Tag Archives: Campus Safety

Banning Hard Alcohol at Stanford

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NEWS BRIEF You won’t find hard alcohol at Stanford University parties anymore. At least, that’s what school officials are hoping.

In an effort to reduce “the high risk of the rapid consumption of hard alcohol,” the university is banning liquors that are 20 percent alcohol by volume (40 proof) from undergraduate campus parties, while also prohibiting undergraduate students from having hard-alcohol containers that are 750 milliliters or larger in student residences. Student who are of legal age can still drink beer and wine.

The new policy is a “harm reduction strategy,” explained Ralph Castro, director of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, in a press release. He adds:

Our intention is not a total prohibition of a substance, but rather a targeted approach that limits high-risk behavior and has the backing of empirical studies on restricting the availability of and access to alcohol. It also allows us the ability to provide uniformity in a policy that will impact all undergraduate students without banning a substance that is legal for a segment of the student population to use responsibly.

By limiting the size of containers to anything less than the size of a wine bottle (capable of pouring out around 17 shots), the university is hoping to reduce alcohol consumption through availability and cost: There are fewer stores that sell hard alcohol in smaller containers, and if students find smaller containers of hard alcohol it costs more to buy those in high quantities.

The move comes two months after former Stanford student Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious female student behind a garbage dumpster. Turner blamed alcohol for the incident, as both he and the victim were intoxicated when the assault occurred on January 18, 2015.

Following significant national attention to the assault, university leaders said they wanted to start a conversation around “the campus culture around alcohol.” Critics accused the university of overshadowing Turner’s personal role in the assault, partially blaming the victim’s alcohol consumption.

Michele Dauber, a Stanford University Law professor who has become a national voice on the Turner incident, criticized the university’s new policy, tweeting:

There are exceptions to the new rules. Mixed drinks using hard alcohol will be allowed, though, for parties hosted by graduate student organizations. Shots are still prohibited. Students who violate the new policy may be removed from university housing.

What Should the Standard of Proof Be in Campus Rape Cases?

A college student is accused of rape or sexual harassment by a classmate and denies the allegation. A campus investigation follows. At the end of the process, the presiding administrator must judge whether the charges against the accused have merit.

What standard of proof should be used?

That’s one of the key questions posed in Doe v. Lhamon, a federal lawsuit filed by a former University of Virginia law student and the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn recent efforts by the Department of Education to lower the standard of proof in sexual-misconduct cases, forcing institutions of higher education to determine culpability based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” Under that standard, students are found culpable and punished if the chance that sexual misconduct occurred is even slightly more likely than that it did not occur.

In criminal cases, allegations must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Prior to the Department of Education’s push, many institutions of higher education required “clear and convincing evidence” to find a student guilty of sexual misconduct.

Princeton University required “clear and persuasive evidence.”

But starting in 2011, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began to insist that colleges would run afoul of Title IX and risk losing federal funding unless they adjudicated cases using the weaker “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

A 2014 communication reaffirmed the change.

The Department of Education’s actions were part of a larger effort to decrease sexual assault on college campuses by threatening institutions with the loss of federal funds if they didn’t making sweeping changes to their disciplinary procedures.

Most institutions complied. But critics say that students are now being denied due process. After Harvard University revised its sexual-misconduct policy, for example, numerous members of its law faculty signed a protest letter declaring that “we find the new sexual harassment policy inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach. We also find the process by which this policy was decided and imposed on all parts of the university inconsistent with the finest traditions of Harvard University, of faculty governance, and of academic freedom.”

Another group of law professors from numerous institutions of higher education co-signed an open letter objecting that the Office of Civil Rights “unlawfully expanded the nature and scope of institutions’ responsibility to address sexual harassment”––a procedural objection––“thereby compelling institutions to choose between fundamental fairness for students and their continued acceptance of federal funding.”

They added:

…relentless pressure on institutions to respond aggressively to sexual assault allegations has undermined the neutrality of many campus investigators and adjudicators by forcing them to consider the broader financial impact of their actions. In an effort to preclude a costly Title IX investigation, some institutions interrogate accused students before informing them of the specific conduct code they are alleged to have violated and many deny them access to witnesses or potentially exculpatory evidence. In the aftermath, innocent suspended and expelled students have become mired “in academic and professional
limbo,” impairing or destroying their access to a college education, thereby relegating them to a lifetime of diminished income and social stigmatization as sexual offenders.

Some students who were found guilty in campus proceedings sued their colleges, claiming that their due process rights were violated, and won victories in court.

The complaint in Doe v. Lhamon states that the plaintiff, John Doe, had a sexual encounter with Jane Roe on August 23, 2013. A year-and-a-half later, on March 6, 2015, Roe alleged misconduct, saying that due to alcohol consumption she could not consent to sexual activity. Doe responded that on the night in question, Roe did not appear to be intoxicated let alone incapacitated. UVA investigated the matter.

Previously, the university had used a “clear and convincing” standard. According to an old student handbook, that standard “means that the claim is highly probable and has produced a firm belief or conviction that the allegations in question are true.” But due to changes undertaken at the behest of the Department of Education, the Doe case was decided on the “preponderance of the evidence.”

Says the complaint:

On January 20, 2016, Ms. Roe’s claims were adjudicated during a nine-hour hearing.

The adjudicator––a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania––called the matter a “very close” and “very difficult case.” She found Mr. Doe responsible, she said, because the evidence “slightly” tipped in favor of responsibility, and she was “required” by “the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education” to apply “the weakest standard of proof” available––preponderance of the evidence––which is satisfied whenever the evidence is “tipped very slightly” in favor of responsibility.

The adjudicator also explained that two other commonly used evidentiary standards––the “clear and convincing” evidence standard and the “reasonable doubt” standard––would “tip the scale much more,” thereby indicating that, but for UVA’s mandated use of the preponderance standard, Mr. Doe would not have been found responsible.

After explaining why, in her view, the evidence before her “made it slightly more likely than not” that Mr. Doe had not properly obtained “effective consent” from Ms. Roe given her intoxication, the adjudicator again emphasized, at the end of her ruling, that the case was a close one. She stated that its closeness “will be reflected by me in any sanction that I impose.”

Ultimately, Doe was sentenced to four months counseling and a lifetime ban from all UVA property and activities. He subsequently took and passed the Virginia State Bar and was awarded his degree. His lawsuit argues that both the ban and what he says is the unjust label of someone who has committed sexual assault will affect him for the rest of his life, and that he would not have been found culpable if not for the lower standard of proof demanded by the Department of Education.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has a substantive interest in the case, declaring in a statement, “OCR has acted as though decreasing due process rights will increase justice. In fact, the opposite is true. Real people’s lives are being irreparably harmed.” But its legal argument is largely procedural––that is, it argues that the Office of Civil Rights is required by law “to notify the public of proposed rules and solicit feedback before imposing new obligations on regulated entities, like colleges and universities. OCR did not fulfill this obligation.”

Put another way, regardless of whether the newly relaxed standard of proof is superior or inferior, FIRE argues that the way in which the federal government imposed it was unlawful––the same procedural objection raised by the law professors in their 2014 letter. Time will tell whether that procedural argument carries the day.

On the substantive question, though, I’ve read about too many cases of wrongful convictions in the criminal-justice system, where the accused are afforded a right-to-counsel and the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof, to think that “a preponderance of the evidence” is sufficient in proceedings with no right to counsel.

I’m also struck by a little-discussed way in which “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “clear and convincing evidence” differ from “preponderance of the evidence.”

Under the stronger standards, it’s possible to find against an accuser without implying or seeming to imply that he or she is a liar. After all, a “not guilty” finding could mean that there was strong evidence, but that it did not meet the high standard of proof that the institution imposed as a safeguard against wrongly punishing innocents.

Whereas under a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, an adjudicator who finds against an accuser is arguably saying that it’s more likely than not that he or she is lying (though it is technically possible that the evidence is split right down the middle).

I suspect that will cause many adjudicators to feel some pressure, if only self-imposed, to render verdicts that validate the claims of accusers––pressure that either endangers innocents or is a long overdue corrective to “rape culture,” depending on your perspective. I wonder if accusers whose accusations are not validated will find it harder to bear. Regardless, if the “preponderance of the evidence” standard survives both litigation and debate, it ought to at least be paired with procedural reforms that guarantee that the accused on campuses are transparently told the charges against them, given access to evidence, allowed legal representation, and otherwise afforded at least the same rights and safeguards against injustice that they’d have in a civil case with comparable stakes.


An earlier version of this piece erroneously used "burden of proof" rather than "standard of proof" in a few places.

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Ex-Stanford Swimmer Gets 6 Month Sentence for Rape Despite Victim Requesting ‘Proper Punishment’

In January 2015, Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was arrested for raping an unconscious woman outside of a fraternity house. Turner, who was the subject of a very sympathetic “once-promising” Washington Post write up, was caught mid-rape by two men who happened to be riding their bikes nearby.

According to testimony in Turner’s March trial, one of the bicyclists yelled, “What are you doing?” at Turner, who proceeded to run away. The bicyclists managed to wrestle Turner to the ground. The former Stanford swimmer, now 20, was convicted of multiple felonies including assault with attempt to rape.

On Thursday, prosecutors asked sentencing judge Aaron Perksy to sentence Turner to six years in a state prison, though the maximum for his crimes is 14 years. But the judge instead decided to side with the probation officer and sentenced Turner to a mere six months in county jail. The Guardian reports that Persky cited Turner’s age and lack of previous criminal history as the reason for his decision. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him…I think he will not be a danger to others,” Perksy said.

Perksy’s sentencing factors have shades of that “once-promising” narrative, singularly focused on the well-being of rapist rather than the victim; it’s concern—the emphasis on the “severe impact” punishment could potentially have Turner—over the real, tangible crimes Turner committed. Perhaps the sentence shouldn’t be surprising, after all, only three out of every 100 rapists will spend a day in prison. Those numbers dwindle significantly for other sex-related felonies, like the ones Turner was convicted of.

Yet this sentencing seems particularly callous, particularly given the statement delivered at Turner’s hearing by the 23-year-old victim. In the courtroom, the victim looked directly at Turner and asked him, “I was awake, right?”, refuting Turner’s insistence throughout the trial that she was conscious throughout the encounter and verbally consented.

She also, Palo Alto Online reports, directly refuted large portions of Turner’s statement in which he blamed “campus drinking culture” and “the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that,” for raping a woman. She took particular issue with Turner’s false repentance (“I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life,” Turner wrote in his statement). The victim said in court:

“Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”

In her statement, too, the woman seized on the story that surrounded Turner—one that made him a victim of some inevitable circumstances, rather than a felon. A familiar narrative about rape and assault in which the effect of his crimes are diminished so that an upstanding young man could be mourned, so that he could be the victim:

“In newspapers, my name was “unconscious intoxicated woman”, ten syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am. That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster, while you are the All-American swimmer at a top university, innocent until proven guilty, with so much at stake. I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt, who waited a year to figure out if I was worth something.”

She also spoke directly about the probation officer’s recommendation, saying that she didn’t want Turner “to rot away in prison,” but rather for him to “understand and admit to his wrongdoing.” It, however, became clear to her after reading Turner’s statement (where he reiterated that he was drunk, she was conscious, the encounter was consensual, and drinking and hookup culture were the real culprits), that he was unable to “exhibit…remorse.”

“I fully respected his right to a trial, but even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol. Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of promiscuity. By definition rape is the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.”

After hearing and reading her statement, the judge still sentenced Turner to six months, though, as Palo Alto Online notes, it will more than likely be reduced to three months “with credit for good behavior.”

The county prosecutor said, “The punishment does not fit the crime.” It hardly ever does, but at least Turner’s future is still promising.

Read her full statement here.


Screenshot via ABC 7

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Lawsuit charges Kansas State with telling students: If you’re raped off campus that’s your problem

Two women have filed lawsuits charging that Kansas State University has declined to investigate their rapes because they took place off campus. Both incidents were fraternity related and both women reported the assaults and rape kits were administered, but they say the university told them they wouldn’t investigate off-campus assaults. Roxana Hegeman reports:

Already, Kansas State is the subject of four open federal Title IX investigations for allegedly mishandling sex assault complaints, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. […]

The U.S. Department of Education has said schools have an obligation to respond to such complaints, even if they occur off campus, according to the students’ attorney, Cari Simon. […] "Kansas State’s position is an outlier." […]

[One woman’s] lawsuit contends she became "extremely incapacitated" from consuming a large amount of alcohol and blacked out. One of the students raped her in his truck while 15 other students looked on, some taking video and photographs, according to the court filing. Her lawsuit also alleges multiple rapes while going to and at a fraternity house.

Gee, sounds like something that should be investigated, no? This is just appalling. The lawsuit contends that since 2012, 11 rapes have taken place at university fraternities.

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A Wave of Sexual-Assault Cases Kindles Anger on Baylor’s Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Incidents involving the Baptist university’s powerhouse football team have unsettled many students. Now the administration is taking action on a problem that activists say runs deeper than sports.

Source: A Wave of Sexual-Assault Cases Kindles Anger on Baylor’s Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education