Acquittal–and Denial–at Dartmouth

It seems as if periods emerge where sexual assault issues tend to focus on a single university. Even in the aftermath of the lacrosse case, attention remained on Duke–in part because of the civil suits, in part because the university, rather than learning from its mistakes, adopted a new policy that could brand a student a rapist based on “perceived power differentials” that can create “an unintentional atmosphere of coercion.”

Then the focus turned to Yale–in part because of the university’s mishandling of the Patrick Witt case (still no word on any investigation of who breached confidentiality at the school), and then because of the Orwellian definitions of sexual assault (“economic abuse” as intimate partner violence) offered in the university’s periodic sexual assault report documents.

As of late, the focus has turned to Dartmouth–which, somewhat unlike Duke and Yale, receives less attention in general from the national media. The starting point was the odd “rape culture” protest from last year. Then came the remark of the recently promoted Amanda Childress, who mused, “Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation? It seems to me that we value fair and equitable processes more than we value the safety of our students. And higher education is not a right. Safety is a right. Higher education is a privilege.”

Childress’ remark appropriately attracted a good deal of attention; a college spokesperson desperately, and ineffectively, attempted to walk it back. The episode also brought to light a disturbing lack of respect for due process even in a venue (college disciplinary tribunals) that generally disregards the concept.

Fueling the outrage was the arrest of a Dartmouth freshman, Parker Gilbert, for raping another Dartmouth student. Last week, Gilbert was acquitted–after five charges against him already had been dismissed, for lack of evidence, by first the prosecutor and then the judge who presided over the case. Criminal cases obviously have a higher burden of proof than the college disciplinary processes, but remarks by the jury foreman suggested that the case would have failed even under a preponderance threshold. “(The woman’s) story of how the night played out, the evidence wasn’t there to support that,” said the foreman, in an interview with the Valley News. “To the contrary, it was more in Parker’s favor . . . There is tons and tons of evidence that just doesn’t add up.” The foreman added that the accuser was poorly served by people at Dartmouth who encouraged her to file the criminal complaint.

How did the activists at Dartmouth respond? With a lengthy statement (still labeling the accuser as a “victim”) denouncing the jury, demanding a “cultural shift” in what could be considered a crime. The statement also denounced Gilbert’s lawyers, noting, “The amount of time and resources utilized by the defense to break her down is rarely exhibited in a case like this where so few facts are in question.” As a Dartblog commenter pointed out, the “time” was one afternoon in court, and the Dartblog reporter who covered the case said there were actually many facts in question.

If Gilbert had been convicted, the message would have been a need to address “rape culture” at Dartmouth. With Gilbert acquitted, the message was a need to address “rape culture” at Dartmouth (and in New Hampshire!). Facts, it appears, don’t matter.


  • 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.

    View all posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *