Nothing can ever replace the reputation lost after a false accusation of sexual assault, but students accused of the heinous crime on college campuses received some good news these past couple of weeks.
It began in early July, when Allegheny College settled with a student who had been accused. The school had refused to speak with the accuser’s friend, who said the accuser was angry with the male student she accused for not wanting to date her. The school also refused to tell the accused student what the charges against him were until after it demanded he provide several written and oral statements in his defense.
The details of the settlement are unknown. Some past settlements have included money, but many simply allow the student to return to school or at least have the disciplinary mark removed so that he can transfer to another school.
Then There’s the Man Mattress Girl Accused
Following the Allegheny case, two more major lawsuits were settled. Columbia University settled with Paul Nungesser, the man publicly accused by “Mattress Girl” Emma Sulkowicz. When Columbia found Nungesser not responsible for sexual assault, Sulkowicz began carrying her mattress around campus in protest, to the praise of the media and politicians like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
But details of Sulkowicz’s relationship with Nungesser turned her victim story upside down. Messages between her and Nungesser directly before and long after the alleged assault showed a woman interested in a man who likely rebuffed her advances.
Sulkowicz was allowed to carry her mattress around campus and malign Nungesser publicly. She was even allowed to carry it at her graduation after students were told they couldn’t bring large objects on stage. Nungesser and his attorney took this as a sign of complicity at Columbia, and amended their lawsuit against the school.
The details of the settlement were not released, and the Nungessers would not provide a statement to The Federalist. Columbia, however, released a statement saying the school regretted that what happened to Nungesser after he was found not responsible was “very difficult for him and not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience.”
The school also said that it would revise its policies so that all students, “accuser and accused, including those like Paul who are found not responsible,” received “respect.” If only they had acted that way before Nungesser was maligned in the press.
Another High-Profile Settlement in Colorado
Finally, another high-profile lawsuit was settled, this one between Grant Neal and Colorado State University-Pueblo. Neal had been expelled even though he recorded a conversation with his alleged victim saying “I’m fine and I wasn’t raped” and trying to get the situation resolved.
Neal’s attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, attempted to include the federal government in the lawsuit, since it became clear the school would not have found Neal responsible had the U.S. Education Department not forced new policies on schools. The government was dismissed as a defendant.
Again, the settlement details have not been made public, but court documents say “The agreement included monetary and a number of non-economic terms.” In a statement, Miltenberg described the settlement simply and said there would be no further comment.
“Colorado State University-Pueblo and Mr. Grant Neal have come to a satisfactory resolution in the legal matter involving the two parties. Neither party admits to any wrong doing and both parties look forward to moving on from this matter. As a condition of the agreement, CSU-Pueblo and its employees and Mr. Neal and his representatives will not have any further comment regarding this case.”
To see schools settle with accused students, rather than fight them, is encouraging. What would be more encouraging is if more schools changed their policies to protect the rights of accused students and stopped the witch hunt mentality raging on campus.
U.S. Department of Education Indicates Shift
Beyond these three lawsuits, a group of accused students (including one woman) met with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Washington DC. This would never have happened during the Obama administration, which supported a culture insisting everyone believe that no one lies about sexual assault (even if there are not consequences for such a lie).
Following the meeting, DeVos said “a system without due process ultimately serves no one in the end.” She added, of accused students: “It was clear that their stories have not often been told, and that there are lives that have been ruined and lives that are lost in the process.”
DeVos also met with victim’s rights advocates, another important group. Sometimes rape really does happen on college campuses, and victims need support and help.
“We can’t go back to the days when allegations were swept under the rug, and I acknowledge there was a time when women were essentially dismissed,” DeVos said. “That is not acceptable.”
A fair process that includes due process does not impede justice. I’m still amazed that we’re at a point in this country where people can claim that being for due process means one is pro-rape, but here we are. Adding balance and fairness to a corrupt system will help all parties involved, especially if it tamps down the current hysteria.