USC’s Title IX Catastrophe: When Gender Studies Majors Act as Judge, Jury, and Executioner

by Tiana Lowe

USC charged, convicted, and expelled Matt Boermeester for domestic violence, despite his girlfriend’s consistent confirmations that no such violence occurred. His girlfriend, fellow student Zoe Katz, has spoken out against the university’s refusal to believe her insistence that the investigation was baseless.

The charge of violence against Boermeester was reported by a third party, who heard an account from a neighbor of Katz’s. The neighbor interpreted an encounter between Katz and her boyfriend as a form of violence or force, but Katz refuted this characterization from the moment she was questioned. Throughout a six-month Title IX investigation — which should have begun and ended with her initial questioning — Katz explained that she and Boermeester were merely roughhousing and nothing more.

Despite this, Boermeester — a Rose Bowl-winning former USC football placekicker — was suspended before ever stepping foot in the Title IX office, according to a media statement from Katz. That statement details a confounding timeline, in which both Boermeester and Katz — who are still dating — vehemently deny any form of violence or force in their relationship. Despite Katz’s repeated, consistent assertions that Boermeester did nothing wrong, he was not permitted complete the last two classes he needed to graduate, to contact his girlfriend, or even to speak about the matter publicly.

Katz writes:

“The first time I was mandated to come in and be interviewed by the Title IX office, I was told that I must be afraid of Matt, which I definitely was not and am not. When I told the truth about Matt, in repeated interrogations, I was stereotyped and was told I must be a ‘battered’ woman, and that made me feel demeaned and absurdly profiled. I understand that domestic violence is a terrible problem, but in no way does that apply to Matt and me.

On one occasion I was told to come in to view a videotape – which I was happy to do – and then nothing was shown to me. It ended up being just another interrogation. I feel I was misled, harassed, threatened and discriminated against by the Title IX office to such an extent that I had to retain my own attorney during the process to protect myself and to try to get them to listen to me. The Title IX office’s response was dismissive and demeaning, ‘We are sorry you feel that way.’”

That the Title IX office at USC pursued dogma over truth should surprise no one at this point.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which explicitly bans sex discrimination at higher educational institutions that receive federal funding, is arbitrated in on-campus courts that try any case that has to do with sexual harassment. Since 2011, the Department of Education has mandated that Title IX offices employ the same preponderance of evidence standard — greater than 50 percent likelihood of an accusation being true — as do the civil courts. Like many other colleges, USC uses a “single-investigator” model, under which one member of the Title IX staff acts as investigator, judge, jury, and executioner. This model rests the promise of justice in the hands of just one bureaucrat, who is unbounded by any real checks and balances and motivated to preserve the reputation of the school rather than to get to the truth.

The official Title IX investigator at USC is Lauren Elan Helsper, whose legal and judicial qualifications include a master’s degree in postsecondary education. In addition, many Title IX cases at USC are investigated by Assistant Director Kegan Allee, who boasts similar legal qualifications: a Ph.D. in sociology and two master’s degrees in sociology and gender studies.

Despite these . . . qualifications, USC has one of the worst track records in Title IX adjudication. At present, there are multiple active federal investigations into its unfair treatment of both men and women. The results one sees when Googling “Title IX USC” read more like a rap sheet than an esteemed record of an office at a nationally ranked university.

Boermeester’s case fits a pattern of Kafkaesque trials conducted by USC, but is perhaps even more absurd than usual given that both the accused and alleged victim are telling the exact same story.

If this were a one-off case, it would be a tragedy. But universities across the country are increasingly adopting the agenda-driven, single-investigator model to streamline the Title IX investigation (read: bypass that annoying due process schtick). That’s a national catastrophe, for victims, for the innocently accused, for justice, but most vitally, for the truth.

 

                                                            

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