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Rape at College, Then Rape by College

Hobart & William Smith Colleges does a Steubenville.

Photo Credit: By Nyttend (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Two weeks after the fall term started, an unknown number of male students, apparently including members of the undefeated football team at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Hobart), raped an 18-year-old freshman girl who’d had too much to drink. Hobart’s response was to re-rape the child bureaucratically by ignoring evidence and finding the alleged rapists not guilty. It was a sham of an administrative adjudication that failed to meet even a shadow of fairness, competence, or even intellectual plausibility. Hobart stands by its dishonest decision. Case closed.

Actually, the case may not be closed. The freshman, who took a leave of absence after the repeated abuse by students and administrators, has said that she will return to campus this fall, against her parents’ wishes, and that she will be working with other abuse survivors. That is, she plans to do, as a student, what Hobart and its staff utterly and negligently failed to do for a victim who accused a winning football team of gang rape.

This harsh summary of events at Hobart in September 2013 and thereafter is based on a very long, detailed, and conscientious story by Walt Bogdanich on the front page of  The New York Timeson Sunday, July 13, 2014. Titled “Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn’t,” the story provides a detailed portrait of Hobart’s quasi-judicial process, which was startlingly incompetent and unjust.

Hobart’s damage control started the day of publication, with a letter to the community from Hobart president  Mark Gearan. His relatively content-free letter includes a link to an unsigned,  longer document that purports to include “information that was provided to the Times reporter which is largely missing from the article….” Although much of the language is identical in the two documents, neither offers much relevant information. Both are long on policy boilerplate without supporting evidence and without much relevance to the case at hand.

Does Hobart’s “institutional integrity” depend on its lack of integrity?

In essence, Hobart has voiced a non-denial denial, a non-defense defense. Hobart says the reporter got the story wrong, but offers not one example of error. Hobart provides no corrections, no particulars, no explanation, no contrition, and no effort to atone for its personal and institutional failures.

In a letter to the Times on July 15, Hobart’s board chair,  Maureen Collins Zupan, wrote that “it remains my opinion as a feminist, mother, daughter, sister and leader that Hobart and William Smith handled this case properly, with compassion, respect and seriousness.” Before that, the board chair wrote that the “community is heartbroken by our student’s experience, and we deeply regret the pain she has suffered,” which is strange coming from the head of the institution that inflicted much of that student’s pain and suffering. Hobart’s official responses are full of such smoke and mirrors.

With the exquisite illogic of a desperate denial of reality, the board chair ends her letter by stating: “That is why Hobart and William Smith Colleges pledge to build a new model of governance for this issue. Our attention and focus have never been higher.” That sounds like an acknowledgement of failure, but without the decency of an admission.

Hobart under federal investigation for responses to Title IX cases

Hobart is one of 55 American colleges and universities currently under investigation for civil rights violations in their response to cases of sexual violence. In a May 1  announcement from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), that office explained:

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. In the past, Department officials confirmed individual Title IX investigations at institutions, but today's list is the first comprehensive look at which campuses are under review by OCR for possible violations of the law’s requirements around sexual violence.

Among the other institutions joining Hobart on the investigation list are Harvard, Dartmouth, Amherst, Princeton, Ohio State, Arizona State, the University of Chicago, and the University of California-Berkeley. The Office for Civil Rights did not release details of any of the particular investigations. Whether the specific Hobart case reported by the Times is under federal investigation is uncertain. If the OCR is looking at it, it will use these criteria:

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