In the Homeric culture war currently playing out across academia, no battleground has proven more divisive — or more treacherous — than the debate over Title IX.
Feminists claim that the statute, properly understood, requires colleges to adopt a preponderance of evidence standard when adjudicating sexual assault complaints. This was the interpretation pushed by the Obama administration with its infamous “Dear Colleague Letter.” Conservatives, meanwhile, have joined prominent law professors in warning that such policies have effectively undermined all due process protections for the accused, who are suing schools in record numbers now that political winds have shifted.
And in the face of this unhappy impasse, both sides have allowed rhetoric to eclipse reason, embracing non-solutions to serious problems and non-answers to serious questions.
Let’s start with the Right.
Every few months or so, we are treated to yet another conservative thinkpiece decrying the campus rape “hoax” as an exercise in feminist victimology. Such missives usually begin by noting that the “one-in-four” statistic peddled by the Left is based in statistical voodoo, followed by the obligatory caveat that, of course, “Even one is too much.”
Then comes the inevitable kicker: “Never mind that college campuses are some of the least patriarchal, most progressive spaces imaginable!”
That’s a strange thing to hear coming from conservatives. If you really believed that progressivism has been an unmitigated disaster for the social order — that Harvey Weinstein is the logical conclusion of the sexual revolution, that the traditional mores which once sheltered women from predation have since given way to unbridled libertinism — shouldn’t you of all people believe that what passes for sexual “ethics” on today’s campuses is in fact a recipe for abuse, a way for the strong to perve, prey and plunder the vulnerable? Shouldn’t you be more inclined than the average Clinton Democrat to treat the one-in-four statistic as a plausible conjecture now that we’ve done away with old rules, the old restraints?
Apparently not. Many “conservatives” appear to think that progressive ideology is false when it comes to understanding the causes of crime, poverty and social breakdown, but it is true whenever the “campus rape frenzy” could use a quick, callous rebuttal. No wonder the Left’s Title IX commissars seemed to be on a victory march during the Obama years — their ideological opponents lacked any semblance of compassion or consistency, easy to pigeonhole as out of touch troglodytes and apathetic naysayers.
That progressives lost the moral high ground in spite of all this is a testament to how ridiculous the anti-rape bureaucracies became after the “Dear Colleague Letter” took hold. Lax definitions and lower standards of evidence magnified the due process violations already inherent in campus tribunals while the misandrous rhetoric of third-wave feminism gave conservatives ample room to sneer, snipe and strawman, even though their core policy vision — better, fairer procedures for both accusers and the accused — was largely sensible.
It’s a necessary vision, too, given the moral and social costs associated with the present regime. The prototypical campus rapist looks a lot like Brock Turner — tall, white, athletic, probably in a fraternity. But as Emily Yoffe noted in a recent piece for The Atlantic, it is actually black men who are overrepresented in campus sexual assault complaints. This trend evokes a dark and sordid period of American history, one in which consensual relationships between black men and white women were portrayed as black-on-white rape and To-Kill-A-Mocking-Bird style witch hunts were all too common.
These cadences seem to have been lost on progressives, which is surprising, considering how quick they are to invoke “implicit bias” as the explanation for every conceivable social inequality under the sun. If it’s true that racial disparities in policing and sentencing stem largely from subconscious prejudices, eliminating due process from title IX hearings will almost certainly affect students of color the most, as ingrained cultural stereotypes make it shamefully easy to present black men as being just-a-little-more-likely-than-not to have committed sexual assault.
All of which is to say that the reasons to keep due process in campus proceedings have little to do with false accusations or some imagined campaign to desiccate male sexuality. Cross examination, advanced notice and impartiality matter because these procedures — unlike those outlined by the “Dear Colleague Letter” — are fundamentally just, premised on the idea that everyone, not only the privileged and the powerful, deserves a fair hearing, a fair shake.
The moral case for due process, then, would not change even if the one-in-four statistic were confirmed tomorrow. And that’s a good thing. It means the Right can stop writing screeds against “rape hysteria” and start focusing on how to repair our broken sexual culture. It means the Left can be pro-justice and pro-victim at the same time.
And it means university administrators should think twice about vitiating equity in the pursuit of equality.
Aaron Sibarium is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .