The Title IX Process: A Closer Look

Two hands clasp with a ribbon in the foreground.

Title IX is a section of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which states that “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.” While Title IX covers a variety of protections for different issues of sex-based discrimination, a Title IX violation colloquially  refers to incidents of sexual misconduct at an educational institution. It is through Title IX that students who have experienced sexual misconduct or harassment may seek recourse at their institution.

According to Lewis & Clark’s 2018 crime report about the previous year, there were six cases of rape, four of fondling, one of incest/statutory rape, one of dating violence, one of domestic violence and four of stalking on campus. These statistics, however, only reflect cases where formal complaints were made.

It is a common misconception that submitting a report of a Title IX sexual misconduct violation will automatically lead to a formal investigation. In fact, formal investigation is a secondary step that must be initiated by the student. The student may file a “formal complaint,” after the initial report, in order for an investigation to be opened.

According to the LC website, the Title IX team is convened and supported by Assistant Dean of Student Rights and Responsibilities Charlie Ahlquist, who meets with all involved parties prior to the hearing.

Associate Vice President for Institutional Research and Planning Mark Figueroa, the Title IX Coordinator, has “responsibility for overseeing all Title IX compliance, including complaints of sexual misconduct” and Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Support Kayleigh McCauley acts as the Title IX Case Manager. There are also deputy coordinators from all three LC campuses.

Associate Director for Health Promotion Melissa Osmond, who is also the Sexual Assault Response Network Coordinator, is the first to reach out after the report is filed. She notifies the student of available resources, like counseling services, Student Support Services (SSS) or support groups, then offers to meet to discuss the options. The rest of the the team then reaches out to the student to see how they want to proceed.

“It’s not at the discretion of the Title IX team to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this,’” Figueroa said. “If a student tells us ‘I don’t want to move forward,’ or ‘I don’t want this done,’ we’re going to respect the wishes of the student.”

The team reaches out to the student twice before closing the case. If the student is not ready to talk, they have the option to reopen the case on a later date.

“If people still don’t want to reply back, we don’t think it’s in the best interest to keep sort of nagging people after that second time,” Figueroa said. “But we’ve also had occasions where something could have happened in the past, and then they decide ‘I’m ready to talk about it now.’”

According to the Sexual Misconduct Policy, the college aims to complete investigations within 20 business days of the report, and reach an “outcome,” or a final decision, within 60 business days. Depending on the complexity of the case and scheduling conflicts, it often takes much longer to finish the investigation and reach an outcome. Participating in an investigation can be a significant time commitment for the students involved.

Osmond estimated that 80 percent of those who start the formal complaint process complete it, although she said that many do not even start the process.

“Some decide not even to file a formal complaint and just work with whatever resources for support they can get without filing a complaint,” Osmond said. “I think I see more of those people who maybe report but don’t want to go through the formal process.”

Margeaux Reed ’19, a member of the Feminist Student Union (FSU) and a trained Sexual Assault Response Advocate (SARA), echoed this sentiment.

“There are institutional surveys and things that come out, but those are wildly inaccurate compared to just what I see on a weekly basis (in the FSU),” Reed said. “There are a lot of people who come through our doors that don’t end up going to the institution.”

If a report is made, but no formal complaint is filed, the Title IX team typically does not move forward with an investigation. In this case, there will be no disciplinary actions, much the same as cases that go unreported.

The team makes an exception to this rule if the records show that multiple reports have been made implicating the sexual misconduct of one individual. This gives the team authority to move forward with a formal investigation without a formal complaint filed by a student. This can be done if there are “concerns for campus safety and wellbeing,” according to McCauley, or if the issue is “pervasive enough,” according to Figueroa.

Based on her experience speaking with survivors of sexual violence in her role in the FSU, Reed questioned how the institutions deals with trauma.

“From an advocacy perspective, I have a lot of complaints with the system: that it re-traumatizes people, that it requires people to go to great lengths to prove themselves,” Reed said. “There’s a little bit of a discrepancy there between what they say as part of their vision for justice and what they actually make survivors do.”

Alumna Eve Ben Ezra ’14 described making a formal Title IX complaint while at LC regarding emotional abuse, coercion and withdrawal of consent and described how going through trauma makes it harder to prove that the trauma occurred. The Title IX process has changed since Ben Ezra filed her complaint, however, the reality of recounting trauma remains the same.

“I felt like the process wasn’t very trauma informed,” Ben Ezra said. “As I’ve learned about trauma, things fragment, things come back at different times. There was this expectation that my trauma reaction would be ‘Oh, I remember every single detail of this because it was so traumatizing that now it’s stuck in my brain,’ where the truth of the matter is that my personal trauma response was just to dissociate from things. So I would have no idea about details, no idea about when things took place.”

Formal complaints must be investigated before they may be referred to a hearing panel for disciplinary action. According to the LC Sexual Misconduct Policy, “The investigator will conduct the investigation in a manner appropriate in light of the circumstances of the case, which will typically include interviews with the Complainant, the Respondent, and any witnesses. The interviews will be supplemented by the gathering of any physical, documentary, or other evidence. As part of the investigation, the College will provide an opportunity for the parties to present evidence and suggest witnesses who should be interviewed.”

Outcomes are not so simple as a guilty or not guilty verdict.

“It’s not necessarily a matter of discrediting the Complainant or trying to determine if the Respondent is ‘guilty,’  but rather trying to find a proportional response to the complaint,” Reed said. “That proportion is subjective, and that’s where there’s friction. People feel that the proportional outcome was too low.”

The possible outcomes include, but are not limited to, disciplinary probation from school activities, forms of restitution, removal from campus housing, suspension, disciplinary dismissal, revocation of admission and/or degree and the withholding of a degree. Forms of restorative justice, like community service or education, may also be considered.

When trying to find a proportional response, the team takes a range of factors into account. According to LC’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, these include “(1) the Respondent’s prior conduct history; (2) how the College has sanctioned similar incidents in the past; (3) the nature and violence of the conduct at issue; (4) the impact of the conduct on the Complainant; (5) the impact of the conduct on the community, its members, or its property; (6) whether the Respondent has accepted responsibility for their actions; (7) whether the Respondent is reasonably likely to engage in the conduct in the future; (8) the need to deter similar conduct by others; and (9) any other mitigating or aggravating circumstances, including the College’s values.”

After an outcome is determined, both the Complainant and Respondent have the opportunity to appeal the decision.

The case resolutions are never publicly released. For instance, if the Respondent is ultimately dismissed from the college, there may be a notation on their transcript of their dismissal, but no explanation as to why. The outcome will not appear on their official police record unless a criminal procedure is initiated, which would be entirely outside the purview of the LC Title IX team. Reporting a crime is an option for survivors of sexual misconduct and harassment; however, taking claims to outside law enforcement  may bring it its own set of challenges.

The team places a strong emphasis on confidentiality. Even if multiple students make reports against the same person, they are not notified of one another.

“We keep all the reports confidential, so to identify individuals and put them together as a support sort of mechanism, we wouldn’t do that because that would be a breach of confidentiality,” Figueroa said.

According to the LC Sexual Misconduct policy, any LC community member can make a report to the Title IX team, Campus Safety, Campus Living or a trained SARA. Though reports can be made anonymously, when filing a complaint, the student must submit their name. In this case, the report is viewable to both parties. All faculty and staff are required to report any knowledge of sexual misconduct on campus.

Rosemary Elliot ’19 described filing a formal Title IX sexual misconduct complaint during her sophomore year, when she said she was drugged at a party.

“(The Title IX team) asked me to point out the person that I remember last talking to,” Elliot said. “I pointed him out and they talked to him and then just sent me an email saying that he seemed ‘very surprised’ and that he said he didn’t do it.”

Her deputy coordinator asked if she would like to speak to the Respondent, but she declined.

In order to combat cases like these, Osmond is currently focused on implementing more preventative measures.

“As a public health professional, I really want to not have to be an advocate for a lot of people — I’d rather prevent it from happening at all,” Osmond said.

Currently, LC requires all first-year students to complete a Title IX module and attend a Pioneer Success Institute (PSI) session on consent, which students have reviewed positively according to Osmond. In an effort to build upon these preventive measures, LC hired Ariella Frishberg as a Gender-Based Violence Prevention Coordinator last November after receiving a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence against Women (OVW).

“Basically what my role is is coming in and looking at what is already in place to support survivors of violence on this campus, our practices around Title IX processes, campus safety processes and to also implement a comprehensive preventing program which includes a bystander intervention program component,” Frishberg said.

These voluntary programs would educate participants on the role they can play in preventing acts of misconduct from happening. In this new role, Frishberg is also working to assemble a campus coordinated response team (CCRT). Student representative applications for this committee are now open for positions next fall.

Osmond and Frishberg hope that developing resources like the CCRT will help prevent Title IX violations from happening in the first place.

“True prevention work is about behavior change, not just raising awareness and providing information about resources, and that’s where we want to move to,” Osmond said.

The Pioneer Log’s reporting on Title IX is ongoing.

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