SPEAKING FREELY


Posted by Professor Tim Diette


The following comments are in response to the widely distributed letter by Brian Richardson and coverage of the “The Bracket” and “The List” in the Ring-Tum Phi.  The comments are based on emails that I sent to Brian Richardson and Jacob Geiger, Managing Editor of The Ring-Tum Phi.  Other members of the community have responded in a far more articulate manner than I could ever manage, but let me struggle to address three basic issues.

    

1.      Free Speech.  I do not believe it is controversial to state that a person can sexually harass another person with words.  If so, then by definition, the SFHB is directly charged to "punish speech" (words used by Mr. Geiger in the May 12th editorial).  If a student sexually harasses another student via the press then this would warrant following the guidelines for sexual harassment that is put forth in the student handbook.  I am not commenting on a particular case, but it seems realistic to believe that it is at least possible and therefore appropriate for it to fall under the SFHB.

 

2.      Closed Hearings. I am confused why people appear to be shocked and outraged that hearings of the Student Faculty Hearing Board are closed.  Are EC hearings open to the community? Are SJC hearings open to the community?  I can think of two benefits offered by a closed system.  One is protection of the complainant.  If it was always required to be an open hearing then a person who had been sexually assaulted would have to let the entire W&L community know that he/she had been sexually assaulted in order to have the matter heard.  The second benefit is to the accused.  If a person is found innocent then they do not have their name associated with sexual misconduct.  Even a person who is found guilty still remains anonymous in the statements made by the SFHB.  The community should put some thought into whether an open hearing would actually benefit or harm the functioning of the system.  

 

3.      Reform of the system.  I think it would be healthy to have a community dialogue to determine if the current institutions and protocol for handling claims of sexual misconduct need to be revised.  The community could consider a variety of reforms regarding who sits on the SFHB, should the hearings be open or closed, and which cases are referred to the SFHB.  It is critical that the community has faith that the system will protect both the complainants and the accused.  The issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault deserve the full attention of the Washington and Lee community.  


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