New Twist in Swarthmore Title IX Complaint

A strange story out of Swarthmore involving anti-due process activist Mia Ferguson, who was last in the news in April, when she joined several fellow students in filing a Title IX complaint against Swarthmore, on grounds that college procedures insufficiently protected the rights of sexual assault accusers. (Ferguson claimed that she was raped by another Swarthmore student, though she does not appear to have ever reported the incident to the authorities or have filed a criminal complaint.) The procedures that Ferguson deemed so unfair to accusers as to be unlawful actually deny accused students the right to counsel (to such a point that an accused student even discussing the allegations with an attorney would be a violation) and the right to cross-examine their accuser, after which the accused student can be deemed a rapist based on a 50.01 percent level of certainty. Again, according to Ferguson, those procedures constitute anti-accuser, gender discrimination under Title IX.

Before she filed her complaint, Swarthmore had named Ferguson a dorm resident assistant for the 2013-2014 academic year. At some point before she became an RA, another student told Ferguson that she had been the victim of a sexual assault. Ferguson’s source doesn’t appear to have reported the incident to police, or to have obtained a medical exam after the alleged assault. The accused student was a Swarthmore undergraduate.

For reasons that are unclear, even though the alleged incident appeared well before she became an RA, Ferguson brought up the rape claim in a training session that included college administrators and other RA’s. She additionally mentioned that the alleged rapist remained on campus. When Swarthmore administrators told her to divulge the name of the Swarthmore student who claimed to have been raped, Ferguson refused to do so. And when Ferguson refused, she was fired as an RA.

In an interview with the (typically uncritical) Richard PerezPeña of the New York Times, Ferguson claimed that she was dismissed improperly, as retaliation for her filing a Title IX complaint against the college. But the facts of the case suggest against retaliation as a clearcut explanation: while RA’s are legally obligated to report sexual assaults about which they learn, Ferguson wasn’t employed as an RA at the time the alleged incident occurred. That said, Ferguson voluntarily brought up the incident after Swarthmore had hired her. College administrators with whom PP and Inside Higher Ed spoke couldn’t recall an equivalent case.

Ferguson’s position amounts to the following: When it serves the interests of “victims’ advocates,” Swarthmore should interpret Title IX incredibly broadly, so much so that a procedure that’s all but rigged to find guilt nonetheless violates the Title IX rights of an accuser. At the same time, according to Ferguson, when it doesn’t serve the interests of “victims’ advocates,” Swarthmore should interpret Title IX incredibly narrowly, so much so that a college RA can inform other RA’s and college administrators that someone she knows is a rapist is wandering around campus, but she doesn’t have any legal obligation to reveal the student’s identity.

Ferguson, in short, doesn’t want to apply to herself the very broad definition of Title IX she’s demanded be applied to Swarthmore. At least she’s candid in her hypocrisy.

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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