Tag Archives: Amherst rape case

Critics Slam DeVos for Being Fair

Nearly 60 Democratic legislators tweeted criticism of Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ speech, which advocated a fairer approach and more respect for due process in campus Title IX tribunals. The preferred adjectives included “terrible,” “despicable,” “insulting, “perverse,” “appalling,” “disgraceful,” “shameful,” and “dangerous. No congressional Democrat, in any way, praised her remarks, which insisted on the rights of both accusers and accused.

Most of this commentary showed little or no awareness of what goes on in these hearings and how unfair many are to the males involved. Former Vice President Joe Biden went even further than most, telling accusers’ rights activists that they needed to continue to speak up, offering an “analogy” to critics of the “Nazis marching” in Virginia: “When we’re silent, we give a rationale, an excuse to people who are the very people we’ve been fighting all along.”

Twenty-nine Democratic or Democratic-affiliated senators (three-fifths of the Senate Democratic caucus) followed this activity with a letter to DeVos. The senators demanded that the Secretary keep in place the Dear Colleague letter, the symbol of Obama-era unfairness, even as their document didn’t mention the presumption of innocence, due process, or fairness. Their letter’s only mention of “justice” came in a section that spoke of “survivors [emphasis added] in obtaining justice.” It seems, alas, that even-handed justice is no longer a goal for congressional Democrats.

Accusers’ Rights Activists

If Democratic legislators chose vitriolic, over-the-top rhetoric to respond to DeVos, the preferred approach of the accusers’ rights movement was an affirmative attempt to mislead. The pattern began during DeVos’ speech itself; as the Secretary recounted cases of students being denied due process, Know Your IX co-founder Alexandra Brodksy tweeted that these abuses of fairness all somehow violated the Dear Colleague letter. It should go without saying that in the 180 or so due process lawsuits, Know Your IX has never filed an amicus brief making such a point. That’s no surprise coming from an organization whose other co-founder, Dana Bolger, had celebrated perhaps the single most unjust of any of the post-Dear Colleague campus cases, the Amherst one.

In an article saying that DeVos’ speech was “profoundly stupid,” Know Your IX Sejal Singh fantastically claimed that the Dear Colleague letter “affords students accused of sexual violence with more procedural rights than . . . the Due Process Clause of the Constitution otherwise provides students in campus discipline.” (Her citations for this remarkable assertion were two pieces by Know Your IX’s Brodsky.) Singh’s op-ed would have come as news to judges in the recent Penn State and Miami decisions, both of whom cited the Due Process Clause in cases dealing with a refusal to provide exculpatory evidence to the tribunal (not mentioned in the Dear Colleague letter at all) and refusal to allow cross-examination (discouraged by the Dear Colleague letter). It’s hard to know whether Singh and her Know Your IX colleagues are being deliberately misleading, or are simply ignorant of an issue with which they have been involved for several years.

Higher-Ed Status Quo

The third group of DeVos critics came from within the higher-ed establishment itself. Wesleyan president Michael Roth, for instance, tweeted, “We must #StopDeVos from pushing us back 2 an era when assault and harassment were acceptable parts of campus culture.” (He was responding, it’s worth noting, to a speech organized around a theme that due process served all sides.) Roth recalled for the New York Times “‘the times when men, with impunity, would throw their weight around,’ sexually harassing and assaulting women . . . ‘Changing that culture over the last decade, as the Obama administration tried to do, was an enormous contribution.’” The Obama guidance was issued four years after Roth took charge at Wesleyan. There’s no evidence he informed prospective parents of the extraordinarily dangerous situation that purportedly existed on his campus between 2007 and 2011.

Then there was a Chronicle piece (celebrated by accusers’ rights activists) by higher-ed lawyer Scott Schneider, former associate general counsel at Tulane who provides what he describes as “expert witness testimony on matters dealing with institutional response to allegations of sexual misconduct and designs and delivers training programs on a host of education issues, including Title IX compliance obligations.”

As Scott Greenfield has pointed out, Schneider left the erroneous impression that 1997 OCR guidance and the Supreme Court adopted the same “definition” of sexual harassment, for a period of “almost 20 years.” The 1997 OCR guidance speaks of sexual harassment that is “sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the education program.” By contrast, the Supreme Court, in 1999, used the following formulation: “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience.” (The emphasis in each instance is added to show the differences between the two “definitions,” with the Supreme Court’s notably tighter than the OCR guidance Schneider elected to quote.) Perhaps Schneider simply assumed (likely correctly) that most Chronicle readers wouldn’t bother checking on the precise wording of Davis to note the differences between it and the 1997 OCR guidance he quoted.

For the most part, Schneider’s approach to DeVos’ speech was to interpret the Secretary’s words divorced from the context of the six years since the Dear Colleague letter. After, for instance, quoting DeVos’ concerns that witnesses might not be cross-examined and evidence might not be presented to both parties, Schneider asserted, “In its 2014 ‘Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,’ the department’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, also noted that ‘in all cases, a school’s Title IX investigation must be adequate, reliable, impartial, and prompt, and include the opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence.’”

There have been dozens of lawsuits since the issuance of the Dear Colleague letter dealing with these themes. Moreover, the whole thrust of the single-investigator model is to eliminate any form of cross-examination and minimize the amount of evidence that an accused student sees. During her nearly four years running OCR, Catherine Lhamon ignored the lawsuits as the White House spoke positively of the single-investigator model. Lhamon refused to meet with groups advocating for accused students (SAVE and FACE); she initially refused (in writing) to even meet with FIRE. The Obama administration spent four years in one-sided publicity portraying the nation’s college campuses as awash in violent crime, with Lhamon publicly threatening to pull funds if they didn’t do enough. And it’s Schneider’s argument that pulling out a line OCR showed no interest in enforcing—while ignoring what OCR actually did during the Lhamon years—showed that DeVos had misstated the guidance?

Similarly, in a passage quoted by Greenfield, Schneider chastised DeVos for saying that “even lawyers” found Obama-era guidance “confusing” to navigate. The expert witness would have none of it: “In the event that there was any confusion about that guidance,” he reasoned, the 2014 “Questions and Answers” document provided the needed “straightforward” answers.

Consider just one sentence from the 46-page 2014 guidance: “Of course, a school should ensure that steps to accord any due process rights do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the protections provided by Title IX to the complainant.” Is that sentence “confusing”—or, as Schneider claimed, “straightforward”? Given that multiple courts (not to mention myriad filings from lawyers on both sides of the issue) have come to dramatically differing conclusions on due process and Title IX tribunals, it does seem as if some lawyers—that is, federal judges—don’t consider the guidance to be “straightforward.”

But Schneider’s article served a purpose—not necessarily persuading people, but muddying the waters enough for defenders of the status quo to present a tenable claim that DeVos was wrong. After all, they can say, the Chronicle published it.

An imperfect Way to Fight Unfair Sexual Accusations

Too often on campus, the best chance for a wrongfully accused student to achieve justice involves a lawsuit after the campus tribunal has done its worst. A system that uses the lowest standard of proof, allows accusers to appeal not-guilty findings, lacks mechanisms for mandatory discovery of exculpatory evidence, denies meaningful (or any) representation by counsel, and prohibits direct cross-examination is almost, by definition, unjust.

As FIRE’s Samantha Harris has long observed, courts are an imperfect vehicle to protect campus due process as a whole; the nature of due process lawsuits makes it difficult for courts to do anything more than address the facts of a single case. (The Brandeis decision comes closest to a judicial declaration that a university’s sexual assault process violated the Constitution.) Moreover, a lawsuit can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars—well beyond the means of many middle-class or poor families.

It is, therefore, nothing short of preposterous to suggest that the myriad due process lawsuits illustrate the “powerful legal incentives” for colleges to handle sexual assault complaints “fairly.” Yet this was the claim of one prominent defender of the Obama administration’s efforts to weaken campus due process—my own institution’s president, Michelle Anderson. She added that “campuses are responding—as they must—when accused students prevail.” The extensively footnoted article contained no footnote for this assertion.

When Innocence Isn’t Enough

Anderson’s words would be cold comfort to accused students from Miami (Ohio), Case Western, or the University of California-San Diego. In the Miami case, Judge Michael Barrett noted that the accused student had “alleged facts which cast doubt on the accuracy of the outcome.” Indeed, the “discrepancy between [the accuser’s] written statement—‘I never said no’—and the finding that [the accuser] asked [the accused student] to stop casts serious doubt on the accuracy of the outcome of the Administrative Hearing [emphasis added].” Yet Judge Barrett concluded that 6th Circuit precedent prevented him from rectifying the injustice.

In a 2015 case at Case Western, Judge Christopher Boyko concluded that the accused student had made “a plausible claim that [he] was innocent of the charges levied against him and that CWRU wrongly found that [he] committed the offense.” Case Western didn’t give the accused student access to the full case file. The panel refused to ask some of the questions he deemed critical to his defense, and the chairman of the panel treated him with hostility.

The university denied his appeal—after allowing the appeals officer to consider an anonymous letter, to which he was never given access, to be added to his file. Despite noting that this treatment left a “plausible inference that CWRU’s disciplinary hearings were procedurally flawed,” Boyko sided with the university, citing relevant 6th Circuit precedent. The likely innocent student—found guilty after a flawed procedure—was out of luck.

This is, of course, the same circuit at which Judge Martha Daughtrey mused at how students accused of sexual assault are entitled to no more due process than a soldier facing a military board of inquiry. Daughtrey isn’t alone in her judicial indifference of basic fairness. The highest-profile example came in a 2016 appellate decision from California, where a three-judge panel restored the discipline against an accused student at UC-San Diego. The judges reached that conclusion even after one of them publicly compared the UCSD process to a kangaroo court.


For those accused students filing outside of the 6th Circuit (or, in the aftermath of the UCSD decision, in California state court), success depends less on the merits of their case than on the judge to whom the case was assigned. For the public, however, even an unsuccessful lawsuit can provide critical insight into the otherwise secret world of campus due process.

Yet in two important respects, the interests of litigants and of the public are at odds. First, and quite understandably, wrongfully accused students want to end the process as soon as possible. In almost all cases, their primary goal is an expungement of their record, given the life-altering consequences of a wrongful finding of sexual assault. The public, by contrast, has an interest in a process lengthy enough to require the university to turn over internal documents relating to its disciplinary process—and to get university disciplinarians under oath.

These two interests most obviously come into conflict in settlement discussions. With the exception of Brown (and, oddly, Brandeis), most colleges and universities have entered into settlement discussions shortly after losing a motion to dismiss. The two most recent settlements—both troubling cases profiled by Ashe Schow—came at Lynn University in Florida and Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. In a twist, both settlements came shortly after court rulings requiring some degree of participation in the lawsuit by the accuser, setting up the possibility of cross-examination that the schools had gone out of their way to prevent.

It’s easy to see why the accused students settled; otherwise, their lives would have been on hold indefinitely. But the settlements also ensured that the public will learn no more about these deeply disturbing cases.


The interests of litigants and the public also are in opposition with regards to publicity. The first round of litigation after the Dear Colleague letter—cases at Xavier, St. Joe’s, Miami (Ohio), and Vassar—all featured students suing in their own names. Now, virtually all suits are filed under “John Doe.”

For reasons recently explained by Judge Philip Simon (in a case at Notre Dame), this shift is in the best interests of justice: the marginal benefits to the public knowing litigants’ identity are overcome by the litigants’ need for privacy. But the shift nonetheless represents a tradeoff and prevents those who cover the cases from getting a better sense of the personalities involved.

The far more troubling new development involves the sealing of all or much of the case file. Such efforts initially came mostly from accusers—in cases at Georgia Tech, St. Thomas, and (involving her subpoena) Amherst. But in two recent cases—James Madison and Notre Dameaccused students have entered into agreements with their universities to file material, including the transcript of the disciplinary hearing, under seal.

It’s understandable why an accused student would want to take such a course—even if innocent, the material in the campus process can be personally embarrassing. And not all of material is permanently shielded from the public—judges can cite from it in their opinions, as the two judges did in the critical due process victories at JMU and Notre Dame. But one reason why I was able to write so extensively about Amherst is that the accused student’s lawyer, Max Stern, placed all aspects of the disciplinary file, including the transcript, into the record, fully open at PACER.

In contrast to the “John Doe” issue, judges should push back on closing non-redacted material from public view. The public has a right—indeed, an obligation—to learn as much as they can about the unfairness of the campus disciplinary process. And as things stand now, due process lawsuits represent the only way for the public to achieve an unvarnished view.

To date, the Trump administration has made no efforts to push back any of Obama’s anti-due process policies. And it’s not at all apparent that, even if they did so, colleges would do much to restore a sense of fairness. So litigation—despite its clear limits—will remain the best avenue for both justice and transparency.

Amherst: No Pretense of Fairness

Amherst is being sued –and rightly so–in one of the most egregious of the many campus sex cases. In brief, this is what happened.

  • After heavy drinking, two Amherst students had sex.
  • The male involved was the boyfriend of the female’s roommate. Her friends made nasty comments about her or abandoned her for cheating on her roommate.
  • Months later, joining a group of victim’s rights advocates, the accusing student (AS) concluded that the drunken sexual encounter had been rape and brought charges.
  • In a  lightning-fast investigation,  Amherst  did not discover that AS had sent two  crucial text messages to fellow students: one admitting she had seduced the male in question, regretted it and worried that the male had been  too drunk to lie about it; the other inviting a second male to her room for sex immediately after the alleged rape.
  • In a kangaroo court hearing (no lawyer, no discovery no direct cross-examination), the male was found culpable and expelled.
  • Having learned about the exculpatory emails, Amherst refused to re-open the case, and blamed the accused male.

In a defiant response to a lawsuit filed by the accused student, Amherst claimed that the process worked as it should have in this case. Or if it didn’t, it was the accuser’s roommate’s fault—he should have found out about the text messages and forwarded them before the investigator’s investigation ended. Or if it wasn’t the accuser’s fault, it was the accused student’s own fault for (in a hearing with no lawyer) not developing clever supplemental cross-examination questions about the text messages. But Amherst, according to Amherst, did everything right, according to both college policy and federal law, producing a hearing “conducted with fundamental fairness, in good faith.”

Amherst: The Process Worked

Amherst’s response comes in three levels. First, it suggests that the college did everything right: the investigation worked as it should, even though the investigator did almost all of her campus interviews in just one day; and the panel made the correct judgment, even as the college denied the accused student any right to meaningful cross-examination or legal representation. After all, AS claimed (more than a year after the fact) that at some point she had withdrawn consent, and the accused student was too drunk to recall the incident.

It’s possible, as Reason’s Robby Soave has noted, that despite this damning contextual evidence, AS’s months-after-the-fact story about nonconsensual sex is correct. But in a case that relied solely on AS’s credibility, in which AS denied to Amherst’s investigator that she had relevant text messages, such material effectively destroys her claim—as Soave also, correctly, observed.

Desperately Defending the Accuser

In its filing, Amherst tries to rehabilitate AS in two ways. First, the college suggests that—even if they had been produced by the school—the text messages would have had “no bearing” on the case, since they were simply discussions about irrelevant aspects of AS’s sex life. But the intercourse is almost certainly relevant (since AS misrepresented to the panel and the investigator why the male student came to her room), and the messages contain several items discussing her intercourse with the accused, not with the second male.

Second, Amherst portrays AS as courageously forthcoming, and therefore wholly credible. It denies that she changed any significant aspect of her story—though even the school’s own investigator couldn’t “say it was clear to me” when AS actually claimed that she withdrew consent. It’s also true, the college’s outside attorneys concede, that AS told the school’s investigator that she didn’t have relevant text messages about the incident. But that answer was truthful, according to Amherst, because AS could have understood that the investigator was only asking her “whether she had communicated or recorded in writing that the Incident had been ‘non-consensual,’ which she did not.”

In other words, Amherst has implied that its investigator was only interested in obtaining from AS contemporaneous documentation that would confirm, rather than undermine, AS’s story. And this is how the college’s system was supposed to work? On this point, Amherst had two unpalatable options: (1) concede that AS lied to the investigator, and therefore is of dubious credibility, or (2) hint that its investigator wasn’t interested in obtaining exculpatory information. I suppose, given those two options, and given the ideological climate at the college, the lawyers had little choice but to implicitly rebuke the investigator.

Amherst’s Fallback Position: Blame Its Students

In a federal judiciary that includes such opponents of campus due process as Ronnie Abrams (Vassar case) and Jesse Furman (Columbia case), perhaps this argument might carry the day. But even Amherst seems doubtful. And so the school offers a second line of defense–to the extent the result was unjust and the school failed to consider exculpatory evidence, it was because Amherst students (either AS’s roommate, or the accused student himself) failed to do their jobs.

On this point, Amherst begins with AS’s roommate, the former girlfriend of the accused. (The roommate seems to me to have been badly treated by all parties in this case—including, now, Amherst.) While the college goes out of its way to defend the unreliable AS, its outside counsel choose to cast aspersions on the roommate—one of Amherst’s own students—by suggesting that she wasn’t entirely forthcoming about the existence of the text messages in her one and only interview with the investigator. Why? Because the roommate answered, “I don’t think so” to the following question from the investigator: “Is there anything else I haven’t asked you about that you think would be important for me to know?”

In other words: the roommate—a college student, not represented by counsel—was supposed to: (1) assume that AS hadn’t turned over clearly relevant messages (and understand why they were relevant); (2) recognize that the text messages (for which she was neither a sender nor a recipient) represented “anything else” in the investigator’s question; and (3) not wonder why this supposedly experienced investigator wouldn’t simply ask about text messages. Moreover, if the investigator had taken a more professional route—that is, scheduling follow-up meetings with relevant witnesses rather than interviewing all the witnesses in the case in a one-day whirlwind through campus—she might have realized the importance of the text messages and asked about them in a follow-up interview with the roommate.

Nonetheless, AS made a mistake. As even Amherst admits that AS “did not provide text messages to Attorney Kurker [the investigator],” she referenced them indirectly in the hearing: “I texted a friend to come over to talk to me and spend the night.” Amherst’s attorneys now argue that this sentence of testimony, buried within a longer discussion of what AS did after the alleged attack, shows the accused student had all the chances he needed. Although he “had the opportunity to do so,” Amherst’s outside counsel maintains, “he never asked [AS] to identify ‘the friend’ whom [AS] texted.”

In other words: the accused student—representing himself in a proceeding whose outcome would alter the rest of his life—was supposed to: (1) have had a clear enough understanding of the case to have recognized that AS made a key admission in her testimony; (2) have composed (in writing) a follow-up set of questions on the text messages as AS’s testimony was occurring; and (3) have submitted these questions to the panel chair and hope that the chair (who wasn’t required to do so) asked them of AS. And since the accused student failed at playing Perry Mason, Amherst now contends he’s out of luck.

Amherst and Its Officials

While the accused student couldn’t have a lawyer with him, he did have an Amherst-approved “advocate,” Torin Moore, who had come to Amherst after obtaining a graduate degree in social justice education from UMass. What was Moore doing as AS made her potentially damning admission? Amherst doesn’t even bother to defend his performance during the hearing. And what about the panelists? The college obliquely concedes their failures: AS “was not asked that question [about the text messages] by anyone else.” Why were they disinterested in this relevant information? Amherst doesn’t say.

Finally, a striking element of the original complaint was a realistic portrayal of the deeply unhealthy campus climate at Amherst on issues of due process—a task that the accused student’s attorneys, Max Stern and Hillary Lehmann, accomplished by liberally quoting from Amherst officials’ statements and documents. The Amherst filing ineffectively tries to rebut this portrayal by accusing Stern and Lehmann of producing a complaint that “mischaracterizes and selectively quotes out of context” Amherst materials. Yet in 39 pages, the college can’t identify a single specific mischaracterization.

Amherst’s Version of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’

Kafka was born too early to write about Amherst College. At campus hearings on claims of sexual assault, procedures are relentlessly stacked again males and evidence of innocence doesn’t count. Amherst expelled a student for committing rape—despite text messages from the accuser, sent  immediately after the alleged assault, (1) telling one student that she had initiated the sexual contact with the student she later accused (her roommate’s boyfriend); (2) inviting another student to her room for a sexual liaison minutes after she was allegedly raped.

Amherst, on grounds that the accused student (who, per college policy, had no attorney) didn’t discover the text messages until it was too late, has allowed the rape finding to stand, even though the college’s decision relied on the accuser’s credibility (which is now non-existent). Amherst faces a due-process lawsuit in the case. You can read the complaint here.

A Goal of Empowering Victims

The expelled student’s complaint begins by noting the hostile campus attitude toward due process—both from pressure from the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, and because of a highly-publicized 2012 article from a student and self-described “survivor” who claimed that the college mistreated her. (Wendy Kaminer summarized the case in The Atlantic.) The outcry prompted Amherst to cancel classes for a day to discuss the issue, led to the forced resignation of the college’s sexual assault coordinator, and caused Amherst to change its sexual assault adjudication procedures to focus on “empowering victims,” rather than on, say, pursuing fairness and justice in its hearings.

These procedures, unsurprisingly, are wildly one-sided. Amherst adopted an “affirmative consent” standard; its policies do not explain how an accused student can prove he obtained this consent short of video-taping any sexual encounter. Regarding alcohol, the school deems it important that “anyone engaging in sexual activity be aware of the other person’s level of intoxication.” (How this should be done, Amherst doesn’t say.) Awareness, the college adds, might not even be enough, since “an individual may experience a blackout state in which he/she/they appear to be giving consent, but do not actually have conscious awareness or the ability to consent. How an accused student is supposed to know that someone appearing to give consent is actually in a “blackout state” Amherst, again, doesn’t say.

An Attorney with No Role

Once the complaint is filed, an investigator, who lacks subpoena power, interviews the accuser and the accused student; beyond that, the college promises only that the investigator will make a “good faith effort” to speak to relevant witnesses, and will “try” to obtain relevant physical or medical evidence. If the investigator’s “good faith” effort doesn’t track down relevant witnesses, the policy presumes that the accused student won’t be able to call those witnesses before the hearing.

“Attorneys cannot participate in the Hearing Board process” at Amherst (although, the college helpfully notes, the accused student can hire an attorney—at his own expense—and have the attorney present on campus the day of the hearing, perhaps for a very expensive form of virtual, moral support). The attorney-less accused student does receive an “advisor” from the campus community, but this advisor “is not an advocate for the student.”

Amherst does not permit theaccused student to directly cross-examine his accuser; he can only submit questions to the panel chair, who may ask or reject the questions as the chair chooses. Effective cross-examination under such circumstances is all but impossible—even more so since the accuser is allowed to write responses, rather than respond to questions orally. Any guilty finding is “permanently noted on the student’s record.”

Ever Leaning Toward Guilt

Panel members, who are drawn from the Five Colleges consortium (Mount Holyoke, Amherst, Hampshire, and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst), receive annual “training regarding, the dynamics of sexual misconduct, the factors relevant to a determination of credibility, the appropriate manner in which to receive and evaluate sensitive information, the manner of deliberation, and the application of the preponderance of the evidence standard.”

Amherst doesn’t reveal what this training entails (recall that the only school whose panel training did become public, Stanford, used blatantly guilt-presuming training). Panelists come not from the general student body or even faculty but from the world of student life or institutional diversity, areas likely to tilt toward a guilt-presuming ideology even amidst the consortium’s politically correct mindset.

Panel members in this case included two student life officials (one from Mt. Holyoke, the other from Hampshire) and Eric Hamako, whose Ph.D. in “Social Justice Education” produced a dissertation focused incorporating “stronger anti-racist frameworks into those educational efforts.” (Hamako, who then worked for Smith, could not be reached for comment; the other two administrators did not respond to a request for comment.)

This was not a panel, in short, that seemed likely to go out of its way to critically examine a rape accuser’s allegation, or to stand up for due process, particularly given the ideological climate at Amherst in the 2013-2014 academic year. Additionally, since all panelists were administrators (like Amherst’s former sexual assault coordinator), they lacked the protections of tenure if they made an unpopular decision.

Alcohol and Activism

The incident dated from the early morning hours of February 5, 2012, when the accused student (who filed the suit pseudonymously, as John Doe) was a sophomore. After a night of heavy drinking by Doe, he accompanied the accusing student (who I’ll call AS) back to her room, where she performed oral sex on him. (Doe had no recollection of the sexual encounter, a claim that even Amherst’s tribunal found “credible.”) When news of her having hooked up with her roommate’s boyfriend got around, a former friend recalled that AS (unsurprisingly) “lost her group of friends.”

AS’s new group of friends, much like Rolling Stone’s “Jackie” in the UVA case, came from campus victims’ rights circles. AS first mentioned the alleged assault in a column from an activist campus website to which she regularly contributes and which reflected the viewpoint of the most extreme campus victims’ rights advocates—though the thrust of the column focused on her friends (unsurprisingly) turning on her after the hookup.

AS also was friendly with a leading anti-due process activist on campus, Liya Rechtman, to whom Doe had reached out after publication of AS’s column, to ask if he could have in any way mistreated AS. Rechtman claimed that this conversation amounted to a confession, an interpretation even Amherst’s investigator said left her “confused.”

Twenty-one months after hooking up with her roommate’s boyfriend, AS filed a claim of sexual assault. She did not go to the police, and of course had not sought medical attention after the alleged attack. But she did claim to have one contemporaneous piece of evidence that the attack traumatized her. She told the college, she asked a friend to come over and spend the night with her after her encounter with Doe. No evidence exists that Amherst asked her to identify this friend, who did not testify in her hearing.

The Hearing

As it turned out, the case would be the first under Amherst’s new, guilt-presuming policies. While the accuser waited 21 months to file her charges, Doe received ten days before he met with the investigator; thirty-eight days after Doe was notified of the charges, the disciplinary board decided to expel him.

The two sides’ contrasting advisors reflected Amherst’s warped ideological climate on sexual assault issues. Though technically the advisor “is not an advocate for the student,” AS’s advisor clearly did sympathize with her. Rhonda Cobham-Sander, a tenured professor of Black Studies and English who specializes in post-colonial literary theory, was an influential figure on campus. Amherst’s first diversity czar, she delivered a victims’ rights-oriented address after the 2012 sexual assault controversy.

Doe’s advisor, on the other hand, was an Amherst administrator (who lacked tenure protections) named Torin Moore, whose academic training came not in the law or in anything related to civil liberties but instead in “social justice education.” Moore’s performance was so lackluster that Doe eventually would sue him. Neither Moore nor Cobham-Sander responded to requests for comment about whether they were aware of the full scope of evidence in the case.

The college’s hired investigator, Allyson Kurker, interviewed most of the witnesses in one day; Kurker did not respond to a request for comment about whether she was satisfied her inquiry uncovered sufficient evidence. An attack that AS initially described as wholly non-consensual came to be seen as consensual before changing during a “break” in the oral sex. “I can’t say it was clear to me” when the assault allegedly became non-consensual, Kurker admitted in the hearing. (You can read the hearing transcript here.)

Once the hearing began, AS repeatedly presented herself as too traumatized to articulate her thoughts verbally. (She had no such problem, according to Kurker’s report, when the investigator asked her questions.) Asked whether the two went to her room voluntarily to hook up, AS replied, “Yes. Well—although in would like to say that I did feel some—I did like well feel like well some—I did . . . I did like well feel like well some like . .  . well . . . some like . . . like . . . some like well pressure to do so.”

Panel member Hamako wondered about this “pressure,” which AS hadn’t previously mentioned, yielding this response: “So as we were making out in the common room, so some of the students there, so I think, so I think, so I think, [another student] included, were just like, well, chanting like well, things about me. Like, like, like, like, I mean, like, like, I mean, like, I mean like this, I mean like, I mean like, I mean like slut, and like that kind of thing. And they also like told us, get a room, so, yeah.” How that reaction (even if accurate) could be held against Doe was left unclear, since Hamako didn’t follow up.

I Didn’t, I Didn’t, I Didn’t

In perhaps the critical section of the hearing, when a panel member wanted to know what AS did after the alleged assault, she responded, “So after he like walked out, I didn’t . . . So I didn’t . . . So I didn’t . . . So I didn’t . . . So I didn’t . . . So I didn’t . . . So I didn’t . . . So I didn’t . . . So I didn’t . . .” On cue, the panel then allowed AS to type a response—an option that AS repeatedly pursued during the hearing. In her written response, the accuser claimed that after Doe left her room, she felt “very alone and confused,” so texted a friend to come over and spend the night with her.

In fact, as Doe’s attorneys later would discover, AS had texted two people after the hookup—a friend, and a possible paramour. Even before hooking up with Doe, AS had texted the other male student, telling him, “I mean I happen to have my room to myself this weekend, if you wanted to come over and entertain me.” After she finished with Doe, AS resumed flirtatious texting with the male student, who came to her room and spent the night with her. He found her “friendly, flirtatious, and spirited,” and not “anxious, stressed, depressed, or otherwise in distress.” You can read these text messages here.

Just after Doe left her room, AS also had (as she told the disciplinary panel) texted a friend. But (contrary to what she told the disciplinary panel) she didn’t invite the friend over to her room. Instead, she informed the friend, “Ohmygod I jus did something so fuckig stupid.” Coarse language from her in subsequent texts implied an awareness that she had initiated sexual contact with the student she later accused of rape. AS was upset in these messages—but not from being raped.

Rather, she worried (not unreasonably) about the fallout of a sexual liaison with the boyfriend of her roommate, who “would literally never speak to me again” if she found out. AS continued texting her friend after the male student arrived; she described her attitude toward her guest: “Like, hot girl in a slutty dress. Make. Your. Move. YEAH.” At 5am, she sent another text to the friend indicating that some sort of sexual liaison had occurred with her male visitor. You can read these text messages here; the critical messages are on pp. 6-8.

AS mentioned none of these exchanges to the panel. But since Amherst, like all colleges, lacks subpoena power, it had no way to obtain text messages from the night of the alleged assault. In a campus climate predisposed to believe all but the most non-credible accusers (and even, sometimes, the wholly non-credible, as the UVA case demonstrated), the panel didn’t probe too much. After AS’s “so I didn’t” non-response, panel members gently turned to questions about how knowledge of her hookup with her roommate’s boyfriend affected her relationship with their common friends. “They all felt they had to side with [the roommate] and stop speaking to me,” AS complained.

The Outcome

Despite an accuser who offered borderline non-coherent responses that subtly expanded on her initial story, the panel ultimately accepted her credibility. It ruled that while Doe likely was “blacked out” during the oral sex, “[b]eing intoxicated or impaired by drugs or alcohol is never an excuse.” Since AS said she withdrew consent at some point during the sexual act, and since Doe couldn’t challenge that recollection, the panel was at least 50.01 percent inclined to believe the accuser’s tale.

(The panel members offered no explanation as to why or how they reached this decision.) The panel recommended immediate expulsion for Doe. For good measure, panel members also urged him (but not, it seems, AS) to obtain alcohol counseling. You can read the panel’s thread-bare decision here.

Amherst’s case depended entirely on AS’s credibility. During the spring 2014 semester, Doe hired an attorney—who managed to discover the text messages quoted above, messages that all but eviscerated AS’s credibility. But according to the complaint, even when confronted with this new—and transparently exculpatory—evidence, Amherst declined to reopen the case.

Once again: this is a case in which an accuser (to put it charitably) misrepresented written evidence vital to her credibility, and this same material, her words, showed—if anything—that she initiated sexual contact against a student who even Amherst’s panel described as “blacked out.” And yet, according to Amherst, AS is a sexual assault “survivor.”