Recently a poster appeared on campus with a message that reads, “Reject sexual predators emboldened by institutional power.” Below this message are photos of several professors along with their names. This piece makes no claims about the innocence or guilt of these professors, but addresses the method by which anonymous people chose to charge them. That method lacks any attempt to prove its allegations and permits no opportunity for defense. The good intentions of those responsible don’t excuse their approach. Unverified accusations, regardless of their nature or whom they indict, can’t be justified.
The poster’s language tries to frame its allegations as revolutionary, an attack against established power, but blacklists and intimidation are the tools of authoritarian regimes, not rebels. They inspire fear, not resistance. We should reject sexual predators, and we should reject tactics that paint others as sexual predators without due process. The justice system is flawed, but the presumption of innocence on which it rests is not. Wesleyan the institution won’t suffer if it turns out these accusations are false. The people wrongly accused will.
It’s possible that these professors are guilty, and if so they should be held accountable and their victims supported. But it’s also possible they are innocent, and the people who made this poster have denied to themselves that possibility. To publicly label someone a sexual predator is to presuppose guilt. It requires a level of certainty that can’t be reached by nameless judges behind closed doors. There must be someone to ask: what if, even if there’s only a slim chance, we’re wrong?
We should be wary of living in a community where that question isn’t asked. It’s a place where the prevailing ideas are not the most thoughtful, but the ones least open to doubt.