Letter to the Editor: Tulane needs to take campus safety seriously


Two recent developments in campus safety have presented university students, faculty, administrators and staff with difficult challenges: the exposure of Urban Meyer and a series of cases challenging Obama-era policy regarding sexual assault at universities. Mounting pressure has compelled many universities to increase protection and the safety standards for students, while accused students are calling for heightened due process standards. As universities struggle to improve campus safety, victims continue to face constant challenges like attending class or dining with the people who attacked them; as recently as May, a brave Tulane student spoke out about her experience with sexual assault in her own Letter to the Editor.

For years, even though there was knowledge that Harvey Weinstein was charged with sexual assault, no one said anything. Celebrities continued to take photos with him and associations continued to present him with awards. Cases of harassment were also widely known in university settings, such as the case of Harvard University professor Jorge I. Dominguez. Acts of sexual harassment were allegedly perpetrated for over 30 years. It is not, however, just sexual misconduct that is in question.

Even if charges are later dropped, an arrest for a violent assault, battery, sexual assault, robbery and harassment can be an early indication that violent behavior will continue or escalate. The Ohio State assistant coach, Zach Smith, was first arrested for battery in 2009 while working for Meyer at the University of Florida. Although police arrested Smith for battery, they later dropped the charge. According to SBnation.com, when Smith moved to Ohio State with Meyer in 2011, a university background check failed to catch the arrest. Meyer supposedly did not think he needed to say anything to the school because the charges were dropped and he thought Smith did not actually commit battery. In 2015, when Meyer’s wife was made aware of physical assault by the victim, she allegedly did not report it to her husband or university officials.

While calls for greater action are growing, universities face increasing demands for due process from the accused. Police reports, victim testimony and arrests often do not meet the standard for further action by universities. At Tulane, the due process standard has been challenged through a 2017 lawsuit against the university. At issue is the Obama administration’s April 2011 letter, which asked schools to do more for victim advocacy and adopt a relatively low burden of proof in cases involving sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Comparatively, schools like Harvard Law School use a “clear and convincing standard,” while schools like Stanford hold the accused to the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In the last year, the Tulane Department of Political Science has been faced with graduate students and faculty accused for sexual harassment or violent offenses. Due to the 2017 lawsuit against Tulane, among other legal challenges, Tulane Student Affairs has been limited in their ability to provide solutions for these and other situations. This is a travesty for both victims and the students of Tulane who continue to engage in coursework, and are taught and advised by graduate students and faculty.

What is worse – victims allegedly continue to suffer retaliation from faculty and other graduate students. This also raises issues for universities that might unwittingly employ an individual in the future without knowledge of events, such was the case of the hiring of Smith by Ohio State.

My sincere hope is Tulane will be able to balance reasonable due process, resolution for victims and student safety. It is also my hope that Tulane students and faculty alike will treat victims more honorably and accept more responsibility in preventing violent and sexual misconduct at Tulane.

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