Is it possible to have a civilized conversation about campus sexual assault policies these days? If Heather Mac Donald’s recent experience at Colgate University is any indication, the answer, sadly, is “no.”
Mac Donald, a New York Times bestselling author and Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, was invited by Colgate’s Open Discussion Club to discuss her new book, “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture.”
According to The College Fix, the discussion turned to campus sexual assault during the question and answer period, when a female student took the mic to question Mac Donald about articles she has written debunking the campus rape crisis. The questioner announced that she had been sexually assaulted at Colgate and asked if Mac Donald believes it was her own fault. According to the Fix:
The question drew a boisterous and prolonged round of cheers and applause that went on for roughly 30 seconds as Mac Donald stood at the podium and collected her thoughts. . . .
“Thank you for your question. And I do not know the facts of your incident and I am very sorry for what …,” but whatever she said next was once again met with loud gasps and groans from many in the crowd.
Mac Donald continued: “I have no idea what each party was involved with but I am sure it was traumatic.”
“Does it matter? Does it matter?” came cries from the audience regarding the need for the facts of the case before weighing in.
“Yes, it does,” Mac Donald responded, and affirmed it again amid more cries of shock. “I am not going to presume what constitutes an assault unless I know the facts.”
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Later a male student told her “if someone says they’ve been raped — they’ve been raped,” prompting yet another round of cheers from the audience. Mac Donald wasn’t having it.
“I don’t accept the proposition that every accusation of a crime is proof that that crime happened. I think, especially in this country, we should be very worried about false accusations of rape. … Something as serious as rape deserves proof …”
Mac Donald has challenged the oft-repeated claim that almost one quarter of all female college students will be assaulted during their four years in college. In fact, data from the Department of Justice indicates that the number of college women who are victims of rape or sexual assault is approximately 1 in 53—an unacceptable number, but nowhere near the 1 in 4 statistic bandied about by acitivists. The one-in-four statistic is derrived from surveys that classify a wide range of behaviors — both lawful and unlawful — as sexual assault, even where the putative victim does not regard herself as having been assaulted.
In her talk at Colgate, Mac Donald put that number into perspective:
Our most violent city, Detroit, when you look at all four of the FBI’s violent index felonies — that includes murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery — all four of those combined gets you a violent felony rate of 2 percent. So 20 to 25 percent is a catastrophe.
She explained that if such a “sexual holocaust” were, in fact, taking place on college campuses across the country, we would see a “stampede” of women away from co-ed colleges. Instead, the opposite is true: women today comprise a majority on most college campuses.
You can watch a video of the exchange, in which students repeatedly interrupt Mac Donald to ask if she has ever been raped, HERE.
The incident at Colgate comes at a time when the Department of Education is on the verge of releasing new regulations on how colleges must address claims of sexual assault. Civil libertarians and proponents of due process claim that current campus disciplinary regimes stack the deck against accused students, leading to numerous miscarriages of justice. They note that many college sexual misconduct tribunals dispense with the presumption of innocence and deny accused students any meaningful opportunity to prove their innocence by, for example, questioning witnesses or submitting evidence that may demonstrate consent. They further note that, while accused students are not at risk of losing their liberty if found responsible for sexual misconduct by their college, they do face life-altering consequences and serious reputational damage.
College administrators respond that school disciplinary procedures serve an educational — not criminal law –function and should not be subject to the same rigors of proof as a court of law.
"Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously," said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, in announcing that the Department of Education was going to propose new rules. But, she noted, so too must every student accused of sexual misconduct “know that guilt is not predetermined." The Department issued a draft of new rules in November 2018. The final rules are due to be released any day.