Male Student Suspended By Columbia For Alleged Sexual Misconduct Sues School For Title IX Discrimination

In September 2013, a female student at Columbia University filed a complaint against “John Doe,” a sophomore and member of the crew team from Florida, over alleged nonconsensual sex in her dorm room that had occurred  in May 2013. This February, a school tribunal found “John Doe” guilty of sexual misconduct and suspended him for two years from the school, until fall of 2015. Last month, “John” filed a lawsuit against the school for negligence, a violation of Title IX (which forbids discrimination from an educational program on the basis of sex), and other complaints.

According to “John Doe”‘s lawsuit, he and “Jane Doe” knew each other, hung out in the same friend group, and in fact, “John” was roommates with her ex-boyfriend. In May 2013 during finals, the lawsuit explains, “it was at Jane Doe’s suggestion that they engaged in one night of consensual activity.” After chatting in a Columbia dorm lounge where “John” was studying, the two took a late-night walk together. Then they went to her dorm room’s bathroom and she allegedly retrieved a condom from her room. They had sex in the bathroom and afterwards, he left. The lawsuit claims the two “left each other’s company on good terms,” although “Jane” allegedly texted him days later expressing concern that their friends not know about the hookup. Two weeks later, she contacted him again, letting him know she “expressed doubt” about the hookup and was “uncomfortable with how it would appear to everyone else.”

On September 24th, 2013, “John” received a written notice from Columbia charging him with “Non-Consensual Sexual Intercourse” in violation of the school’s Gender-Based Misconduct Policy For Students. He also met with the school’s Title IX investigator, whom he claims did not do any investigation into the events of the evening. He also claims she did not make an audio recording of their conversations, did not make him aware that he was allowed to submit a written statement or obtain a student advocate. When a disciplinary hearing was held in February 12, 2014, both “John” and “Jane” were not allowed to have legal representation, but both were allowed to have one person for support.

On February 26th, 2014, “John Doe” learned he would be suspended until fall of 2015. That same day, “Jane” saw “John” on campus and said to him that she was “sorry” about his suspension and would try to get his punishment lessened. “Jane” made good on that promise, submitting an appeal to lessen his punishment; “John” also filed an appeal. Nevertheless, in March, a dean denied the appeal. The denial said that not enough information had been provided to the school from the Title IX investigator to support “John”‘s innocence and claimed that “John”‘s behavior had been coercive. “Jane”‘s appeal on behalf of “John” was also denied.

In May, “John Doe” filed a federal lawsuit against Columbia University. In his lawsuit, which can be read here, “John” says the allegations are untrue, claims “a discriminatory bias against males” and that the school caved to the current pressure against colleges  in the wake of sexual assaults being mishandled across the country. He alleges “there was a rush of judgement, pandering to the political climate on campus and pressure from woman’s groups [sic], with little thought, if any, given the actual specifics.” It claims he was denied an advisor, denied an ability to call witnesses, and denied an opportunity to cross-examine “Jane”; ultimately, he accuses the school of an “unforgiveable lack of administrative continuity and simple, practical good sense.”

There are two separate issues here to me: one is the “he said she said” element of the sexual activity in question and another is Columbia’s treatment of “John Doe” within the context of a disciplinary tribunal.

These allegations between “John” and “Jane” illustrate how consent is on a continuum during sexual activity. The school seems to believe “Jane” that the sexual activity was “coercive,” while “John” claims the whole hookup was consensual and the lawsuit certainly describes it thusly. Whatever happened between “John” and “Jane” that night, people do misunderstand that consent is flexible.  Just because a victim consented to part of an activity — say, for example, vaginal sex — doesn’t mean he or she consented to all activities — say, for example, anal sex. In this case, just because “Jane Doe” let him into the bathroom, got a condom and undressed herself doesn’t mean she consented to every single thing that happened during their rendezvous. She could still have been violated during the course of their hookup.

On the matter of “John”‘s treatment by Columbia, the  lawsuit repeatedly points out that “Jane” filed her complain to her school five months later. It seems to imply that because “Jane” waited until the fall semester to report the alleged sexual misconduct to the school, that means it is untrue. The lawsuit also notes that no police report was made and she never visited a medical care facility. This conundrum is ironic because, in fact, part of the reason that many colleges are under scrutiny for their mishandling of sexual assault on campus is because they discourage victimized students to make outside reports to police. “John Doe”‘s lawsuit is actually an example of how handling a sexual misconduct allegation in-house, so to speak, has backfired on Columbia because of alleged mistreatment of the accused.  Interestingly, there is also a cultural element to the lawsuit. “John Doe” alleges that Columbia has been accused of a “lack of vigilance against male students (especially male student athletes).” He accuses the school of “succumb[ing] to pressure” and vying to “make an ‘example’ out of John Doe as a ‘student athlete.'”

His lawsuit alleges a violation of Title IX, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and several other causes of action. Ultimately “John” requests a trial by jury for the entire matter. According to the student newspaper, The Columbia Spectator, the university has declined to comment. We will keep writing about the proceedings as we acquire more information.

[Scribd: “John Doe” vs. Columbia University]
[Columbia Spectator]
[New York Times]

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