April 15, 2015

To University Presidents:

We, advocacy groups run by and fighting for student survivors of gender-based violence, write to you about the importance of fair process in university disciplinary systems.

We come to this issue out of concern for all student victims who have been betrayed and overlooked by their universities, deprived of the chance to learn and thrive by administrative inaction in the face of assault, harassment, and abuse. Our movement has made great strides in the last few years, but there is much more work to be done. Across the country, colleges and universities still fail to support survivors and take meaningful action against students who harm their classmates and communities.

We recognize that, now that schools have finally turned their attention to violence on campus, we are collectively tasked with answering the hard questions about how disciplinary procedures should work, given the particular challenges and opportunities of the campus context. And, we know first hand, the success of these procedures will depend on their fairness to all parties involved.

We are dedicated to ensuring fair process for four primary reasons:

First, many of the same procedures criticized by accused students hurt victims as well.

Second, the authorities to which student victims turn for support in the wake of violence will only be effective if they are perceived as even-handed and legitimate by all.

Third, we understand our fight as part of a broader struggle for equality in education, and worry that barebones procedural protections leave room for discrimination, including on the basis of race and class, in investigation and sanctioning.

Fourth, as students whose educational opportunities have been imperiled and limited by violence, we understand too well the harm of unjust deprivations of the right to learn.

There is no conflict between, on the one hand, our recognition that student victims of violence continue to face unconscionable barriers and administrative indifference, and, on the other, our conviction that schools must provide procedural protections for all students. Some who advocate for accused students’ rights have done so at the cost of truth and justice, confusing student discipline for criminal law and perpetuating a myth that universities now favor alleged victims over respondents — a myth we affirmatively reject. We can and must value procedural protections for both parties without losing sight of the mistreatment of campus survivors, and the very long way we have to go to achieve equity on campus.

Unlike some critics, we recognize that replicating criminal procedures and unequal evidentiary burdens on campus is not only unnecessary but dangerously counterproductive and contrary to Title IX’s commitment to equality in education.

And we want to be clear: We do not espouse an ideology of mandatory forgiveness, in which victims, most often women, are expected to “move on” and sacrifice their own healing for their abusers’ convenience and comfort.

For the four reasons stated above, we call for colleges and universities to ensure procedural rights for both parties, the accused and the accusing student. Many of these rights are already afforded by the Department of Education. Procedural rights should include:

  • The right to timely and clear notice of the allegations, parties’ rights and responsibilities (under both school policy and law), procedural updates, and the final determination
  • The right to review all materials used in the investigation and hearing with adequate time to consider and respond
  • The right to guidance from a trained advocate
  • The right to submit evidence and recommend witnesses and questions for the other party to decision-makers
  • The right to be heard by neutral decision-makers with professional expertise
  • The right to a safe and sensitive investigation and hearing
  • The right not to self-incriminate if criminal charges are possible or pending
  • The right to an explanation for the final decision
  • The right to fair and proportionate sanctions
  • The right to internal administrative appeal

Student survivors of gender-based violence still face unconscionable barriers to safe educations. Those who assault, abuse, and harass deserve to face sanctions. For the integrity and well-being of our communities, including those harmed, our systems of investigation, deliberation, and sanctioning must proceed with meaningful protections for all involved.


Know Your IX

Carry That Weight

No Red Tape

Our Harvard Can Do Better

CalArts Sexual Respect Task Force

7,000 in Solidarity: A Campaign Against Sexual Assault

Phoenix Survivors Alliance at the University of Chicago