Alyssa Reid and Kathryn Lese met nearly a decade ago at James Madison University (JMU). At the time, Reid was a faculty member of the School of Communications Studies, where she taught a speech class attended by Lese.
The two became best friends, and after Lese graduated from JMU and became a graduate teacher for the speech and debate team, she and Reid became a couple. Reason’s Robby Soave reported that Reid was initially reluctant to date Lese, fearful it would ruin their friendship, but the two eventually started a relationship.
“When she first told me that she had feelings for me, I immediately told her that we can’t be in a relationship,” Reid told Reason. “But she was very persistent and eventually it just became a reality after time.”
Two-and-a-half years later, the two went through a bad breakup. Both were hurt, but Reid said that Lese tried to ruin her life after the breakup.
Nearly a year after the breakup, Lese filed a complaint with JMU’s Title IX office, the details of which were never made clear to Reid, even though that complaint led to an investigation and punishment. The complaint basically accused Reid of having a nonconsensual relationship with Lese for more than two years.
“[Lese] never used any of the terminology that JMU subsequently used in the Title IX proceedings,” Reid told Reason. “She identifies our relationship as a romantic relationship and she admitted that it ended on not good terms. I think that’s pretty much her exact expression. That somehow became JMU’s open door to file a non-consensual relationship claim.”
Reid was suspended from teaching and eventually found to have violated a portion of JMU’s sexual misconduct policy that didn’t exist at the time she was in a relationship with Lese. During the investigation, Reid was told to prepare a defense without being told the specific charges against her. She was also asked to find witnesses to corroborate her side of the story, against without specifics. Reid was eventually given Lese’s exact statement, but only after her witnesses were interviewed, according to her lawsuit.
Ahead of the hearing, Reid was told she would have to write down her questions for Lese and give them to the hearing’s chair, who would then decide which questions to ask of Lese. But neither Lese nor her witnesses attended the hearing, so Reid couldn’t cross-examine them.
Such is the norm in college adjudication of sexual misconduct. Accusers are not required to attend the hearing and are therefore able to avoid being questioned about their claims, without anything held against them. Evidence that could likely be obtained by the defense is simply not heard and no one cares.
If the accused refuses to attend the hearing, however, it is almost certainly held against them and their lack of defense is used to find them responsible. That is because schools don’t operate like a typical legal system, where the accuser has to prove the evidence against the accused. In college adjudications, the accused must find overwhelming evidence to prove their innocence, without the accuser having to provide anything but their claims.
For Reid, the inability to question Lese or her witnesses resulted in a finding of responsibility. Reid was not fired, but she was denied the ability to apply for a promotion. She found a job at another school, but when her new employer found out about the accusation, the offer was rescinded.
As Reason noted, the accusations and finding against Reid are especially confusing because her relationship with Lese had already been investigated and found to be consensual. While they were dating, an unnamed person at JMU filed a complaint about the couple. JMU investigated and determined that Reid and Lese were colleagues and two consenting adults allowed to date. There was no teacher/student or supervisor/employee issue.
Yet years later, the university reversed its decision and determined that Reid and Lese’s entire relationship was nonconsensual.
Reid is now suing, and her story is similar to that of two Brandeis University students at the center of one of the most famous Title IX lawsuits. Two male students dated for years and broke up, and one student accused his ex-boyfriend of sexual assault throughout their consensual relationship after the ex starting seeing a man coveted by the accuser. Brandeis determined the accused was responsible for sexual assault because he would wake his accuser up with kisses and look at him when he was naked (again, they were dating when these actions occurred, and the accuser engaged in the same actions). A judge eventually rebuked Brandeis’ adjudication process.
Reid’s lawsuit may have a chance, as more than half of the lawsuits filed by accused students have received positive rulings from judges appointed by presidents of both political parties. For other students and faculty members, however, this kind of due-process-free adjudication may return to reality, as the Biden administration attempts to strip away students’ civil rights.
Those due process rights were strongly discouraged by the Obama administration, but put into guidance documents by the Trump administration. The Biden administration has signaled that it intends to remove those constitutional protections once again.
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