Like many students at Wooster, I too spend (probably unhealthily) more than a small amount of time on Yik Yak messaging boards. And usually, it’s harmless – albeit not always positive – content. However, over the last few months, I have noticed a disturbing trend that has been the topic du jour of Wooster Yik Yak: discussing apparent sexual assault allegations against Wooster students, even going so far as to name names and make statements such as “[…]don’t forget [name] is also a sexual assaulter.”, “Name drop all assaulters!! Bully them off campus!!”, “[A]ctually bullying is okay if it’s aimed towards sexual assaulters!” and “Put a sticky note with some unique marking, and stick them on every abuser’s door that you know.” And these accusations come with absolutely no statements of proof, seeming completely unverified. Some students claim that a Title IX claim against a student is proof of guilt. Let me be clear: although a student may even have a Title IX claim against them, this does not mean that they are automatically guilty; almost all allegations of this nature constitute one person’s word against another’s. This apparently common practice of explicitly stating names and advocating for direct, possibly belligerent, action to be taken in response to these accusations, is a blight on how assertions of this magnitude ought to be treated, and how the student body should act while these claims are outstanding.
I am obviously anticipating many “yaks” from students when this piece is published. As such, it is important to note that this piece serves as neither a vilification nor a vindication of the alleged assaulters or accusers. I am not at all attempting to commentate on the validity of these alleged happenings; they could be fully true, not true at all, or somewhere in the vast expanse that exists between the aforementioned possibilities. The point is that I have no idea, and me taking a side without any hard evidence would be not only extremely irresponsible, but potentially dangerous, as it could lead to undesirable action being taken against either side. Now, I do believe that accusations of this sort should be taken seriously by the College, of course. Each accusation should be met with the possible or relevant totality of the Title IX Office, the Wooster Conduct Board and the law, if necessary. However, it is an astounding notion, and indeed a horrifying one, to take the position that before the accused are proven guilty, that they are to be gone after hammer and tongs by anyone sufficiently perturbed, let alone the students with whom they share spaces and experiences on their own college campus.
Suppose the administrators supersede the current Title IX format in favor of a culture whereby accusations can seemingly be verified, or at least generally accepted by the populace with likely no actual evidence of wrongdoing, because of how many upvotes a social media message gets. The College of Wooster campus would become reminiscent of a mobocracy one might have seen in 1690s Massachusetts, where enough people simply claiming one thing to be true justifies another person getting into serious social and administrative trouble. If history is to be any guide: such witch hunts rarely locate witches; rather, they more often than not lead to the hanging of innocents.
These allegations, as serious as they are, absolutely must be verified before we as a student body and a community react fully to it; this temperament is crucial, and the only real way to get justice and create change on campus.