Hot button allegations of sexism and racism can destroy reputations. But when those accusations are knowingly false, accusers should pay. And that is exactly what a jury held this week when it issued a $44 million verdict against Oberlin College for defaming Gibson’s Bakery, a small family-owned business in Oberlin, Ohio. The facts of the Gibson’s Bakery case highlight the current hysteria around political correctness. In 2016, three Oberlin students who were under the age of 21 tried to purchase wine from the bakery with a fake I.D. When the owner’s son wouldn’t give back the fake I.D., the students tried to steal the alcohol. The police were called, and the three students – all African American – were charged with crimes.
Rather than calming matters, Oberlin College and its Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo—who had just been promoted from serving as Oberlin’s Title IX Coordinator—inflamed tensions and knowingly fed a false narrative that Gibson’s was racist. Oberlin canceled all business with the bakery and refused to reinstate its contracts unless Gibson’s promised to give first-time shoplifters a pass. Oberlin staff also passed out flyers stating, without any evidence, that Gibson’s had a long history of racism and gave students credit for protesting the bakery instead of going to class. When a professor emeritus chided Dean Raimondo in an op-ed for fueling these harmful lies, Raimondo wrote to a friend: “F#ck him. I’d say unleash the students if I wasn’t convinced this needs to be put behind us.”
This case provides a fascinating and frightening study of public shaming and the price to pay, literally, when people rush to judgment. “Real Time” host Bill Maher recently slammed the “social justice warriors” at Oberlin for harming the cause of liberalism. While the Gibson’s Bakery case is shocking to many, we have seen dangers of the “social justice warrior” mentality play out at Oberlin and other college campuses in Title IX proceedings.
When someone is accused of sexual misconduct, people, and especially college students, often jump on the social justice bandwagon and rush to judgment without knowing all of the facts. On campuses across the country, mere allegations of sexual misconduct have taken on the same level of authority as a jury’s verdict in a criminal case in a court of law. We have seen countless students suspended or expelled from school, ostracized by friend groups and publicly shamed – all based on accusations of sexual misconduct supported by little, if any, evidence. Our society has gone from not taking sexual misconduct claims seriously to treating every allegation as if it’s the absolute truth. The pendulum has swung too far.
For example, in the spring of 2016, Oberlin issued a Campus Climate Report. Oberlin reported that when the college determined to conduct a formal process against students accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault and/or intimate partner violence, every single respondent was found responsible on at least one charge. Simple logic dictates that 100% of the accused should not be found responsible for charges.
Oberlin’s 100% conviction rate must raise concerns about a mob mentality designed to punish accused students. Mob mentalities undermine notions of fairness and justice. When colleges and universities capitulate, reputations and careers are ruined. Now, the falsely accused are fighting back. Just like Oberlin College, when someone knowingly makes false allegations, that person may be served with their “just desserts.”
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