Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Nearly a year after an anonymous student known as John Doe filed a federal lawsuit against Swarthmore College, alleging that his expulsion for violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policies was unfounded, the two parties have reached a settlement that vacates the college’s finding against him.
John Doe originally filed his lawsuit after being found responsible for sexual misconduct in the spring of 2013. His suit claimed that Swarthmore only re-opened the investigation into his alleged misconduct due to the Title IX complaint filed by Hope Brinn ‘15 and Mia Ferguson ‘15, and his attorney later claimed that the college’s finding made him “the whipping boy that Swarthmore needed to demonstrate its own zero tolerance standard.” John’s suit also contended that his was the first case of sexual misconduct the college adjudicated following the federal complaints, a claim The Daily Gazette has determined is incorrect.
Multiple Swarthmore College employees declined to comment on the case, citing privacy concerns. The publicly filed motion to dismiss the case, however, explained that additional information became available after John Doe’s case was heard that called into question “the impartiality of the College Judiciary Committee Panel that heard John’s case.”
Swarthmore’s Communications Office elaborated on the motion, saying that while John Doe’s case was heard by a college judiciary panel made up of faculty, staff, and students, cases of sexual misconduct are now presided over by “an outside adjudicator, who is unaffiliated with our small Swarthmore community, and whose impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned.” Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen confirmed that Swarthmore has worked with and plans to continue to work with the Hon. Judge Jane Greenspan in this capacity “for the foreseeable future.”
“The College has always sought to apply its policies in a way that is fair to all parties involved,” said the Communications Office. “And over the past 18 months, we have continued working very hard to make sure our student conduct procedures are as fair as we can make them.”
While the vacation of his sentence means that John Doe would be allowed to seek re-admittance to Swarthmore, he would be required to have his case re-adjudicated before he could enroll. John Doe has transferred to another college and has said he does not plan to seek re-admittance to Swarthmore, but the settlement has raised concern among members of the college community. A survivor who requested to remain anonymous asked, “What kind of anxiety does [John Doe’s possible return] create for the survivors?”
Other details of the case raised familiar concerns about Swarthmore’s policy regarding students found responsible for sexual misconduct. Earlier this fall, The Huffington Post discussed the practice of accused students transferring to other institutions to avoid hearings, which named Swarthmore specifically. According to Dean of the Senior Class and Director of Student Conduct Nathan Miller, Swarthmore will only “accurately answer any questions asked about the student’s disciplinary record” if they were given “a student’s signed consent.” Swarthmore does not currently annotate transcripts of students expelled from the college for misconduct, according to Registrar Martin Warner, because “transcripts are records of academic performance only.”
When asked how she would address students’ concerns about safety, Williamsen said, “We are in a space where colleges are paying attention and trying to get this right, and also acknowledging that we need to look at all kind of response mechanisms to keep our campus safe physically and emotionally. That’s what our work is here, and it’s not done.”