June 11, 2021

SEXUAL ASSAULT: A Dean of Students reflects: ‘How Much Damage Have My Colleagues and I Done?’

I thought about the specific faculty members I had relied on to serve as advocates, investigators, hearing officers, the ones who willingly gave time and energy to our efforts to stop students from harassing and assaulting one another. Is that who she was talking about? As a dean of students, I had been indebted to these colleagues. Never once had I heard their motives questioned. I certainly had never questioned them. But as I listened to Young, I realized there was a very different perspective out there.

It had never occurred to me that others might condemn their efforts, and as I listened, this counternarrative came into focus as though I were twisting a camera lens. What if Young had a point? What if these feminist warriors, women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, had taken their academic research, turned it into experiential learning, and in doing so, tilted the playing field toward the students, mostly young women, who took their classes? It was no coincidence, Young claimed, that the rise of women’s studies programs on college campuses coincided with the arrival of women’s centers and victims’ advocate services. . . .

The possibility that this young woman held in her hands the power to derail their son’s education, something these parents might have been imagining since he was in utero, was untenable. The possibility that the process designed to respond to exactly these sorts of accusations already appeared to presuppose his guilt — that was unimaginable.

No amount of assurance on my part convinced them that their son would be treated fairly. If that were the case, why were they already being told he had to leave campus and his classes before there was so much as a preliminary hearing? . . .

“My son’s hearing was a joke,” she said. “He never stood a chance. Do you know that the hearing officer and the investigator are good friends? And that the ‘advocate’” — she practically spit out the word — “they assigned to him was also a friend of theirs? I found them all on Facebook, attending the wedding of the person who is supposed to hear appeals. All friends. I saw them leaving together after the hearing, and in the parking lot of a restaurant heading in together. We decided to eat somewhere else.”

I thought about my colleagues, the small college team I worked with every day. We were friends. We sometimes dined together. We would have walked across campus together after a hearing. It had honestly never occurred to me how that would look to an outsider desperately seeking a fair hearing for her son. In her eyes, the fix had been in. She told me what college her son had been expelled from. I knew some of those people. I knew my counterpart there, knew him to be a highly regarded senior student-affairs professional. I offered no defense, however, because I had none.

There is no reason to trust the system. It’s interesting to see someone who spent years in the system slowly realizing that.

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