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Black Dartmouth football player alleges bias. racial discrimination in sex assault case

  • The Dartmouth College football team, shown practicing at 6 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2018, on Memorial Field. The Big Green tries to keep its slim Ivy League title hopes alive Saturday when it visits Cornell. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News
Published: 1/29/2021 12:46:50 PM

A Black Dartmouth College football player who was suspended for two years after the college concluded he sexually assaulted a fellow student claims the investigation was biased and racist, according to a lawsuit he filed this week.

The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New Hampshire, accuses the college of several offenses including racial discrimination, breach of contract and negligence related to the investigation, which began last winter. The suit does not name the student, referring to him only as John Doe, but says that he is from Ohio and is a defensive lineman on the Dartmouth football team.

Diana Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the college, declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday.

The complaint stems from an incident in early February 2020 when a female student, who is referred to in court documents by the pseudonym Sally Smith, was at a party on campus. The woman got drunk and called the plaintiff, a friend of hers, to help her get back to her room because she “didn’t know where she lived,” the complaint said.

Doe, who doesn’t drink alcohol and was sober, met the woman and walked her to her room, where they sat and talked for a while before he asked Smith if she wanted to have sexual intercourse, the lawsuit said. The complaint claimed the woman said “yes” twice, and that the two students attempted to have intercourse for two or three minutes but then stopped.

Dartmouth’s investigation however, found that Doe had sexual intercourse with Smith “without her valid consent,” violating sexual assault provisions in Dartmouth’s policies on sexual and gender-based misconduct.

A day after their encounter, Smith asked Doe to meet while a friend listened in on their conversation without Doe’s knowledge. She told him she hadn’t wanted to have sex and asked him, “do you think I was in the right mindset to say yes?” the complaint said. Within a few days, the woman went to college authorities, prompting the Title IX investigation.

Title IX is the federal civil rights law intended to protect people from sex-based discrimination in education programs and activities.

Doe’s attorney, Amy Spencer, wrote in the lawsuit that an outside investigator appointed by Dartmouth interviewed both students before releasing a final report in August. In the report, the investigator determined that the woman was not incapacitated, but she did not consent to sex, according to the lawsuit.

A hearing panel suspended Doe for two academic years in September, Spencer wrote. Smith also went to the Hanover Police Department, but ultimately decided not to pursue an investigation against Doe, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit claims Dartmouth was unfair to Doe throughout the investigation, first by denying his request to have an in-person interview with the investigator or meet in person with the hearing panel, even though the student promised to take safety precautions to avoid spreading COVID-19. Dartmouth students had to leave campus in March because of the widening pandemic.

The findings themselves were also unfair to the male student, Spencer wrote, arguing that the female student’s level of intoxication could have affected her memory of that night, that she gave “affirmative” consent, and that she had no evidence of trauma when she went to the hospital and was examined for sexual assault.

Spencer also argued that as a white woman from New England, Dartmouth’s Title IX investigator, who is not named in the lawsuit, had “implicit racial and sex-based bias” that breached the school’s policy of a fair investigation. She argued that the bias was evidenced by the language the investigator used in her report, which was more “aggressive and exaggerated” than witnesses had recalled.

For example, Doe said he had asked Smith if her roommate was home to see why she hadn’t called her when Smith couldn’t remember where she lived, but the investigator said he was “casing” her living quarters. She also said he “yelled” to her at a dining hall the next morning, while Doe said he “called out” to Smith, the lawsuit said.

“Many of the inferences the Investigator drew from the evidence were based on this underlying biased and stereotypical view of (the plaintiff) as an aggressive, hypersexual Black male,” Spencer wrote.

She added that the all-white panel that heard the case against Doe “conducted a superficial and inadequate inquiry into the Investigator’s bias and exhibited implicit bias of its own.” Doe asked the school to include a Black person on the panel, but found “Dartmouth’s official position was that it had no African American person available to serve on his Hearing Panel,” according to the suit.

The complaint also said Dartmouth has faced recent pressure to “crack down” on sexual assaults, leading college officials to favor the accounts of women who report sexual misconduct. Spencer included several examples of times within the last decade that students have held rallies and other demonstrations to speak against sexual abuse.

Spencer wrote that there’s a “pervasive view at Dartmouth that accusers of sexual assault are to be believed simply because of their status as accusers.”

The lawsuit also asserts that “at least eight Black football players before Doe had been suspended or expelled following Title IX proceedings” in the past 15 years, where no such action had been taken against white players.

The complaint requests that the school reverse its finding in the case, pay Doe an unspecified amount in damages and lift the suspension. Dartmouth had not filed a response to the lawsuit by Thursday afternoon.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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