A student group on Friday said it was sorry for any homophobic responses that congressional candidate Alex Morse had to deal with in response to allegations he behaved inappropriately with students as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
College Democrats of Massachusetts said that while it believed the concerns expressed by students were legitimate, it was sorry those concerns were used to attack Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, Mass., in a stereotypical way.
Morse, a progressive challenging Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealPelosi: Build Back Better may need to be 'more limited,' renamed Judge dismisses Trump suit to block Congress from getting tax returns Child tax credit expiration adds pressure for Democrats MORE (D-Mass.) in a primary next month, was at the center of a debate this week after the student group sent a letter to the Daily Collegian of UMass Amherst. The letter alleged that Morse behaved inappropriately with students and was the subject of a story in the student paper.
"We condemn all homophobic attacks that have followed the publication of the article. While we believe that the concerns expressed by students were genuine, those concerns have been used to paint Morse in a way that plays into inappropriate stereotypes," the group's president Hayley Fleming wrote in a letter to members on Friday.
"That is unacceptable, and we want to make clear that we in no way condone the narrative or those attacks," she continued. "I sincerely apologize for the harm that those homophobic responses have caused Morse and the greater LGBTQ+ community, and I apologize for the role that we played in that harm."
In a letter obtained by The Intercept, Morse thanked the group. He said that he did not believe he had done anything wrong in his actions with students but that he understood some might have felt certain pressures from interactions with him given his standing in the community.
"Over the past week, I've had time to think and reflect," Morse wrote. "While I truly didn't think I'd done anything that would cause discomfort, I understand in a new way how my power as mayor and lecturer affects how I am received in social settings."
"Going forward, I am committed to being more aware of power dynamics in my interactions with other people," he said.
The earlier letter from the student group claimed that Morse frequently connected with students on dating apps, added students he met at College Democrats events on Instagram and sent them direct messages and had “sexual contact” with college students at UMass Amherst and other schools.
There also have been allegations the student group issued the letter to hurt Morse ahead of his primary against Neal.
The Intercept reported that the UMass Amherst College Democrats started discussing ways to damage Morse's campaign in an effort to help Neal's campaign as early as October.
Neal in a statement on Thursday denied having any involvement in the publishing of the allegations.
"I learned about the allegations against Mayor Morse the same way everyone else did, in the Daily Collegian last week," Neal said. "I also want to be clear: I will not tolerate my name being associated with any homophobic attacks or efforts to criticize someone for who they choose to love. That’s inconsistent with my character and my values."
"Any implications that I or anyone from my campaign are involved are flat wrong and an attempt to distract from the issue at hand," he added. "I have been and will remain entirely focused on the respective records of myself and Mayor Morse."