David Steward, founder and chairman of World Wide Technology, is a man of faith who has donated millions of dollars to medical, cultural and educational institutions and local nonprofits. He was named in a series of news stories alleging that he is funding a dark money group that intends to weaken the federal Title IX processes that Missouri universities use to address allegations of sexual assault on campus.
The group, Kingdom Principles, is a registered 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit. It has provided money to the Missouri Campus Due Process Coalition, which “supports reforms to Missouri law to ensure that both the accuser and the accused receive due process as provided by our Constitution.”
“The legislation is an attack on rape victims, an attempt to make it harder for women to bring forward allegations of assault on campus,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger wrote of two proposed reform bills, House Bill 573 and Senate Bill 259, supported by the Missouri Campus Due Process Coalition.
According to Messenger and other media outlets, this is a treasonous act, considering that Steward was once a curator of the University of Missouri System and is still a trustee with Washington University in St. Louis (both oppose the proposed legislation). According to Messenger, university heads “should be downright embarrassed” that somebody affiliated with them is “secretly pushing legislation that will make women on campus less safe.”
These are damning allegations. However, they ignore another important factor in sexual misconduct allegations on campuses. In overwhelming numbers, young men of color throughout the country are most often suspended, expelled, or have their promising sports careers derailed due to unsubstantiated allegations and a haphazard, prejudicial adjudication system that suspends the due process rights of the accused.
It’s a sign of lazy journalism or misplaced loyalty to educational institutions when the media ignore the other victims in these sexual assault cases – especially when there are dozens of news stories detailing the “Uncomfortable Truth About Campus Rape Policy.” That was the title of the first of three articles published in 2017 by The Atlantic detailing how students, particularly students of color, are losing their due-process rights due to Title IX policies.
This series by Emily Yoffe examines how the rules governing sexual-assault adjudication on campuses have drastically changed in recent years and how they are biased. Consider Colgate University. With a black student population of just above 4 percent, during the 2013-2014 academic year reportedly 50 percent of campus sexual violations were alleged against black males. In a three-year academic period from 2012 through 2015, black men represented one- quarter of all sexual-misconduct reports. These statistics are replicated on college campuses throughout the country.
As for the allegation of “dark money” against Steward, Kingdom Principles has publicly acknowledged his contributions. And the organization publicly states its mission to ensure that “each and every student on Missouri college campuses feels safe from both violent attacks and false accusations.” The Missouri Campus Due Process Coalition, which Kingdom Principles funds, explicitly details the desired outcomes of House Bill 573 and Senate Bill 259 that would alter Title IX proceedings.
The proposals mandate that all testimonies be made under oath, guarantee due process for all parties per the Constitution, and require that law enforcement reports and sworn affidavits be credible. Additionally, the proposed bills seek to ensure that students have rights to legal representation, to review evidence against them, and to present their own evidence. Students would also have the right to challenge or cross-examine the testimony of witnesses and to reject any decision-makers who have exhibited bias or a conflict of interest.
Victims’ rights organizations and other critics claim that these changes would infringe on victims’ rights, sacrifice their confidentiality, and dissuade them from reporting assaults. Their silence, however, is stunning regarding the mounting evidence that the current Title IX process infringes on the rights and well-being of black, male students. These are powerless victims, not the “powerful men of privilege” whom Messenger singled out to condemn Steward.
The disproportionate rates of sexual-misconduct complaints against nonwhite college men should be included in discussions about Title IX reform. With almost 400 lawsuits pending nationwide against kangaroo court-like college rulings, it is in the best interest of higher-learning institutions to safeguard the rights of all students.
Steward and the organizations he is funding should be commended for courageously addressing the dark side of judicial college proceedings that are cruelly and disproportionately punishing students of color without due process.
Sylvester Brown Jr. is a former columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the founder of the Sweet Potato Project, an entrepreneurial program for urban youth (which has received funding from Steward and his foundations), and the author of “When We Listen: Recognizing the Potential of Urban Youth.”