On Sunday, November 16, I, along with a large portion of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), participated in the Title IX discussion hosted on the third floor of Usdan. A few weeks prior, I had gone through the full bystander intervention training program. Due to many of the misconceptions I have heard recently regarding Title IX, I am going to clarify information based on what I learned at the forum.
One of the most important aspects of Title IX is that it must be seen as an even playing field for both the survivor and the accused. Any perception of it as biased in favor of one party over the other, or as a “kangaroo court,” is extremely dangerous to the cohesion of the student body. Therefore, suggestions such as suspending due process (which one Argus author implored us to do), or kicking all individuals accused of sexual misconduct or assault off campus, are setting off a gender war on campus. Survivors, who are usually women, want to know that if they are assaulted, they have a fair court to pursue justice; the accused, usually men, want to know that they will have a fair chance to explain their side of the story.
The balance is important in this all-too-common situation on campus: Two individuals with alcohol in their systems decide to engage in sexual activity. After waking up the next day, there is an issue of whether that activity was consensual. One party might feel as though ze was taken advantage of, and in the “kick-all-the-accused-out” system, the other party would be sent packing. But in a balanced system, where consent is a two-way street, neither side could give consent because they have both been intoxicated. Both men and women (or, in the case of same-sex relationships, both parties) have an equal claim and responsibility to give and receive consent, despite the prevailing stigma that exists on campus. I understand that the survivor might feel violated, and I believe she should receive counseling and support. But a large number of these “gray-area” cases take place under these conditions, commonly known as “he said, she said cases,” and are next to impossible to adjudicate fairly. For that reason, many of these cases are dismissed, or the accused receives only a few disciplinary points. On the other hand, if one party purposely feeds the other party alcohol with the intent of using the drinks as a date-rape drug, then a clear and apparent sexual assault has taken place and the accused will be kicked off campus.
One of the biggest sources of misinformation and moral preaching surrounds this issue of how cases are adjudicated. I have heard several conversations about how points are handed out in sexual misconduct and assault cases. One person in such a conversation might say, “A rapist could end up with fewer points than someone caught with pot.” That statement, however, is simply untrue. A person who is accused of a sexual assault that is clearly provable is immediately sent packing. Such a person does not pass go and does not collect $200: He receives the maximum number of points and is expelled. The variation in points is due to the gray-area cases I described above, where there are conflicting stories, witness accounts (or the witnesses themselves were intoxicated), both parties involved were intoxicated, or there is no evidence of assault.
This is not to say that the system can’t be improved. The requirement for the survivor to repeat her story over and over during the investigation is horrifying to me. Equally horrifying is the fact that the investigators’ interviews with survivors are not recorded. As it stands right now, the investigator writes a summary of the interview; this summary will likely contain subjectivity and could contain bias. The survivor should be required to tell hir story only once, the interview should be recorded by a camera or voice recorder, and then a seal should be placed around the survivor.
The perception that men cannot be raped also has to disappear from the system. I have heard anecdotal evidence that men who have gone through the system are not treated seriously. If the incorrect perception—that a man should be able to defend himself against an attacker—exists in the system, then it needs to be eradicated. Similarly, women can rape other women, a fact that needs to be taken seriously as well. The queer population at Wesleyan is large, and it deserves the same protections as the heterosexual population.
Finally, I would like to take issue with how students are being educated about sexual assault prevention on campus: namely, the fact that any sort of education about how people can avoid potentially dangerous sexual situations is classified as “victim blaming” and that we should focus on teaching people not to rape. This line of thought is extremely dangerous for a few reasons. First, there is always going to be a small segment of the population who is going to conduct sexual misconduct and assault. All of the education, proselytizing, grandstanding, soapboxing, yelling and screaming, and pleading is going to go in one ear and out the other. Some people are going to sexually assault; there is no getting around that. Second, telling the rest of the student body that the sole responsibility is on one party to gain consent, instead of encouraging it to be a two-way street and promoting common sense, sets up a dream world in which everyone will behave properly, which has already been disproven.
As far as the administration goes, I would suggest trying to flip the script on how the public relations about a sexual assault are handled. Instead of it being seen as a black eye on the University’s face, it should be seen as the University acknowledging that every college campus has sexual assaulters, and that it is not afraid to kick those individuals off campus no matter who they are related to. In a country where a lot of campuses are coming under fire for how they handle sexual assaults, being seen as one of the few that is competently handling an issue that every other college struggles with will place the University well above its peers and be the standard that other colleges try to achieve. As the old adage goes, covering up a sexual assault is far more damaging than admitting that they exist on campus and that the University is trying to rectify the situation.
To the Wesleyan student population: Soapbox preaching, manipulation of data, extremism, dissemination of misinformation, and witch hunting is hurting, not helping. On this serious issue, cool level-headedness is what we need.
Stascavage is a member of the class of 2018.