Why Women Should Support Due Process for Male College Students
Earlier this month, a former UVA Law School student filed a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Education. This suit attacks the unlawful mandate in a 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which demands that colleges use a weak "preponderance of the evidence" standard when investigating men for sexual misconduct.
According to the nonprofit FIRE, this means that accused students can be found guilty in the campus tribunal system with just 50.01% certainty. A weak standard is easily susceptible to misuse, no doubt.
As a female college student, the Title IX industrial-complex and the draconian investigation guidelines that it produced is absurd. Men accused of misconduct should have a fair trial, shouldn't they?
Thus, I applaud the former UVA student's lawsuit. Here's why:
The crusade against due process already has produced many victims. There have been at least 140 lawsuits brought against colleges by men who suffered an unfair trial. Amherst College, Swarthmore College, and St. Joseph's University have all settled such suits. No doubt, a costly process for both parties.
Administrators will never be able to never fairly investigate rape and sexual assault allegations. No number of Title IX lawsuits will change that. Colleges have capricious rules of evidence, no subpoenas. No neutral judge, either.
Expulsion from college is no small matter, especially for underprivileged students. Low-income and first-generation students often lack the cultural and financial capital to obtain legal help. Racial minorities, particularly black men, are uniquely susceptible to facing a trial despite lacking legal counsel, and being found guilty in the absence of evidence.
Due process safeguards are not merely a matter of legal justice, but of racial and economic justice as well.
Additionally, while I'd posit that false accusations are rare, what concerns me most is what I call unjust accusations. In our quest to demarcate between consent and rape, society has created a false duality. But there is a middle ground.
Different people have different understandings of consent, whether age or power differentials can negate consent, and whether intoxication nullifies it. A woman can feel traumatized by an encounter that reasonable people would not consider sexual assault.
This is illustrated in the story of Naomi Wolf, who has written about the trauma she faced when Yale University professor Harold Bloom put his hand on her thigh after she came to his house during dinnertime for drinks. What to her was an opportunity for academic advising, is to me a likely proposition for sex.
She maintains that he should be punished. The specter of Title IX is evoked. But why? I reasonably can't blame him. Nor do I think he should be punished. That doesn't mean Naomi Wolf's distress isn't valid, of course. But in this case, it may be reasonably unfair to consider Harold Bloom a criminal under Title IX.
No doubt, when I arrived at Cleveland State at the age of 15, I fell prey to a simplistic, sugar-coated idea of consent. Indeed, there were some misunderstandings. But I was equally at fault. From those experiences comes growth. Sex will never be cherry-ice cream, cotton candy happiness for us. No amount of chirpy sex-positive ideology will change that.
On the note of unjust accusations, it behooves us to learn the difference between a truly dangerous person, and a college student who makes a mistake. I have lived with former prisoners, tweaking addicts, and people charged with aggravated assault. Learning the difference between a deathly poisonous flower, and a mere prickly weed, is a crucial skill in navigating the treacherous flower bed of life. We must be cautious when suggesting a man is dangerous or criminal, lest we unjustly judge him and cause more harm than good.
In this climate of "rape culture" paranoia, the notion that colleges are "Hunting Grounds," and widespread demonization of masculinity---due process is important because we are living in an climate that labels any manifestation of masculinity as wrong. In the eyes of many women, men are guilty before they can even claim their innocence. Fair trials help to combat the negative effects of this social milieu.
An accusation of rape can derail a young boy's entire future---just as rape can spawn years of PTSD. We must ensure that in our fight against sexual assault that we stop engendering a new class of victims: young men. Fair trials and due process are crucial in helping to achieve justice for all.