Caroline Schroeder participated anonymously in a USA Today investigation into how sexual misconduct complaints are handled at LSU. While in school, Schroeder reported another student for sexual misconduct to LSU’s Title IX office. She wrote this column based on her experience with that process.
After the publication of USA Today‘s article detailing LSU administrators’ mishandling of on-campus sexual assault and violence, the people of South Louisiana have almost unanimously expressed outrage and support. For me, as an alumnus with firsthand experience in this matter, it is not possible to effectively convey the depth of my gratitude for your support and the full extent of pride I feel for our people.
I was born and raised in Baton Rouge. My parents were born and raised in Baton Rouge. Like my parents and grandparents, I am a proud LSU alumnus. Like so many of you, I live purple and bleed gold. This is the unique love and devotion to our community that drives our desire for change and reform.
Since its inception, Title IX provisions that enable and require schools to address complaints of sexual misconduct have been controversial and continuously subject to reform, and rightly so. The Title IX process is tasked with maintaining a precarious balance between protecting victims from further abuse and ensuring equal rights to the victim and the accused, and people are justifiably outraged by any imbalance in that process.
Unfortunately, such inequity currently plagues LSU, according to the USA Today investigation published Monday.
In response to the story, interim President Tom Galligan issued a statement in which he declared the university’s commitment to safety and accountability and, pursuant to that commitment, announced “an independent, comprehensive review of their Title IX policies” by the prestigious law firm Husch Blackwell.
While I am not familiar with Husch Blackwell’s reputation, I am sure that their services are not necessary.
To begin, the federal guidelines for Title IX are not difficult to discern. I can personally attest that anyone with basic reading ability is fully capable of reviewing this policy without the retention of costly legal expertise.
Additionally, LSU’s policies and procedures already do comply with federal guidelines, therefore there is little in that text which can be reasonably amended. Rather, the real problem here, if not made clear by Monday’s article, is that LSU does not yet adhere to their current policy as it stands.
Some have argued that this policy and its process circumvent the rule of law and deny the alleged the right to due process, and that victims should only seek redress through criminal or civil proceedings.
Indeed, the Title IX process is not a legal one. The investigative process and possible disciplinary measures are similar to that if a student were accused of cheating. I would argue that the accused, if found guilty, has a lot less to lose simply by being suspended, in comparison to being sent to jail. I would argue that the school is well within their rights to discipline sexual misconduct just as they have the right to discipline any other academic misconduct.
More importantly, the victims’ only goal in seeking redress through this process is to ensure that they can go to class without fear of being exposed to their abusers and further harm. A simple suspension could ensure that safety for them.
Contrary to popular belief, this policy does not automatically assume that the accused is guilty until proven innocent. Instead, all parties are afforded equal rights. Both sides have the right to a fair and impartial investigation, in which they both have the right to share or not share any information. Both sides have the right to appeal any outcome at every stage of the process, as well as the right to counsel.
Any breach in that policy not only undermines each student’s case but ultimately erodes the foundations of our whole educational system. If no one is ever proven guilty, then no one is ever proven innocent either. For our own safety, we deserve to know who is guilty, otherwise the verdict is left to wild speculation.
LSU owes this responsibility to everyone. Every student has the right to education without fearing for their life, and their parents should be able to sleep at night without worry that their child’s safety could be compromised. Alumni should not be embarrassed to say which school they attended. Professors should not be burdened with the cumbersome task of protecting their students because someone else failed to do so. Fans should be able to attend sports games without wondering if any of the players have committed an inexcusable crime that someone covered up for them. Not a single person should have to demand basic decency from a flagship university because decency should already be there.
Galligan admits LSU is not perfect, but no one has demanded perfection. Whether or not the policy is perfect, there needs to be accountability for those who ignore the policy. This is the only way to definitively end this institutional corrosion and subsequent rot.