Plenty of ink was used to cover the issue of campus sexual assault in 2014, including many excellent pieces. Among them, Emily Yoffe’s masterpiece for Slate stood out as one of the best. (If you haven’t read it, you should.) But you don’t have to take our word for it—New York Times columnist David Brooks named it one of “the best magazine essays of the year” in his annual “Sidney Award” column.
In his Christmas day column announcing the essay’s selection for the award, he writes:
The debate over sexual assault on campus — how much it happens, how to punish it, how to prevent it — is in its early phases. There’s plenty of jumping to conclusions, lots of vitriol, but very little clarity on the numbers or what to do. Emily Yoffe’s controversial blockbuster in Slate, “The College Rape Overcorrection,” is a brave and useful volley in that debate. Yoffe starts with the story of Drew Sterrett, who was an engineering student at the University of Michigan in 2012. One night a woman known as CB invited herself into his bed, the two had sex, while his roommate tried and failed to sleep amid the din of their lovemaking in the bunk bed above.
Months later Sterrett was asked to make himself available for a Skype interview with university officials, though he was not told why. During the questioning, he realized that CB must have said something disturbing about their night together. His days at school were over.
It’s hard to know what happened that night, but the process by which the evidence was weighed and Sterrett was judged seems plainly unfair. One gets the impression from reading the article and other essays that, nationwide, there are many brutal rapes that go unpunished, there are some innocent men thrown off campus without due process and the whole system is structured badly in some large way.
A “brave and useful volley” indeed. FIRE called it “excellent” and “a must-read” when it came out last month because of its thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and evenhandedness. Yoffe recognizes that we live in a world where campus rape is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but she refuses to exaggerate the problem or let due process go by the wayside in the process. Hopefully, university administrators, lawmakers, and the Department of Education will read her essay and heed her call.