Dr. Helen Smith highlights an explosive topic that few want to talk about openly: discrimination against male students on college campuses. As Dr. Helen notes, university policies on sexual misconduct, as well as societal bias, are putting many college men in the hot seat, but few seem to care:
The discrimination will continue because there is no push back. If 5-10 percent of men fought back, stood up and started realizing that men’s rights are human rights and that they are not victims for daring to believe that their voices in gender and reproductive equality are just as important as a woman’s is, then maybe things will start to change. Until then, the kangaroo courts and angry feminists will have their day.
The “Kangaroo Courts” she refers to are the result of new university regulations pushed by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in 2011 for adjudicated cases of sexual harassment or sexual violence. The regulations allow universities to circumvent due process laws and other standards of the criminal justice system. Colleges need only show a “preponderance of evidence” (50.01 percent) that an assault occurred rather than the usual criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, a student must, in the judgment of a campus tribunal, “more likely than not” have committed the assault. And normal procedures of discovery and evidence gathering also fall by the wayside. According to Stephen Henrick at HuffPo, “there are no rules of procedure that give the accused access to anything that could disprove the allegations against him or her.” Universities can even accept hearsay as evidence.
At least 30 instutitions, including Yale, Cornell, and Stanford, now employ these new regulations. Data on false accusations are a mixed bag. Some studies claim that 2-8 percent of rape reports are false, whereas others insist that the numbers are much higher. What is clear, however, is that this reduction in safeguards has led to serious mistakes. A University of North Dakota student, convicted of sexual assault and kicked off campus, was recently allowed back when the charges against him were proven false and his accuser charged with making a false report. Charges of rape against a male student at Cornell were later thrown out when police discovered “irrefutable evidence” (in the form of video footage) of his innocence. And a widely publicized case at Brown University, involving the daughter of a wealthy alum, implicated a number of university administrators in misconduct to secure a conviction against the accused male student.
This is tricky territory. As a professor, I’ve dealt with young women who have been victimized by both student and non-student attackers. The emotional consequences for these students were severe and in some cases impacted their ability to complete their studies at the school where these problems occurred. Protection of young people from sexual assault on our campuses is a real issue and one that has real consequences for real lives.
Many campuses in America today are anything but ideal environments for young people taking their first real steps into the world of adulthood. The overdose of sexual stimulation in commercials and popular entertainment, the toxic signals about what is acceptable emanating from Hollywood and the celebrity community, and the intersection of heavy drug use, tolerated binge drinking, and the hook up culture have turned many campuses into genuinely toxic environments for young people experimenting with adult identities and sexual choices. Both young men and women can be disoriented and confused in the sometimes bizarre and dysfunctional world America has created to house its young people during a critical time of life.
Accusations of sexual violence and sexual assault should never be taken lightly. But neither should accusations be taken as truth. America is a country based on rights and fair procedure. Those accused of serious offenses must not be deprived of their rights, and college authorities cannot, in their commendable desire to protect female students, deny male students their basic rights. Both male and female students must feel that their rights will be protected and that they will be treated equally by their university should conflict arise.
No matter what happens, communities of young people in their teens and twenties are going to witness the consequences of poor judgment and crossed signals. The old norm, in which victims were expected to shut up and move on, was deeply unjust for young women. Feminists are absolutely right to want that to change. But the reality is that creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere on campus involves more than coming down like a ton of bricks on any young man accused of crossing the line. It involves much more adult leadership and guidance about responsible sexual behavior, and it involves a deeper commitment to the moral leadership and development of youth than most academics are comfortable thinking about.
American college life today has gone seriously wrong, and vulnerable young people, both male and female, are paying a heavy price for the failure. Abandoning our commitment to ideas like the presumption of innocence will not fix what is wrong on the campus today.