ERIC Number: EJ788931
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2008-Feb-22
Should Colleges Be Sued for Harboring Intolerance?
Chronicle of Higher Education, v54 n24 pA31 Feb 2008
Gregory A. Love, then a student at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, was beaten in 2002 with a baseball bat by a fellow student in a dormitory shower after Love made what his attacker perceived as a homosexual advance. The attacker was later convicted of aggravated assault and battery. Love sued Morehouse, arguing that the institution was liable for his injuries because it had fostered intolerance toward gay students and had consistently failed to address complaints of homophobia and harassment. In a decision last October, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's dismissal of Love's case. The appellate court held that Love's claims, if supported by evidence, could entitle him to damages from Morehouse. The case will go to trial in the coming months. As landowners, all colleges and universities must take reasonable steps to protect those on their premises against foreseeable threats to their safety. This case applies the principle of negligence law to a modern concern. Love claims that Morehouse officials created, or at best willfully ignored, "an atmosphere of hatred and violence" toward gay people or those perceived to be gay. To Morehouse, this case is not about campus safety, but rather about whether a college can be summoned into court for failing to promote what it calls a "social agenda of tolerance." Although this decision is law only in Georgia, victims of similar assaults could ask other courts to adopt the same reasoning in cases involving race, nationality, or other characteristics. The case also raises the specter of clashes between campus climate and institutional identity. What if an institution was sued under similar circumstances, but argued that its religious affiliation required it to disapprove of homosexuality? Or could a woman who suffers sexual assault on an all-male campus seek to hold the institution liable because it allowed degrading attitudes toward women to fester? Although the Georgia court's opinion arguably creates a new legal duty, the boundaries of that duty, including what colleges must do to fulfill it, remain unclear. If courts in other states find the reasoning of "Love v. Morehouse College" persuasive, it may mean that teaching tolerance and combating harassment, seen as vital to campus health and civility, become legal imperatives as well.
Descriptors: School Safety, Court Litigation, Homosexuality, Social Bias, College Role, School Responsibility, Violence, Student Rights, Legal Responsibility, Consciousness Raising, Educational Environment, School Culture
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Georgia