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Proposed policy will strip students of fundamental legal rights

On Friday, April 13, Paul Dionne of the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusivity (OADI) emailed an open letter to President Scott Bierman and Dean of Students Christina Klawitter outlining new suggested guidelines for cases of racial harassment. As of the time I am writing this article, the letter has received 105 signatures from faculty and staff of the college. The letter and the guidelines within it are cause for grave concern and, if established, will implement a disturbing new precedent for disciplinary action at Beloit College. Let’s take a closer look at Paul Dionne’s kangaroo court.

First, Dionne claims to be writing as an advocate of two students who were recently victimized by racial harassment. While no one was physically harmed in this case, the details are troubling and almost certainly require disciplinary action if true. As it is an ongoing investigation, I will only describe the incident as a case of verbal harassment. Dionne, however, uses the incident to engage in shameless manipulation by telling his intended readers to ask themselves whether or not they want to be part of an institution where people accused of such harassment face no accountability and whether they would be “interested in recommending such a college to prospective students.” Obviously, everyone would answer in the negative, but Dionne still goes on to answer his own question by saying, “Not us. We are writing to advocate for a just resolution to this incident.” Such an embarrassing and predictable platitude reveals itself to be nothing more than pure corruption when we see exactly what Dionne’s “just resolution” looks like.

After claiming that the accused should be held accountable in some way, Dionne issues an ominous warning should a situation devolve into a he-said-she-said matter, by stating that Bierman and Klawitter should “consider carefully which students the college chooses to believe and protect.” The implications within this statement are disgusting. The idea that a situation between students requires the College to protect one party over and against the other should be vehemently repudiated by the administration. Obviously, situations potentially requiring disciplinary action should be handled through a proper framework in which the claims of both sides be evaluated by impartial arbiters. According to Dionne, however, this would fail Beloit’s mission to be an anti-racist institution and as such “a decision about which students to believe should be clear.” Dionne’s solution? Remove due process.

That’s right, Paul Dionne and the 104 other signatories are out to ensure that accused individuals never get a fair hearing, justifying such outrageousness as follows:

            We understand that a judicial process allows the accused students a “benefit of the doubt,” however, in this case we believe the testimony of the targeted students is sufficient evidence that cannot and should not be ignored. Just because individual offenders cannot be identified or “proven guilty” doesn’t mean that it is acceptable to dismiss that this act happened, or fail to bring it to light publicly.

Putting aside the fact that being identified and being proven guilty are two entirely different things, Dionne dismisses the judicial process in a few words, opting instead for some sort of show-trial that would make Reverend Parris blush. (Instead of show-trial, Dionne calls it “community-based intervention.”) The suggested guidelines require all occupants of the residence hall where the incident occurred be called to a floor meeting facilitated by ResLife. During this meeting, the events will be divulged as well as the names of the alleged victims and perpetrators. Then the residents will be forced to make a “collective affirmation… that such conduct is unacceptable and that the targeted students can count on their peers for protection and support.” (Something about the term “collective affirmation” is chilling.) This would then be followed by mandatory bystander intervention training and a think-session to come up with potential solutions. Is all of this just to make the targeted students feel safe? That’s one reason–the kind everyone can support–but there’s also a second, more sinister reason Dionne supplies: “The accused students need to know that their dorm mates are on alert as to what happened and will not tolerate it happening again.” That’s a nice way of saying accused students who potentially maintain their innocence and have no evidence against them be subjected to the vigilantism of a high-strung community. This is the opposite of justice.

If implemented, these guidelines would remove 1) presumption of innocence, 2) impartial arbitration and 3) fair punishment. An anthropologist in the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusivity at Beloit College feels entitled to do away with our fundamental legal rights–such hubris would be amusing if it wasn’t also a matter of our lives.

Aping Dionne’s rhetorical question in the letter, I want you to ask yourselves: Do you want to be part of an institution that handles discipline through kangaroo courts and show-trials? Would you be interested in recommending such a college to prospective students? Not me.

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