Transformation Requires Transparency: Critical Policy Reforms to Advance Campus Sexual Violence Response

By Ridolfi-Starr, Zoe | The Yale Law Journal, May 2016 | Go to article overview

Transformation Requires Transparency: Critical Policy Reforms to Advance Campus Sexual Violence Response


Ridolfi-Starr, Zoe, The Yale Law Journal


FEATURE CONTENTS  INTRODUCTION    I. PROCEDURAL OPACITY HAS HARMFUL CONSEQUENCES  II. PROCEDURAL OPACITY PREVENTS US FROM ANSWERING CRITICAL      QUESTIONS      A. Are Campuses Investigating and Sanctioning Cases Fairly?      B. Are Campuses Discriminating Against Specific Communities? III. SOLUTION: A ROBUST LEGISLATIVE MANDATE FOR INCREASED      TRANSPARENCY      A. Any Solutions Must Address Privacy Concerns      B. Models Provide Guidance Opportunities      C. Transparency: The Specifics         1. Information Regarding the Investigation and Sanctioning            of Cases         2. Demographic Information on the Involved Parties         3. Information Regarding Interim Measures and the Long-Term            Outcomes for Students Who Filed Reports of Gender Violence CONCLUSION 

INTRODUCTION

The current debate surrounding campus adjudication of gender violence has painted a picture of two warring factions: in one corner are the feminists battling for greater awareness of sexual violence and campus processes that center on victims' needs, and in the other are critics who argue schools have overcorrected to the point of discriminating against accused students. The present discourse suggests that students who are making accusations of gender violence and students against whom such allegations are made have mutually exclusive interests. But there is an area where all students share a common interest: ensuring fair and transparent campus disciplinary processes.

As a result of tremendous national attention over the past few years to sexual and dating violence in schools, initiatives to improve school disciplinary policies have emerged across the country at both the school and governmental levels. Sexual and dating violence occurs on college campuses with disturbing frequency: one in five female students report being sexually assaulted during college; (1) nineteen percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming students report having experienced sexual assault or misconduct; (2) and college-aged women are the group most likely to experience dating violence. (3) Thus far, efforts to confront this violence have focused on prevention and response, both of which are critical elements of addressing epidemic levels of violence and inadequate institutional responses. (4) But the experiences of student survivors who attempt to report to their schools, of advocates pushing for improved policies, and of critics who argue that accused students have been wronged in the process show us that new policies will only be cosmetic unless these reform efforts include rigorous transparency requirements. A fair campus process benefits both accused and accusing students; however, as I will show, it is impossible to assess and ensure the fairness of these systems without transparency requirements.

This Feature argues that there is a troubling lack of transparency and accountability in the processes colleges and universities use to address campus sexual and dating violence. This opacity creates a culture of impunity for campus officials entrusted with ensuring the safety of students and further stokes critiques from those who argue for more robust rights for accused students. I discuss a number of concrete ways in which the current lack of transparency regarding college disciplinary processes creates challenges for both accused and accusing students. Both groups argue that these processes lead to unfair investigations and discrimination against particular populations. However, these difficulties are not intractable; federal legislation can require transparency to better serve all students. In this Feature, I draw on a recent New York State law mandating increased campus transparency as a promising example, which could be improved upon and implemented nationwide. This law requires colleges and universities to release aggregate, anonymized data regarding the adjudication of campus gender violence reports while also addressing the issue of student privacy, and it should serve as a template for a more comprehensive transparency mandate at the national level. …

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