Stanford Daily Publishes Misleading Op-Ed on Sexual Assault Reform

On October 7th, The Stanford Dailypublished a rebuttal to my article in *The Stanford Review *about the ASSU’s proposed reform of Stanford’s sexual assault policy and the Alternate Review Process. In that piece, I described how the federal government mistakenly applied a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to sexual assault-related Title IX hearings. I called on Stanford to delay implementing default expulsion for those found guilty of sexual assault in the ARP until the federal government raises the mandatory standard of proof.

Unfortunately, the *Daily’s *rebuttal did not address these arguments. Instead, the author utilized the straw man fallacy and attacked the argument she wishes I made. The author misconstrued my argument and accused me of supporting alleged rapists at the expense of alleged victims.

If my article had conjured images of an “innocent (male) student, falsely accused by a malicious woman,” then of course outrage would be justified. The author cited compelling statistics attacking this claim and would have been right to condemn me had I suggested it. But my article neither makes this claim nor implicitly relies on its validity as the author suggests. Calls for raising the standard of proof and delaying default expulsion are not grounded in a fear of false accusations by “malicious” women. They are grounded in an appeal to justice that is delivered fairly and impartially.

Here is a brief overview of my article’s actual argument: Anyone accused of sexual assault, whether justly or unjustly, ought to have an impartial hearing with a reasonable standard of proof and this is true even if every accusation is warranted. The standard of proof currently used for sexual assault hearings —a preponderance of the evidence— is used in civil Title IX lawsuits and in government hearings to revoke school funding for noncompliance with Title IX. These compliance hearings to determine school funding are far different from a sexual assault case that can irrevocably damage a student’s reputation and life. As I describe in great detail in my article, the government failed to make this distinction when implementing the preponderance of the evidence standard. For these reasons and others discussed in my original article, this standard of proof is not reasonable and it should be raised, particularly in a context where the punishment is almost always expulsion.

ARP hearings should also be impartial. It is difficult to imagine how an accused student can receive impartial treatment when ARP training includes logical defense in a list of ways to identify an accused student as an abuser. How is a student supposed to defend him or herself if not logically? The author’s dismissal of this factor carries little weight: logical defenses should never be included in a list of factors that signify guilt, no matter how many other factors there may be. My argument does not advocate delaying expulsion to protect alleged rapists from “malicious women”, it advocates delay to ensure that all students accused of assault receive a fair hearing before they are expelled. This is a far cry from the author’s misleading caricature of my argument.

It is far easier to attack an argument predicated on a desire to protect alleged abusers than it is to attack an argument calling for caution until disciplinary procedures are fair for all students, both accusers and the accused. An accurate portrayal of my argument would have inconveniently forced the author to address its merits.

But the blame for this gross misrepresentation does not rest solely on the author. The Stanford Daily must be called to task for publishing an opinion piece riddled with straw man fallacies and ad hominem attacks. By publishing a rebuttal that belongs in a tabloid magazine instead of a campus newspaper, the Daily’s editorial staff tarnished its own credibility as a serious forum for campus debate in favor of yet another opportunity to assail straw man enemies within Stanford. I welcome serious disagreement with my position on the ASSU reform bill as long as it engages with my actual position, and not with a mirage. In this instance, The Stanford Daily neglected its obligation to ensure that opinions pieces are well researched, adequately supported, and most importantly, logical.

The rebuttal suffers from another critical flaw. It claims my article “seems completely unwilling to participate in these reforms, except as a dissenting voice.”  In the next sentence, the author lauds herself for “challenging the status quo.” This contradiction is apparently lost on her. Doesn’t challenging the status quo require dissent? It seems the author’s article and other proponents of ARP reform are only comfortable with minority opinions when they are the ones who hold them. The author certainly does hold a minority opinion in the national conversation and her courage to speak up is admirable. But make no mistake, these opinions have dominated recent discussion at Stanford while views considering protections for the accused have been largely dismissed and vilified by many within the Stanford community.

Dissent has been one of the most important forces for human progress in history. Copernicus challenged centuries of Church orthodoxy when he argued that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Countless black Americans dissented during the Civil Rights era by refusing to leave white restaurants and bus seats. Now, dissent is responsible for advancing equal rights for the LGBT community in the United States and for Malala Yousafzai speaking out against human rights abuse by the Pakistani Taliban and winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Not all dissenters are correct in their opinions and dissent should be evaluated on its merits. However, the act of dissenting from a majority opinion should rarely–if ever–be attacked. When The Stanford**Daily published an op-ed that attacked a dissenting voice on sexual assault policy reform, it did more than attack the merits of the argument. It assailed one of the most important forces for human advancement and sought to portray anything but a strict adherence to prevailing thought as an inherently malicious addition to a debate. I admire the author of the rebuttal for challenging her perception of the status quo. Now it is time a respect for dissent is extended to all cases, even when inconvenient.

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