Burden of Proof

In a year when the Faculty voted to require more evidence before the Ad Board would investigate sexual assault complaints, the University itself has been forced to prove its case.

And while the OCR found that the Ad Board procedure does not violate gender discrimination laws, in their final meeting of the year, the Faculty may strike the three little words which seem to have started it all—“independent corroborating evidence”—from the policy for investigating peer disputes in favor of a softened statement encouraging students to submit evidence to support their claims.

But numerous committees—from a 1991 Date Rape Task Force to the Ellison Committee—have sought to improve the way the College handles cases of sexual assault, without producing any real results.

And though student activists and administrators say they hope the campus is on the brink of a new era, they worry that even after the past year’s battles these recommendations will never make it off the page.


Jane, a junior at the College who asked that neither her nor Dave’s real name be used in this story, says that one Saturday night in the fall of her first year here she went to a pre-party in her Yard dorm and then to a party in an upperclass House.


By the time she reached the party, she had already had three beers and two shots of rum, she recalls. She had six more drinks of hard alcohol at the party.

By that time, she says she was so drunk she was “feeling very dizzy and numb” and started dancing with Dave, whom she had met the night before at a party in her dorm.

“He had to hold me. I was dancing on his feet,” she says. “I was knocking over bookshelves.”

Both Jane and Dave wrote in their reports to David B. Fithian, assistant dean of the College and secretary of the Ad Board, that when the party broke up at 1 a.m., Dave asked Jane to go back to his room and they walked back to his first-year dorm.

The next four hours in his room are a blur to her, Jane says, with many gaps in her memory when she thinks she blacked out from drinking.

But she says she remembers him sexually assaulting her twice in the next four hours as she lapsed in and out of consciousness. She says she did not want to have sex with him and never consented but was too drunk to defend herself.

In Dave’s final statement, he says she consented to having sex with him.

Jane submitted a list of 15 witnesses when she filed her complaint with the Ad Board.

A subcommittee of the Board interviewed each of these witnesses, who included friends she had spoken with the day after the alleged incident, people who had seen her at the party and a friend of hers in Dave’s dorm who checked on the couple that night.

Fithian says that the more information available to the Ad Board, the more likely it will be able to come to a decision. But even a large number of witnesses cannot guarantee that a case will be resolved.