College Justice, Where Are You? 
Wednesday, April 18, 2018 at 5:05PM
David H.K. Nguyen

Imagine being a college student who has falsely been accused of sexual assault; then imagine you were suspended or expelled from college simply because of these allegations. No hearing, no courts, no due process. College is supposed to be a new and exciting time but for a third of male college students this is not the case. It is estimated that 1 in 3 male college students will suffer this fate.  False accusations are occurring more than they should and the sad part is these students will be failed by a system which should be equally protecting them.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, campuses are required to prevent and remedy sexual assault cases or they face losing federal funding. In the past, campuses have had a reputation for not taking students’ complaints of sexual assault seriously; so, federal mandates have been put in place beginning with the Obama administration reinterpreting Title IX to the U.S. Department of Education’s Dear Colleague Letter. These mandates have put pressure on campus to find more accused students responsible, instead of the truth of the allegations. According to the Department of Education’s regulations, state schools must have a “prompt and equitable” procedure for resolving sexual assault complaints. These mandates also included adopting a “preponderance of evidence” standard. Under the preponderance of evidence standard due process is non- existent, meaning a hearing is not required, the accused does not have the right to appeal or have an attorney, and campuses are discouraged from permitting cross-examinations. Because of these mandates and regulations, the accused students are being suspended and expelled without the protections they would normally receive in the criminal justice system.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced she is moving to end the sexual assault procedures on campus set forth by the Obama administration. DeVos mentioned the current Title IX policies often denied due process to the accused, and that is what they are looking to change. Some feel this allows campuses to weaken their procedures for handling sexual assault cases and makes it more difficult for victims to seek justice. While others feel it will allow the accused a fair investigation.

There are detrimental effects for those who have been falsely accused of sexual assaults. In the case of  Andrew Doe v Ole Miss, a third party, who is unnamed, claimed “Andrew Doe” sexually assaulted “Bethany Roe.” Although Roe and Andrew both claimed they had consensual sex, Doe was never formally charged with a crime and Roe never filed a complaint. The University Judicial Council found Andrew guilty and expelled him from the university. The charge is permanently on his record. In Zackary Hunt vs. Denison University and Sophia Celeste Lee,  Zackary Hunt lost a $30,000 scholarship and his place on the University’s football team when he was falsely accused of sexual assault. In Joshua Strange v Auburn University, a grand jury failed to indict Joshua Strange in criminal court but Auburn University found him in violation of the student code of conduct and expelled him from the University. 

Over the last eight years more students are starting to sue colleges when they feel campuses violated their rights under Title IX.  In the case John Doe v. Swarthmore the college was accused of violating “John Doe’s” student rights after he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct. John Doe won and the suspension was lifted. This is not the norm; however, as cases seldom win in criminal court, but the costs for colleges to defend themselves is adding up. Nothing can replace the reputation lost or the mental and emotional toll false accusations take on accused students. With the help from lawyers, parents, and advocacy groups falsely accused students can fight back. While these students believe, their rights have been taken away, anti-rape advocates see it a different way. Anti-rape advocates believe that colleges are now paying more attention to sexual assaults on campuses and offenders are starting to cry foul. They believe most people who are accused of sexual assault would contend that they are innocent. 

Sexual assault on campus is a serious problem. There are not many educational issues debated more than how colleges should deal with sexual misconduct. Of course, Title IX has its challenges, all policies do, but regardless, protocols should be clear that ALL students are protected equally. Have efforts to protect sexual assault victims lead to policies that infringe on the civil right of men?  

This post was authored by Jessica Sherwood, a masters student in Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio. 

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