The lack of due process on college campuses has been widely discussed during this session of the Missouri General Assembly. Campus due process proposals have been considered in, both, the House and Senate. The current bills seek to ensure that students have rights to legal representation, to review evidence against them, and to present their own evidence. Additionally, College and University students would also have the right to challenge or cross-examine the testimony of witnesses and to reject any decision-makers who have exhibited bias or a conflict of interest.
Much of the debate has been centered on balancing the rights and interests of, both, the accused and the accuser. On behalf of the St. Louis County NAACP, we do not feel that these worthy goals are mutually exclusive. We believe a process that protects confidentiality and due process for all parties is possible and we believe the proposals in the Missouri legislature successfully achieve each of these goals.
The fact of the matter is this: the lack of due process anywhere disparately impacts minority communities. That is particularly true on college campuses where the accused are more often than not African-Americans. Even worse, minority students on college campuses are far less likely to possess the financial resources to successfully navigate the bureaucracy and resources of the universities that are investigating them. Any imbalance of power is where injustice is likely to occur. That is particularly true in these campus cases.
In fact, a recent story in The Atlantic showed that an investigation at Colgate University found that while just 4.2 percent of Colgate students we’re black, they were accused of 50 percent of sexual violations and 40 percent of students formally adjudicated. This imbalance of power and the lack of due process on campuses across the county has led to hundreds of lawsuits. Students whose rights are deprived are seeking, and securing, legal settlements from institutions that deprive them of their Constitutional rights. However, as we are far too aware, African American students are less likely to have the resources to seek this justified support. Instead, their education is more likely to be ruined and their opportunities more likely to be diminished.
Additionally, these proposals add an appeal process, outside of the university system where an impartial commission will review the facts and hear from the parties involve. This system will remove biases and politics and ensure that justice is served for all parties.
Restoring the due process rights of students will lead to a better system. It will eliminate the need for lengthy and costly legal battles that favor the wealthy. It will ensure impartiality in the process. Most importantly, it will preserve justice for every student on every campus.
John C.E. Gaskin III is the president of the St. Louis County NAACP.