Students accused of sexual assault on college campuses deserve due process, St. Louis County NAACP President John Gaskin III recently advocated.
Gaskin was praising a bill in the Missouri State House that would provide due process protections for students accused of sexual assault, including the right to an attorney (at their expense) and the ability to cross-examine their accuser and the evidence and witnesses against them. The Associated Press reported the bill would also allow students to remove university officials overseeing procedures for a conflict of interest and keep schools from using terms like “victim” or “survivor” before any investigation has even taken place. Such words promote the presumption of guilt, supporters of the bill say.
“The denial of due process at Missouri’s colleges disproportionately impacts African American men,” Gaskin said, “And that’s why we call for immediate due process reforms.”
African-Americans are at a particular disadvantage in campus kangaroo courts. Multiple reports and scholars have noticed the high frequency that they are accused (especially by white women) and are often unable to afford the necessary legal action needed to save their reputation.
The College Fix reported the bill, HB-573, would allow the state’s attorney general “to fine schools found to have violated due process rights.” The legislation would also make it legal to punish those who publish false statements about a person’s guilt in sexual misconduct matters.
In 2015, Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen wrote in The New Yorker that, in her experience, the majority of sexual assault accusations at Harvard are against minority students. Her colleague, professor Janet Halley, also wrote that year in the Harvard Law Review that “Case after Harvard case that has come to my attention, including several in which I have played some advocacy or adjudication role, has involved black male respondents.”
Emily Yoffe, writing in The Atlantic, spoke to another “Ivy League law professor” who agreed that race seems to play a role in accusations. Yoffe herself says that in all the cases of campus sexual assault she has tracked, black men are “vastly overrepresented.”
Years ago I, too, detailed the astonishing number of minority and foreign students who are accused. A black football player at Florida State University. A Chinese citizen at Vassar College. A Syrian student at Pennsylvania State University. An Australian at Duke University. A German at Columbia University. A black man at Harvard University. An Afghanistan man at Yale University. Two black men at the University of Findlay.
The list goes on and on and on.
Gaskin recognizes who is most disadvantaged by unfair school disciplinary processes that insist every accusation is true and don’t provide the accused a fair chance to defend themselves. Opponents of the bill, naturally, say it will prevent accusers from reporting. Society will have many problems if due process continues to be seen as an impediment to justice and removed so that only an accuser’s word is necessary to destroy someone’s life.
Missouri is one of the few states in the country that is currently recognizing that even college students deserve due process.