At Columbia University sexual assault activists have finally achieved their Holy Grail; the abolition of any semblance of due process in the handling of sexual assault allegations, which will now be presumed to be true and dealt with accordingly.
OK, we are only talking about expulsion from Columbia University’s Marching Band (CUMB), which hardly has the life-changing ramifications of expulsion from Columbia University itself, and this policy is simply contained in a Community Standards Agreement, but this is still troubling for several reasons. Firstly, expulsion, even if it is only from CUMB, will carry a stigma, particularly since the band will have a fairly high profile at the university and the expulsion might soon become common knowledge.
Secondly, as an active amateur musician myself, I can attest to how much CUMB will mean to its members; and, thirdly, where CUMB leads today, could Columbia University and others follow tomorrow? The abolition of any pretence at due process might appear unlikely, but would anyone 20 years ago seriously have imagined us being where we are now?
Already, Amanda Childress, the Sexual Assault Awareness Programme co-ordinator at Dartmouth College has gone on record as saying that she sees no problem in students being expelled on the basis on an unproven allegation.
The motivation for these changes is ‘a number of instances of alleged sexual assault within the band’. Let’s get one thing straight; the band is quite within its rights to expel a member if there is evidence of serious misbehavior. However, in the instance described in the article, one alumnus allegedly tried to pick up a band member at a private party and rubbed her back and kissed her neck. Boorish behavior, quite possibly, but sexual assault? You’re having a laugh!
Men and women joining CUMB often have at least one eye on the possibility of meeting their future partner there. Men are expected to be the initiators in sexual relations and women enjoy the flattery of the attention of being the chosen one, provided that they are similarly attracted to the man.
This new policy has the consequence for men (and let us be clear that this policy is primarily directed at men, despite the gender-neutral language) of making any sexual advance akin to a game of Russian roulette, and many men will simply stop trying to initiate sexual relationships, at least within the band environment.
Be careful what you wish for ladies, because you might just get it!
The head manager of CUMB, Edith Lerner, is under no illusions about the effect of this policy when she says:
‘Problems with the policy’ – I wonder what those might be? That the incident is a murky he said/she said encounter with no witnesses? That it gives a green light to anyone with a grudge to make malicious allegations against CUMB members?
Of course there will be no malicious allegations; how can we show that allegations are malicious if we don’t investigate them? Such policies are accepted without question, not only because the prevailing discourse has greatly exaggerated the problem by conflating sexual assault with boorish behaviour and genuine misunderstandings, but also because men (and women) complacently believe that it could never happen to them.
Women do not visualize being the target of allegations, either by men or by other women, and men might see themselves as the good guys, the ‘white knights’ whose role is to save women from the bad guys. Whilst it would be irresponsible to encourage false allegations, one wonders whether such allegations being made against Ms. Lerner might have a salutary effect and whether she would apply this policy to herself without complaint.
Perhaps the most revealing part of Ms Lerner’s statement is the last phrase. Readers of this site will doubtless be aware that Columbia University is attended by Emma Sulkowicz, the visual arts major, who is currently carrying a mattress around the campus to highlight the perceived injustice of her sexual assault allegations against a fellow student being rejected and the university’s consequent refusal to expel this student (see here and here).
She will also be aware of the criticism aimed at various college football teams at their failure to deal with unproven allegations harshly enough. CUMB has a high profile within the university and understandably wants to cover its backside and protect its reputation. After all, they don’t really want someone carrying their euphonium or bass drum around the campus every day.
However, once organizations voluntarily bend to the will of the mob to avoid reputational harm, the mob has surely won.