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Isman ’15: Why do lab results have the final say?

Opinions Columnist
Thursday, March 12, 2015

The case of two female students who were allegedly served a drink laced with the date-rape drug GHB at a Phi Kappa Psi party this past October seemed to have a relatively straightforward situation: Two girls were served spiked drinks, and the alleged perpetrator should face the consequences. Yet months later I find myself asking why the case has come undone so fast.

The University’s use of the inconclusive hair and urine test results as grounds for dropping charges against the accused student seems to be unfair given the circumstances and the history of the lab that tested the hair sample. To rely on the lab results as a decisive factor in this case — especially given that the students involved have statements of what happened that night and there is other witness testimony to support their case — is a blatant misuse of evidence.

The University’s decision to cancel the hearing based on the lack of physical evidence in the case is unfair. Whereas a negative lab result might justify a hearing’s cancellation ­— ­­though even that does not mean that GHB was not ingested — inconclusiveness provides no reliable information about the case.

Additionally, the University was negligent in not doing the appropriate research in finding a trustworthy lab to test the hair sample. “The Carlson Company … and Ernest Lykissa, the director of the laboratory that analyzed the hair sample, have both been previously accused of inaccurate and misleading test reporting,” The Herald reported March 4.

Moreover, Lifespan Laboratories recanted its conclusion that a urine sample for one of the complainants tested positive for exogenous GHB after two outside experts reviewed the tests. This demonstrates not only that the lab interpretted the test incorrectly but also that it was willing to release careless results that could change someone’s life. With either end result — using the erroneous lab results or canceling the hearing — a Brown student was going to be unfairly treated.

This is a mistake by the University as much as by the labs. The two students who were allegedly served the drugged drink should not suffer the repercussions of poor testing and bad information. The University should demonstrate that it understands this.

While laboratory results are supposed to provide hard evidence, they should not always be trusted as the ultimate truth. In this situation, it seems that no one was going to be treated fairly. While it is unfortunate that there is a lack of physical evidence, the University’s choice to regard the hair test “as unreliable and (not to use it) as evidence,” as The Herald previously reported, was the correct one.

But this lack of physical evidence is not enough to cancel the hearing altogether. The University acknowledged in a March 1 community notification that “a failure to positively identify the presence of exogenous GHB does not prove that GHB or another drug was not ingested.” 

The students who were allegedly served the drugged drink deserve to be heard. Additionally, the existence of “witness statements, video evidence, and the statements of the students who filed complaints,” as the community notification stated, means that the case should have proceeded as planned.

Moreover, the University’s acknowledgement that there was plenty of evidence elsewhere demonstrates the University’s lack of trust in the complainants. While both sides’ evidence deserves to be given equal weight, in this case, it seems that the complainants were not treated fairly.

It has become clear that the University has not dealt with this case appropriately. While it is understandable to question lab results that came from a untrustworthy lab — such as the one used for the hair test — and try to find a fair way to move forward, the choice to cancel the hearing was not the correct one. Granted, this case became complicated because of third-party mistakes. Yet either way, the University needs to look out for the well-being and fair treatment of all of its students and make the appropriate decisions to create a safe campus.

Sami Isman ’15 thinks everyone deserves a fair chance to protect themselves and seek justice.

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  1. Simple:

    The hair test actually was done properly, and came back negative. This is already known to many insiders though, for some reason, not communicated. As a result, there could not be a drugging. The Phi Psi accused is not guilty, period.

    This makes your first statement – that this is a straightforward case – true but not in the way you stated.

    However, the deans already punished Phi Psi. They needed a way to not have to change the sanction yet again in order to save face. Yet they could not have a hearing against the individual accused without having the true results and subsequent cover up come to light.

    So, they drop the charges against the individual and try to keep the sanctions against the fraternity. It has nothing to do with the corporation, but everything to do with protecting the deans from a different question: how could they effectively kill off the fraternity and punish its members when none of its members did anything wrong?

    Act4RJ are not starting their understandable yet flawed protests from the right position. Even their leader starts off by saying (paraphrasing here) “the victim did not consume enough GHB for her case to EB clear according to the university…”. Actually this is true – except the physical evidence is that she did not consume any GHB at all.

    Had the university waited to deal with Phi Psi until after the individual’s case, this would have been much cleaner and clearer. Now they have to attack the labs themselves to save their own necks. It is all about timing – not money and, unfortunately, not justice.

  2. Am I reading this right? “Why is the only impartial evidence given the final say?”

    Surely this doesn’t merit a whole column’s worth of incredulity.

  3. Translation says:

    “Someone needs to be burned at the stake for this. Any cisgender white male will do, we’re not picky.”

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