Male Student Expelled for Sexual Assault Sues College for Gender Discrimination

By Keerthi Sridharan | ksridhar@oberlin.edu | April 30, 2018 @ 9:53 pm
By Leah Treidler | ltreidle@oberlin.edu

Filed on June 23, 2017, the case John Doe v. Oberlin, has brought up questions of what terms like rape culture and consent - ‘buzzwords,’ to some - might mean in different contexts.

During the 2015-16 school year, ‘John Doe,’ a sophomore at Oberlin at the time, was accused of sexual assault. The charges were brought to the Title IX office by a woman identified in the document as ‘Jane Roe.’ The College found Doe guilty on all counts, which resulted in his expulsion from the school in 2016. Doe’s argument in John Doe v. Oberlin centers around the idea that a) the original ruling itself was incorrect, and that b) said the ruling was influenced by ‘gender discrimination’ on the part of the Title IX Office and the College as a whole.

 

The document discusses the events of the night in question in graphic detail, going over the accounts of both parties and multiple witnesses. Ultimately, Doe claims that as he had ‘no way of knowing’ that Roe was too incapacitated to give consent, the College should not have found him responsible for all charges. As defined by Oberlin’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and inclusion, consent is informed, freely and actively given, mutually understandable, and specific to a given situation. In response to Doe’s requests of certain sexual acts, Jane Roe allegedly responded with answers that ranged from explicitly stating her intoxication to diversionary tactics of asking him if he had protection, or in one case, asking if he could get her a drink of water. Regardless, just because someone isn’t incapacitated doesn’t mean that they are fully capable of consent; elements such as coercion, manipulation, and even societal conditioning can play into whether or not someone verbally consents to an act. Absolving oneself of guilt perpetuates dangerous stereotypes about whose ‘responsibility’ it is to give or get consent. Oberlin College’s policies recognize these subtleties, as criticized by John Doe and his lawyers in an excessively italicized and bolded paragraph in the legal complaint:

[Oberlin College’s] website says, “. . . If someone feels assaulted, she or he has been, regardless of the ‘objective facts’ surrounding the incident.” What actually happened isn’t important, the Counseling Center proclaims to students and faculty alike; what matters is how an accusing student feels.

 

‘Mr. Doe’ of the court case claims that the College’s ruling and his subsequent expulsion were motivated by ‘gender discrimination’: he believes that he was only found guilty because he is male and his accuser is female. In support of this claim, the evidence he brings forth includes the Title IX policies that were revised in 2014, in an overhaul spearheaded by Meredith Raimondo. Says the file,

 

“Ms. Raimondo has made clear that the 2014 Policy overhaul, and its implementation by her in her role as Oberlin’s Title IX Coordinator, were motivated by a gendered view of sexual misconduct as an offense committed primarily by men against women...she stated, as to her implementation of the 2014 Policy and its ethos, “I come to this work as a feminist committed to survivor-centered processes.” In her view, survivors are chiefly women, and the complainant-centered process she has established and implemented at Oberlin was gender-motivated.”

 

Raimondo’s statement of self-identification as a feminist, then, is seen by Mr. Doe’s counsel as indicative of her “gendered view” of sexual misconduct as being perpetrated by men against women. Feminism, though, is an equity-based ideology; it is motivated not by a desire to take away from the rights of men but to dismantle the already existing oppressive structures that systemically place women at a disadvantage. Alex Leslie, senior director of educational services at Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and speaker at the It's More Than Asking for Consent event held last Tuesday, responded to this sentiment: “It’s a bit of a canard [to say] that an equitable process discriminates against men.” So yes, to shut down a classic 2014 Men’s Rights Activist argument — admittedly about policies implemented around that time — feminist =/= man-hater. As more evidence for this alleged gender bias on the part of the Title IX office, the complaint brings up a statistic that, in any other situation, would be alarming: in 100% of the sexual discrimination and harassment cases brought through the Title IX office, the accused person or persons were found responsible on at least one charge. In fact, in 70% of the cases, the responding party was found responsible for all charges. Mr. Doe argues that this statistic is representative of bias on the part of the Title IX office towards students who come forward with allegations. In response to this, Leslie looks to what conversations about consent have looked like in the past: “Historically, approaches to holding people accountable for sexual violence haven’t been particularly victim-centered...when it starts to be more equitable, that can feel like discrimination.”

 

Within situations where consent is concerned, prioritizing the voice of the party or parties who come forward can be instrumental in reversing the societal patterns of dismissal that so many victims of sexual assault, regardless of gender, have had to put up with. Ms. Roe’s choice to go through the trial means that she felt a strong enough conviction to subject not just Doe, but herself to the arduous process of reporting. Oberlin’s policy of believing student survivors is based not on a liberal, anti-men ideology, but on historical patterns and statistics. In the United States, 2-8% of sexual assault reports are false. Picking apart every case without regard for the survivor’s pain would create gross and unnecessary trauma.

 

Still, Mr. Doe manages to flip the victim-perpetrator narrative on its head, demanding Oberlin pay “compensatory damages as appropriate” in the order of $1 million in addition to $2 million for “punitive damages.” He cites “significant emotional and physical stress” as his reasoning for this, despite the fact that Ms. Roe was never compensated for the trauma.

Contact copy editor Keerthi Sridharan at ksridhar@oberlin.edu. Contact staff writer Leah Treidler at ltreidle@oberlin.edu.

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