A statement released Monday on behalf of former men’s basketball captain Jack Montague, who was expelled from Yale for sexual misconduct, has prompted discussion both on and outside the University campus.
The statement, written by his attorney Max Stern, details the process by which Montague was expelled after an alleged incident of non-consensual sex with a female student. Stern characterized Montague’s Feb. 10 expulsion as “wrong, unfairly determined, arbitrary, and excessive by any rational measure,” and questioned the process of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, the body which recommended Montague’s expulsion.
In the days since the statement’s release, many have raised concerns that its language is problematic and could even encourage a culture of victim-blaming. Still, others have said Montague’s suit is symptomatic of a nationwide issue with campus adjudication of sexual misconduct complaints. Meanwhile, Montague himself, as well as his former coach and teammates — preparing for their first NCAA Tournament game on Thursday — have remained silent on the statement and the allegations that prompted it.
Perhaps the most contentious part of the statement is its emphasis on the female student’s prior relationship with Montague at the time of the alleged misconduct. The disputed incident, which the female student told the UWC was non-consensual but Montague and his lawyer maintain was consensual, was the fourth sexual encounter between the pair.
According to the statement, the female student returned to Montague’s bedroom hours after he had allegedly assaulted her. Stern’s statement said this action “defies logic and common sense.”
But victims’ advocates and many students have criticized this characterization as uninformed and even destructive.
“I cannot explain this woman’s behavior, and, perhaps, neither can she,” said a female Yale student who has been through the UWC informal and formal complaint processes but chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “I did some things during and immediately following my own assault that didn’t make sense. The way that a person reacts to being assaulted doesn’t have to follow a formula, it doesn’t have to be logical.”
Anytime sexual violence occurs within an ongoing relationship, it can be challenging for a victim to determine what to do next, said Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, an advocacy group for sexual assault victims.
She added that the public statement suggesting that a victim of sexual violence would not return to stay with an accused assailant stems from a “lack of understanding” of the dynamics of dating violence.
The student group United Against Sexual Assault at Yale, which has been vocal throughout recent controversies on campus, released a statement on Monday in response to Stern’s message that also criticized the “false notion” that a woman would not reconnect with her assailant.
Critics have also taken issue with Stern’s critique of UWC processes, which he said imposed on Montague “so drastic a punishment on the basis of such flimsy evidence.”
University spokesman Tom Conroy said the decision to expel a student is made only after “the most careful consideration,” based on facts and disciplinary history when appropriate. That disciplinary history can include any formal Yale discipline, Conroy said, including discipline by the Yale College Executive Committee, which hears complaints of alleged infractions of Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations.
USAY’s statement made a similar argument, noting it was “highly unlikely” that Yale would be anything other than reluctant to expel the captain of a men’s basketball team in the middle of its most successful season in 50 years.
Conroy added that only about one of 10 formal UWC hearings result in expulsion. Since the UWC was founded in the fall of 2011, six students have been expelled, according to the most recent reports available on the UWC’s website.
Stern’s allegation that a report by the Association of American Universities was “highly critical of the incidence of sexual assault on the Yale campus” has also been disputed. The AAU report, which was released in the fall of 2015, showed that more than half of Yale students who responded to the survey had experienced some form of sexual harassment since arriving on campus, and 16.1 percent had experienced attempted or completed sexual assault. Those two figures were higher than the average university’s in the report.
But while the data in the report revealed urgent issues at Yale, Vice President of Public Affairs for the AAU Barry Toiv noted that the report did not criticize universities individually or as a group.
Still, others agreed with Stern’s critique of Montague’s expulsion, and questioned whether a system like the UWC should be allowed to hear and trial students on claims of sexual assault.
Samantha Harris, director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that because in cases of sexual assault there are often only two witnesses, determination of credibility is crucial — particularly in cases where there are conflicting statements, she said.
“Cross examination is one of the most important tools in the legal system to assess it, but Yale, like a lot of schools, does not allow for it,” Harris said. “What we are seeing in a lot of schools is that the process wasn’t fair and reliable. That doesn’t mean the student didn’t commit the violation, it just means the procedure used was not a fair procedure.”
Harris, who said she is familiar with Yale’s sexual misconduct procedures, said the University restricts cross-examination by only allowing the victim and accused to submit a list of questions to the UWC hearing panel, whose members then decide which questions, if any, to ask the other party. She added that although both the victim and the student are allowed an advisor throughout the hearing, that advisor does not have “concrete participation” because they also cannot direct questions to the other party.
Since 2011, there have been more than 85 lawsuits by students accused of sexual misconduct against their universities, alleging they were denied due process rights, Harris said.
Despite the controversy surrounding their former captain, the men’s basketball team and head coach James Jones have kept quiet on the topic as they prepare to play against Baylor on Thursday.
On Wednesday at an NCAA press conference, players declined to comment when asked about Montague or how the recent events have affected their season.
“I really can’t comment on the Jack situation specifically, but like I’ve said before, basketball is a sanctuary,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “We go to one of the hardest academic schools in the country, and when we step on the court all the outside distractions are gone.”
Maya Sweedler contributed reporting.