Ostensibly, the Title IX office at Southern Cal and every other school exists to make sure the university complies with a 1972 educational amendment which promises equal treatment for men and women in education. The full text of Title IX is this:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
How we got from there to tasking Title IX offices — as opposed to courts and law enforcement — with investigating violent crimes is a topic for another day. Nonetheless that is happening across the country, and recently has happened at USC, where the supposed victim says she isn’t a victim at all, and the whole Title IX investigation into her case was, to borrow from just some of her language: misleading, horrible, demeaning, harassing and absurd.
The person USC has extra-judicially labeled as a victim of domestic violence who is lying to herself and everyone else is Zoe Katz, 22, the girlfriend of former USC kicker Matt Boermeester, who was kicked out of school because of a playful incident the couple says was misinterpreted by an observant neighbor who told someone who told someone who told the Title IX office. She says not only that Boermeester has never abused her, and not only that the USC Title IX office didn’t believe her when she told them that, but that the USC Title IX office went so far as to try putting words in her mouth in a process she says made her feel, “misled, harassed, threatened and discriminated against.”
“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,” Katz said. “I understand that domestic violence is a terrible problem, but in no way does that apply to Matt and me.”
In short, the Title IX office at USC tried and failed to get Katz to lie about her boyfriend, then kicked him out of school anyway, and she’s raising hell about it. She had her attorney send a letter to the Los Angeles Times, which published a story detailing her account of the event that set all this in motion.
In the statement, Katz said she and Boermeester have dated for more than a year. The Title IX investigation began, Steigerwalt said, after a neighbor witnessed Boermeester and Katz roughhousing. The neighbor told his roommate, who told a coach in USC’s athletic department that Boermeester was abusing Katz. The coach then reported the incident to the Title IX office. Katz said she was summoned to a mandatory meeting with Title IX officials, where she told investigators that the two were playing around. Katz was subsequently told that she “must be afraid of Matt,” she said. She told officials she was not. Boermeester has not been arrested or charged with a crime.
So what does the USC Title IX office have to say for itself?
If you know anything, you know the answer is nothing.
A spokesman for USC, in an emailed statement to The Times, said that “the university has concluded its investigation. Student disciplinary records and proceedings regarding any matter of student conduct are confidential and protected by law. Per the registrar, he is no longer enrolled at the university.”
If you can’t spot the kangaroo court here, I’ll spell it out for you: In a process not observable by or accountable to the public, a group of people in an office on USC’s campus decided, based purely on hearsay, and against the repeated insistence of the supposed victim, that one of its students was a violent criminal, and threw him off campus.
“We are cowards,” would be the honest and accurate explanation for this, but honesty and accuracy appear to be the least of USC’s concerns on this matter.
And so now you’re expecting a concession from me. Well, here it is: Domestic violence is a real problem. Title IX offices need to exist, and often play an essential role in achieving a measure of justice for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault on campuses. I doubt very much that anyone who has spent any time reading and thinking about these issues would argue against any of that.
None of that means we have to accept those offices will try to bully non-victims into falsely accusing peers and loved ones of crimes. It is true that victims of domestic abuse are particularly unlikely to seek justice against their abusers, but — I can’t believe this needs to be said, but something tells me it does — that doesn’t make Matt Boermeester an abuser. You don’t get to punish an innocent man just to make up for some guilty ones that got away with it.
A university is free to enroll the students it pleases to enroll. The Title IX office at a school shouldn’t be expected to uphold the same burden of proof as an actual criminal court; that would be redundant. But if a Title IX office is going to declare itself investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury on these matters, then a measure of transparency is in order.
You can’t impugn the reputations of two of your students and, when asked about it, just go, “That’s just what we decided to do, bye,” and toss another handful of almonds in your mouth. When you screw up, we need to see the receipts.
That’s all Katz wants out of this. She told the Times she’s doing all this because she wants to see procedural changes made to Title IX investigations.
“Matt Boermeester did nothing improper against me, ever,” Katz said. “I would not stand for it. Nor will I stand for watching him be maligned and lied about.”