From the Editors

How should campus sexual assault accusations be judged?

Standards of evidence are politically contested. But the most crucial issue is due process.

When secretary of education Betsy DeVos announced that she was rescinding Obama administration guidelines for handling sexual assault on college campuses, there was reason to be suspicious. Given the president’s behavior, the Trump administration has little credibility on issues of sexual assault. And victim advocates were alarmed earlier this year when a Justice Department memo called for making assault victims’ sexual histories admissible in hearings. DeVos’s push to tighten standards for determining guilt in assault cases on campus could be seen—and was seen by many—as a retreat from supporting victims.

But DeVos raised an important issue acknowledged by observers across the political spectrum: universities have been ill-equipped to handle accusations of sexual assault, and their procedures need reform. As Laura Kipnis stresses in Unwanted Advances (reviewed in this issue), the effort to adjudicate assault charges to meet federal civil rights standards has led individual college administrators to violate norms of due process.

Current rules put schools in an unusually difficult position. They are called on to examine intimate aspects of students’ lives and to resolve cases in which the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator are often living on the same campus. To reach a responsible conclusion, administrators must find a way resist gender and racial stereotypes about who is likely to be victim or perpetrator and to resist as well their instinct to protect the school’s image.