‘Stunned’ that ‘they agreed with a person they find morally objectionable’
If you’re suspicious of an evidence standard analogous to a coin flip, the ability of college administrators to competently investigate alleged sex crimes, and the farcically broad definition of “sexual misconduct” on any given campus, you’re in league with President Trump’s education secretary.
“Stunned”? So were Shira Tarrant’s students when the gender studies professor at California State University-Long Beach told them that their views on campus sexual misconduct investigations weren’t that far off from Betsy DeVos*.
Tarrant gives a series of lectures on Title IX in her Gender, Sex and the Law class, and she switched things up in a recent lecture, as she writes in Playboy: “I decided to avoid mentioning [DeVos] by name in an effort to separate political assumptions from policy debate.”
The resulting in-class discussion was unexpectedly intelligent, with students unwittingly validating some of the elements of the Department of Education’s proposed revision of Title IX regulations on campus sexual misconduct:
My students saw compelling reasons for revising current Title IX procedures. They agreed that changing the burden of proof from what has been dubbed the “50 percent plus a feather” standard to a “clear and convincing” one would better serve justice …
They questioned the validity of the term sexual misconduct, noting that it collapses harassment and rape into one bucket of behavior. They worried about the consequences of ill-equipped employees implementing policies; training tools such as Title IX instructional videos and multiple-choice quizzes, for example, reek of school administrators doing the bare minimum, my students said.
Her class includes many women and people of color, and they were dumbfounded to realize they agreed with “they agreed with a person they find morally objectionable,” Tarrant writes: “Yet here they were doing just that while having thoughtful discussions based on legal principle rather than party affiliation.”
This is just one example of how “reliable data and rational debate” can mitigate “sex panics” in America, Tarrant writes. She distinguishes panics from the “outrage” that created #MeToo and which seeks to “expose” rather than “silence”:
Panic rejects nuance, debate and disagreement in favor of party lines and swift action. Panic has resulted in the rise of cancel culture and the dismissal of due process. By the time we can consider whether we’re in a full-blown cultural panic, rational thinking has already been cast aside. It becomes risky to ask for facts and data. In a sex panic, it becomes imprudent to question the extent to which sex-based discrimination exists. It becomes dangerous to suggest that all sexual violations, and all experiences of sexual violence, are not equivalent. As a consequence, we learn to shut up and sit down lest we face public condemnation and risk being attacked on the internet.
Sex panic was evident when students booed the idea of due process at Pomona College; law professor Lara Bazelon received physical threats for publicly agreeing with DeVos on Title IX; and black civil rights activists denounced an NAACP branch for supporting state-level reforms similar to DeVos’s proposal, Tarrant writes.
Bazelon told Tarrant that our tribal political moment has infected debate on how to investigate sexual assault:
Due process gets pushed aside, because in this scenario, once you’re on your team, it doesn’t matter what the facts are. The left offers full-throated support for the rights of the accused in criminal cases—until it comes to sex offenses. The assumption is that if someone is accused of sexual misconduct, they must be guilty.
Tarrant has much more to say about why the campus environment makes investigations especially prone to go off the rails, citing real-life complications that administrators ignore or try to interpret away.
Read the article (warning: the feature image is sexually graphic).
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