La Sierra University can’t win. After a lengthy, at times contentious, clash between the university and students and alumni over its handling of Title IX cases involving allegations of sexual assault, La Sierra has expelled a male student for alleged rape only to see that student reinstated by a superior court judge.
The international student, identified in a court case filed in Riverside County only as John Doe, is accused of raping a female student who blacked out at an off-campus party that involved drug and alcohol use. The suit, filed on May 16, contended that in expelling Doe, La Sierra University did not provide due process.
The Press Enterprise reported that Riverside County Superior Court Judge John D. Molloy issued a stay that will allow the student to register for fall classes at La Sierra. A hearing scheduled for September 16 will provide the student, represented by Los Angeles-based attorney Mark Hathaway, an opportunity to present the case that La Sierra did not follow its own appeals process in expelling the him. Hathaway states that La Sierra failed to provide his client access to evidence against him. Legal counsel for the university says the suit is premature because the student has not exhausted the school’s appeals process.
La Sierra University has made substantive changes to its handling of Title IX cases dealing with allegations of sexual assault including rape. The procedural updates followed a protracted campaign for change by students and alumni alleging that La Sierra mishandled Title IX reports filed by female students.
Among the changes, La Sierra has secured a full-time Title IX coordinator to handle complaints, and will focus more attention on training for both faculty and students.
La Sierra University must now strike a delicate balance between taking swift and decisive action in response to allegations of sexual assault if and when they arise on the one hand, and on the other hand also protecting the rights of alleged assailants. Adding to the complexity is La Sierra’s identity as a Seventh-day Adventist institution, which means prohibitions on substance use and forbidding extramarital sex. Like many Adventist institutions, La Sierra has an amnesty clause in its disciplinary policies that protects students who admit substance use when reporting sexual assault. The provision signals that rape is a far more serious offense than using drugs or alcohol.
Which brings us back to the case of La Sierra’s John Doe.
The alleged assailant admits sexual contact with a female student, but says it was consensual. The female student has said she doesn’t remember any of it. With Judge Molloy’s stay, the male student will likely be registering for classes in the fall with the September hearing slated to determine whether or not he will be permitted to attend those classes.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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