fall 2019, Spring 2019, Spring 2018, Spring 2017, Fall 2016, Fall 2015, Spring 2015, Fall 2014.”