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Failing the 40 percent

On Tuesday, a superior court judge sided with Duke junior Ciaran McKenna, permanently barring Duke from suspending him over sexual misconduct allegations. Last November, after two hearings and an appellate process, the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) found McKenna responsible for violating the University’s sexual misconduct policy, concluding that McKenna had sexually assaulted a female student. When McKenna’s second attempt at the appellate process was denied, he sued Duke for misapplying the “reasonable person standard.” His case is one of many shedding light on the extremely troubling aspects of our University’s student conduct process

Since our undergraduate seniors arrived on this campus four years ago, sexual assault at Duke has repeatedly made national and local headlines. In 2014, Lewis McLeod sued Duke after being expelled for violating its sexual misconduct policy. In 2015 alone, a first-year female claimed that she had been drugged and raped at a fraternity house off-campus, a former Duke men’s basketball player was dismissed amid sexual allegations and the U.S. Department of Education began investigating a Title IX complaint against Duke. In 2016, a former student filed a Title IX lawsuit on the grounds that the University had mishandled her sexual misconduct complaint, and in 2017, a Women’s Center employee was accused of doing the same. The frequency and gravity of these cases should worry us as a community. 

As we have noted in the past, our University often functions as its own municipality with its own adjudication system. At Duke, students are encouraged to report sexual misconduct. However, when they do so, they enter a system that repeatedly fails them. In some ways, OSC’s role in this process is a complete conflict of interest given the University’s interest in projecting a sterling national reputation. The University simply has too much at stake, preventing it from being the fairest judge and jury to oversee such sensitive allegations. 

We encourage Duke to reform its student conduct process before more students lose faith in the imperfect adjudication process. Sexual assault is a clear problem at Duke, and there are innumerable factors working against sexual assault victims on-campus; our justice system should not exasperate an already painful process for victims. When OSC mishandles sexual misconduct allegations, they siphon even more respect away from student victims struggling to recover both physically and emotionally post-assault. They eliminate any means for students to receive justice on this campus. This is not the first time we have asked Duke for reform, but hopefully, it will be the last. 

On college campuses across the nation, 20 percent of women report being sexually assaulted. At Duke, the rate is nearly twice that number. Here, 40 percent of undergraduate women and 10 percent of undergraduate men report being sexually assaulted, and while this report is startling, it has seemingly incited no tangible change on this campus. From the outside, it appears that many of us have simply forgotten about the 40 percent. Even a complete overhaul of OSC is insufficient to combat the culture of sexual misconduct existing on this campus. As students, we have to critically reflect on what steps we are taking—and what steps we have failed to take—toward our goal of creating a safer campus. This process begins with changing how we talk about sexual assault and by eliminating phrases that trivialize it. It involves stepping in, instead of standing by. Our University will hopefully change soon, but as students, we can definitely affect change today.


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