Thursday, September 20, 2018
The College of New Jersey is among a small but growing number of institutions that now offer alternatives to trial-like investigations that critics say can be traumatic for everyone involved. The U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has indicated, through Title IX guidance issued in 2017 and then in draft regulations obtained and reported last month by The New York Times, that the Trump administration welcomes alternative ways of handling sexual-misconduct disputes.
Approaches that start with the offender admitting responsibility and agreeing to repair the harm appeal to some students who aren’t interested in seeing someone suspended or expelled. Proponents see alternative resolution agreements as a way to cut down on Title IX investigations, save colleges money, and potentially be fairer to the accused.
But skeptics worry students will feel pressured to bypass a formal investigation and will regret it later on if offenders get off too easily. And asking a student to sit down with an assailant and work out an agreement is not only unrealistic, they argue, but possibly retraumatizing.
The agreement reached by the two students at the New Jersey college didn’t require face-to-face conversations, but they did have to agree on certain stipulations. He would attend a workshop on consent and alcohol-education classes. She wanted him to know how different people’s bodies react to alcohol and how it affects their ability to consent to sex. He would view an online seminar on the neurobiology of sexual assault. The seminar, by Rebecca Campbell, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, had helped her make sense of her confusing emotional reaction to what she later considered an assault.
Both students had a few days to view and suggest changes in the two-page agreement.
"We don’t want this to be seen as a get-out-of-jail-free card," said Jordan L. Draper, dean of students and Title IX coordinator. "It’s an educational opportunity."
Draper is a proponent of what’s known as restorative justice, an umbrella term that covers a variety of interventions aimed at healing rather than assessing blame and punishing.