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Wednesday, Apr 24, 2024

Zero Tolerance: Here or Anywhere

On July 10, 2015 a Middlebury student was expelled from the College after an internal investigation found him guilty of sexual assault. The student, “John Doe,” unsuccessfully appealed this decision twice and yet today remains enrolled here for the fall semester. Doe was allowed to return to campus after filing a federal lawsuit against the College for unjust and unlawful expulsion. He has been allowed to remain on campus as the legal proceedings from his case continue.

Doe was accused of sexual assault while studying abroad through the School for International Training (SIT) in the fall of 2014. SIT conducted an investigation shortly thereafter, finding John Doe not responsible and prompting Jane Doe to notify Middlebury College of her belief that SIT’s investigation was poorly conducted and John Doe was guilty. In light of this complaint, Middlebury conducted its own investigation, ultimately ruling against John Doe and expelling him from the College.

We commend the administration for their ultimate decision to conduct Middlebury’s own thorough investigation and for contesting the current injunction. We also understand that SIT had the Title IX responsibility to investigate the claim. However, we at the Campus feel that this legal quagmire could have been avoided if the administration had not initially accepted SIT’s investigation and findings without review.

The College was notified on Nov. 17, 2014 that one of its students was being investigated for alleged sexual assault and was subsequently informed by SIT on Dec. 11, 2014 that Doe had been found not responsible. The College relied entirely on SIT’s decision to allow the student to return to campus for the spring 2015 semester without ever requiring SIT to submit a report of its investigation and findings. It was not until alleged victim Jane Doe contacted the school and submitted her evidence that the College decided to open its own investigation months later. We see this as a massive oversight with implications for every party involved.

The College’s initial decision to rely upon SIT’s ruling created a technicality that Doe’s attorneys skillfully exploited. His counsel is made up of experts in their field with axes to grind; Harvey Silverglate, part of the firm representing Doe, published an op-ed in the Boston Globe asserting that “the campus sexual assault panic” is “one of many social epidemics in our nation’s history that have ruined innocent lives and corrupted justice.” Lawyers like these have the resources to find legal loopholes without having to contend with their clients’ guilt.

What is most upsetting to us as a board is that we do not want outside individuals like Silverglate affecting our ability to police our own community. Although we do not believe Middlebury to be above the law, we worry that if the College must face forces like Silverglate every time it decides to expel a student found guilty of sexual assault, our judicial system may be compromised and victims of sexual assault may hesitate to come forward because of Doe’s complicated legal challenge to Middlebury’s ruling. Now each of us has to share a campus with an individual that our own judicial system deemed unfit for our community. If the College had initially chosen to conduct its own investigation, rather than rely solely upon the findings of SIT, this situation could have been avoided.

This is not to say that our system for investigating sexual misconduct is without flaws. However, we believe it is absolutely essential that the College carefully review all allegations and investigations of Middlebury students’ sexual misconduct abroad. Regardless of when or where misconduct happens, there is no place for sexual assault in this community.