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Response to Sept. 1 Observer Editorial

| Monday, September 4, 2017

In the Aug. 31 “Lunch and Learn” session concerning recent changes to Notre Dame’s Title IX policy, Heather Ryan, Deputy Title IX Coordinator, stressed that the complainant will now be at the heart of the proceedings. In doing so, she asserted that Notre Dame rightfully stands for complainants having agency over their own cases. On Sept. 1, The Observer Editorial Board published an article arguing that past failures of the Title IX procedures at Notre Dame reflect an unequitable and flawed system, mistakenly interpreting the University’s new survivor-centered policy as a threat to due process. We believe this article fails its readers by providing misinformation and a biased standpoint in an ongoing judicial case.

Beginning with the title of the article, “Don’t let past mistakes lead to future flaws,” the Observer attempts to convince the reader that the University has overcorrected its Title IX procedures in favor of the complainant. Nearly the first quarter of this full-page article encourages the reader to empathize with John Doe’s predicament, meanwhile failing to consider the perspective of the other party involved, Jane Roe. By explicitly empathizing with John Doe, an expelled Notre Dame student currently suing the University for “procedural flaws, lack of due process and inherent gender bias,” The Observer appears to take the respondent’s side in its criticism of Title IX.

In fact, the University of Notre Dame has a nationally-noted record of failing to provide equitable resolutions to the complainant in cases of sexual violence. Ignoring this record is careless reporting. It is unfair to assume that the inequity in this case belongs to John Doe. Sexual assault has one of the lowest reporting rates of all crimes, with studies indicating around a 2-10 percent false reporting rate. False accusal does not run rampant. We want due process in Title IX, but it is time for the conversation to recognize that due process applies to both sides.

Despite its biased perspective from the outset, the article later attempts to shield itself from potential pro-respondent criticism by offhandedly invoking Lizzy Seeberg as a fellow example of a failed case. This invocation of a young woman who was driven to suicide after sexual violence was committed against her abusively trivializes her memory to assuage a criticism of pro-respondent bias.

The Observer’s invocation of Seeberg’s name and memory is extremely disrespectful. The Observer Editorial Board explicitly equates the injustices suffered by “a victim of hostile conduct” to one who was “falsely accused of such behavior.” How can we say that the plight of a respondent found guilty of sexual violence is morally equivalent to the experience of a victim of sexual violence? We cannot simply equate these two cases, generalizing them both as failures of a broken system.

The Observer highlights John Doe’s suffering through the 111-day investigation — 51 days longer than Title IX demands. Jane Roe, too, suffered through every single one of those 111 days, not to mention the ongoing stigma and pain of reporting. The changes to the Title IX policy at Notre Dame are imperfect, but it is our responsibility as students and advocates to research and thoughtfully examine these revisions. Survivors, we hear you, we believe you and we stand with you. We call The Observer and the Notre Dame student body to critically consider how we protect and depict victims and survivors of sexual violence.

Student Government Executive Cabinet

Sept. 3

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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