When District of Columbia councilwoman Anita Bonds came up with her stroke of genius, it was so ridiculously absurd as to serve only as a vehicle for ridicule. Everyone had a good laugh at her insane proposal:
Newly proposed D.C. legislation would require colleges to put a permanent and prominent notation on the academic transcripts of students who are convicted of sexual assault or who try to withdraw from school while under investigation for sexual misconduct — a “Scarlet Letter” that would follow them to new schools and graduate programs or into the workforce.
But that was a year ago. Back when Congressman Jared Polis laughed off the consequences of campus rape adjudications as insignificant. Back when lawprof Corey Rayburn Yung argued that the usual punishment was a semester’s suspension, coining “good enough for twitter.” All to the effect of dismissing concerns about the wholesale denial of due process in conjunction with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ rogue usurpation of jurisdiction over rape and sexual assault on campus. Good times.
Back then, a mere year ago, the contention was that this blossoming trend wasn’t worth taking seriously because there was a rape epidemic on campus, based upon fictional statistics and the manufacture of offenses defined only by the feelings of its “survivors.” Sure, some wags raised the red flags, screamed that this was, indeed, a serious concern and argued that it would quickly slip-slide down the slope of very serious harm to the accused. But hey, what do I know?
Now, Anita Bonds’ crazy Scarlet Letter idea returns, as disingenuously reported by NPR.
When it comes to punishing students for campus sexual assault, some say kicking offenders out of school isn’t enough. They want schools to put a permanent note on offenders’ transcripts explaining that they’ve been punished for sexual misconduct, so other schools — or employers — can be warned.
Survivor Carmen McNeill says it’s common sense.
The first giveaway is the use of the word, “survivor.” The second is the use of an anecdote to engender sympathy, a gimmick that serves well to make the intellectually challenged feel their pain. This third is a little more subtle, the tacit omission of the fact that this “survivor” chose not to report her “rape” to police.
Eventually, a campus disciplinary panel expelled the male student. McNeill felt relieved and vindicated — until she found out he was accepted as a transfer student at another school nearby.
“It was nauseating,” she says. “I just felt so failed at that point.”
She didn’t destroy his life, so she “felt so failed”? Well, if ever there was a reason to recall Hawthorne, this is it.
“It’s a nightmare,” she says. “I mean how are we protecting students if we’re letting perpetrators in [to other schools]? Every woman is at risk now at that school.”
Indeed, to many it’s a disturbingly familiar reality.
But this time, it doesn’t end with her “nightmare,” which is the point of NPR’s post.
“I’ve actually had somebody say to me, ‘Isn’t that the Roman Catholic Church school of disclosure? Just move the student on,’ ” says Mike Riley, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “There are some parallels.”
AACRAO recently switched its policy from opposing transcript notations to suggesting that schools consider it. Today only about 15 percent do, but Riley says many more are likely to follow suit after his organization issues new guidelines in a few months.
First, it’s nothing like sexual abuse of children by priests. But more importantly, the AACRAO is about to issue “new guidelines” to colleges that would push them to notate students’ transcript with the scarlet letter. And even crazy Anita Bonds gets her dig in the NPR post. She’s ba-ack.
“We’re looking at it as a public safety matter,” says Anita Bonds, a District of Columbia council member who is pushing a measure mandating transcript notations. She says a school needs to know it’s bringing a perpetrator on campus, so that “they may say ‘We have our eye on you.’ “
But what about balance, you ask? Where is the voice of sanity, raising the countervailing concerns that these campus adjudications are accomplished by the deprivation of basic due process, the pre-determination of guilt by “investigators” for whom no allegation of rape falls short? Surely NPR, being a legitimate source of news, would present the legitimate arguments in opposition, right? This is where the coup de grace happens.
“I think at some point Hester Prynne gets to take the scarlet letter off,” says attorney Justin Dillon, referring to the A (for “adulteress”) worn by the character in the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel The Scarlet Letter. Dillon has represented dozens of students accused of sexual assault. “This is essentially public shaming in its worst form.”
Dillon…says it’s especially unfair considering how unreliable many campus tribunals are. He says he has seen too many students turned into pariahs, like one client who he says was expelled just months before graduating from an Ivy League school with a 3.9 GPA.
This is a neat little trick played by NPR. Offer an insipid quote from an inconsequential source that falls laughably short of providing anything remotely intelligent and thoughtful. NPR can lay claim to plausible balance, while dishing out the weakest possible opposition to its agenda. See? It was fair, and it wins.
As for the argument of the loyal opposition, it’s possible that Dillon offered something remotely more thoughtful that failed to make it into the post. But then, given that it includes the extremely dubious, flagrantly self-promotional mention that he has “represented dozens of students” and his own vague anecdote (which suggests that if a student doesn’t want his life destroyed, Dillon might not be the best choice of representation), it seems he managed to sneak in the only things that really mattered to him. Or maybe he’s unfamiliar with the words, “due process,” which appear nowhere in his quote.
While there may well be ongoing argument about the impropriety of campus adjudications that deny students due process, it appears that colleges will be notating students transcripts with the Scarlet Letter, their internal version of the campus sex offender registry, without any outside scrutiny. They have NPR’s support, and from all appearances, Anita Bonds doesn’t look nearly as loony as she did a year ago, when there is no stronger argument against the permanent taint of a deserving rapist than “it’s public shaming in its worst form.” After all, doesn’t a rapist deserve whatever shame befalls him?