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Monday, May 23, 2022

The Human Side of the Editorial Board

The news article and corresponding editorial discussion of the alleged sexual assault case involving John Doe has been one of the most difficult topics I have had to write about during my time with the Campus, and not one I expected to cover just two weeks into my role as Editor-in-Chief. I am writing this Notes from the Desk to  shed some light on the difficult decisions the board made as we grappled with legal documents and the two very different stories presented by the accused and the accuser.

First, I say “had to write,” because I think there are some stories that deserve to be told. I believe the editorial board feels an incredible responsibility to its readers, and because of that we all decided to take on the role of trying to comment, meaningfully and objectively, on the sexual assault and federal lawsuit that the College is currently facing. These pieces are not intended to be insensitive to the parties involved, but simply to inform the community of the complex case and some of the questions it raises.

As we read the legal documents, we tried, though difficult at times, not to presume guilt or innocence.  We tried to present the facts.  We tried to be clear and precise in our arguments. In the editorial, we both criticize the administration for accepting SIT’s findings without review and commend it for re-opening the investigation when it learned that SIT’s investigation may have been flawed and there was in fact compelling evidence against the Middlebury student, John Doe.

This situation has lasting ramifications for everyone involved: Jane Doe, who has relived the emotional reiterations of her story for months, John Doe, who has been forced to endure an invasive investigation twice, the campus community, who must now co-exist with an individual that the College’s internal investigation deemed unfit for re-entry, and the College, which must defend its reputation and publicly support its decision to investigate. Often the tone of news articles and editorials suggests a lack of empathy. This is not reflective of the emotional reaction we experienced, nor of the compassion the board feels for the involved parties. Likewise, it does not convey the understanding we all have of the implications of our words and their lasting impact in a small community.

I believe the writing above reflects the gray and vague areas of this case and the profound difficulty the editorial board faced coming to a consensus that did not presume guilt while respecting every party involved. If nothing else, this speaks to the sensitive situations editors face. We are often privy to information and have the responsibility of telling a story as objectively as possible, while still being conscious of the size and tight-knit nature of our community, where anonymity is rare.  My hope is that this prompts thoughtful discussion among our community and reveals the human side behind our editorials.