In the last few months, a light has begun to shine into the darkness of OSI’s investigatory techniques. Starting small, with only a few whispers and hints that something was wrong, it has grown over the break into two independent lawsuits, with a third rumored to be on the way. This metaphorical light is now blinding, and we cannot afford to ignore the perversion of due process that our campus justice system has become.
Last semester, in response to these failings and the general lack of knowledge surrounding OSI’s techniques, SCORCH, or the Student Council On Rights and Constitutionality in Hearings, was formed. Taking our cues, and the inspiration for our name, from the national organization of FIRE, a group dedicated to protecting student rights, we sought to shine a light into the inky blackness of OSI’s investigatory techniques and poorly documented reports. What we found was disquieting. OSI’s conduct under Peter Paquette has not only been extremely slanted and biased, it has bordered on malicious.
Numerous incidents were discovered where Paquette had deliberately withheld evidence, ignored blatant contradictions in witness statements, and selectively scheduled interviews so that the accused in multiple cases would have little to no time to form an effective defense. Whether or not those accused were guilty was not our impetus; we were concerned with how they were found guilty. According to the AJC, in the past five years, OSI has handled roughly eight separate cases of sexual assault. Out of those cases, seven, or 87.5 percent of the accused, were found responsible and expelled. This past year alone, there were three cases. All three were found responsible. In his time at Georgia Tech, Paquette has damaged campus race relations and destroyed countless young lives, even forcing one student to admit his bisexuality to his parents far before he was ready. OSI under Paquette has turned into a boogeyman of Tech, a far cry from the institute of justice it is supposed to be.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The task force, created last fall by President Peterson in the wake of the Phi Delta Theta incident, has released their findings. In this report, they lay out five separate areas in which OSI’s investigatory and judicial techniques have failed, among them, poor case investigatory procedures, aggregation of unrelated charges, a lacking appeals process, a lack of OSI oversight, and the formalization of findings. By far the best of their conclusions is that there currently exists no oversight of OSI; they propose a mechanism by which the bias of the hearing officer could be challenged, and this is the way forward.
While it is too late for many who have had their lives wrecked under OSI, we can yet prevent further damage. Removing Paquette, even if only by relieving him of his duties as the director of OSI, is the first step. From there, the Board of Regents will be rewriting Title IX policy on a statewide level this year; also this year, Georgia Tech will be revisiting its Student Code of Conduct. And so, to President Peterson, I make this simple request; involve us in the discussion. We are the students of Georgia Tech, we are your constituency. We are the future alumni of this school, and we will remember our time at it, pleasant or not, for the rest of our lives. The Student Code of Conduct regulates the behavior of students, and as such, the student body should have a direct hand in the creation and regulation of its policies.
To the Student Body as a whole, Georgia Tech is our school. If these issues are something you care about, please, get involved. Whether that means volunteering, not staying quiet about a time you or a friend were the victim of OSI or even just discussing these issues, remember that we must be the advocates of our own cause. Tech gives us a great deal, and as such, we owe it to ourselves and to those who will come here years later to ensure that it remains an institution where students can learn freely without fear of an overzealous bureaucracy breathing down their neck.
We have been given the problem. And like so many of the problems we are given at Georgia Tech, now it is up to us to solve it.