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Title IX

OCR’s UVA Title IX Findings and Resolution
Posted by On Wednesday, May 11, 2016

As schools plan for the next academic year, it’s an opportunity to look back at how Title IX policies, procedures, and prevention programs can be improved for effectiveness and Title IX compliance. To help guide this effort, it’s instructive to look at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ resolution agreement with the University of Virginia, which is a comprehensive real case study of Title IX compliance. While the OCR found that UVA’s sexual assault and sexual misconduct policies violated Title IX, UVA’s revised policies and procedures for investigating and resolving reports of sexual harassment and violence have the OCR’s stamp of approval.

From the OCR’s UVA investigation and guidance documents, we’ve compiled the following list of essential steps to achieving Title IX compliance and increasing campus safety.

Title IX Coordinator

In April 2015, the OCR issued a Dear Colleague Letter reminding schools that receive federal financial assistance to designate at least one employee who has the time, training, and authority to address complaints, as well as coordinate and oversee the school’s efforts to comply with Title IX and related laws. The DCL states that this Title IX coordinator should report directly to “senior leadership,” such as the college or university president, to avoid any conflicts of interest. Schools should not designate persons with other job duties that may interfere with their ability to fair and impartial. Another takeaway from the DCL is that interfering with a Title IX coordinator’s efforts to do their job violates Title IX’s anti-retaliation provision.

A Letter to Title IX Coordinators was also issued with a Resource Guide explaining their responsibilities and authority. These documents emphasize the importance of each school having a dedicated person who has the necessary training to coordinate responses to all reports and complaints raising Title IX issues.

Title IX Policies

The Resource Guide emphasizes that Title IX coordinators play an important role to ensure a nondiscriminatory environment. Specifically, the OCR recommends that Title IX coordinators should be involved in drafting and revising a school’s Title IX policies and grievance procedures to make sure they:

  • Explain prohibited behavior and conduct proceedings in plain English
  • Define prohibited behavior the same across all policies
  • Encourage reporting

Additionally, policies and procedures should be made available in places where they are easily found, applied uniformly in all cases involving sexual/interpersonal harassment or violence against students, and reviewed at least annually, and sooner if laws change.

The White House Task Force’s Resource Guide and notalone.gov provide checklists and model definitions of prohibited conduct.  In addition, the Association for Student Conduct Administration offers these recommendations:

  • Define consent and incapacitation (intoxicated vs. incapacitated)
  • State that students or the institution may initiate a complaint
  • Do not place time limits on filing a complaint
  • Encourage reporting by including an amnesty policy for conduct violations involving alcohol or drugs at or near the time of the incident

Grievance Proceedings

The OCR’s Q&A states that provisions for “adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints, including the opportunity for both the complainant and alleged perpetrator to present witnesses and evidence,” should be included in a school’s grievance procedures.  And Title IX requires schools to “adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for the prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee sex discrimination complaints.” (OCR on Title IX and Sexual Violence, C-1)

A school’s resources and support, not Title IX, determine the most appropriate adjudication model to determine the facts of a case. The most common models are:

  • Single investigator
  • Administrative or panel hearing
  • Hybrid of hearing and single investigator models

Appearance of Conflict of Interest

In the OCR’s UVA Letter of Finding, it found an “appearance of a conflict of interest” based on the multiple roles played by a key individual in the panel hearing process: “the same individual went from being tasked under the [Sexual Misconduct Policy] to ‘identify forms of support or immediate interventions’ for the complainant to being a neutral decision-maker, and then to possibly defending a decision of the [Sexual Misconduct Board] Panel on appeal.” UVA LOF, p. 15)

Since most of these cases involve “he said-she said” situations with alcohol or drug impairment, it is critical that decisions are made by  persons who are impartial and trained in the complexities of sexual assault, where the effects of trauma can affect victims’ reactions and ability to recall details. The Association for Student Conduct Administration has put together a list of training topics for adjudicators and hearing board members. (See ASCA’s Student Conduct Administration & Title IX: Gold Standard Practices for Resolution of Allegations of Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses, Appendix A.)

It is interesting to note that the Commonwealth of Virginia is considering a system of resolving sexual assault cases outside of universities made up of impartial trained investigators, which was first proposed by John Banzhaf, a public interest law professor at George Washington University.

While OCR guidance and court orders don’t provide specific answers, they provide guidelines that allow flexibility to address misconduct in a way that reflects your student population and administrative resources, as long as the response is prompt and impartial.

Prompt and equitable

When evaluating policies and procedures, the OCR looks for these critical elements to meet the “prompt and equitable” standard for Title IX compliance:

  • Notice to students and employees of the procedures, including where complaints may be filed;
  • Application of the procedures to complaints alleging discrimination and harassment carried out by employees, other students, or third parties;
  • Provision for adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints, including the opportunity for both the complainant and respondent to present witnesses and other evidence;
  • Designated and reasonably prompt timeframes for the major stages of the complaint process;
  • Written notice to both parties of the outcome of the complaint and any appeal; and
  • Assurance that the recipient will take steps to prevent recurrence of any sex discrimination or harassment found to have occurred, and to correct its discriminatory effects on the complainant and others, if appropriate. (OCR’s UVA LOF.

Basically, if a school’s policies and procedures contain these Title IX elements they also satisfy due process requirements afforded to students attending public institutions, which require:

  • Written notice of the allegations and nature of the evidence; and
  • A fair opportunity to present the student’s position, explanations, and evidence.

We’ve previously written about due process requirements, including the differences between conduct proceedings vs. criminal trials, and the right to cross-examine witnesses. As pointed out in our post, the OCR’s position on allowing the accused to question adverse witnesses through the hearing officer – but not direct cross examination – does not violate constitutional due process.

Campus Climate Surveys

In order to inform these policies, procedures, and prevention programs each school should conduct an annual “climate assessment” to gather data from students about incidents of sexual harassment and violence, find ways to encourage reporting, and develop prevention strategies that meet the needs of your campus community. The primary goal of the AAU climate survey was to inform policies to prevent and respond to sexual assault and misconduct.

In addition to informing policies and creating effective prevention strategies, conducting campus climate surveys provides critical data for allocating resources, which we have written extensively about on this blog. And the OCR has required climate surveys in several resolution agreements: University of Virginia, Michigan State University, Ohio State UniversityUniversity of Montana, Southern Methodist University, Lehigh University, Harvard Law School, Lyon College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Dayton, Cedarville University, Glenville State College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, State University of New York, Rockford University.

Conclusion

Every college and university has a unique student population with its own culture and complexity. Our goal at CampusClarity is to provide useful information to help all schools reach a common goal:  create policies, procedures, and prevention programs that eliminate sexual harassment on campus, off campus, and online.

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Are Climate Surveys Part of Title IX/Clery Act Compliance?
Posted by On Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On April 29, 2014, the White House Task Force issued its “Not Alone” report with an overview of how to plan and conduct a campus sexual assault climate survey, as well as a sample survey based on best practices. The report urges “schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year.”

In a May 2015 article, “Climate Surveys Are Coming,” readers were told, “The task force’s suggestion that schools conduct climate surveys is one of several signals that surveys soon will be required as part of a Title IX/Clery Act compliance program.”

On the same day that the White House report came out, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued the guidance document, “Questions & Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,” which listed conducting climate surveys as one of the ways to “limit the effects of the alleged sexual violence and prevent its recurrence,” if a victim requests confidentiality and does not want formal action taken against the alleged perpetrator.

Other signals that campus climate surveys soon may be mandated include OCR agreements resulting from Title IX investigations and compliance reviews that require schools to conduct surveys, including: Michigan State University, Ohio State University, University of Montana, Southern Methodist University, Lehigh University, Harvard Law School, Lyon College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Dayton, Cedarville University, Glenville State College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, State University of New York, and Rockford University.

Instead of waiting for federal laws or Title IX guidance that mandate climate surveys, some states have already enacted laws requiring them:

  • Maryland House Bill 571 requires institutions of higher education to “DEVELOP AN APPROPRIATE SEXUAL ASSAULT CAMPUS CLIMATE SURVEY, USING NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED BEST PRACTICES FOR RESEARCH AND CLIMATE SURVEYS,” and submit to the Maryland Higher Education Commission on or before June 1, 2016 (and every two years thereafter), a report aggregating the data collected by the survey, including:
        1. Types of misconduct
        2. Outcome of each complaint
        3. Disciplinary actions taken by institutions
        4. Accommodations made to students
        5. Number of reports involving alleged nonstudent perpetrators
  • The New YorkEnough is Enough” law signed on July 7, 2015, requires all New York colleges and universities to conduct campus climate surveys at least every other year. The survey requirement goes into effect on July 7, 2016.
  • The State of Washington passed a new law (SSB 5518.SL), requiring state universities, the regional universities, The Evergreen State College, the community colleges, and the technical colleges to conduct a campus climate survey and report their findings to the governor and legislature by December 31, 2016.
  • Louisiana passed a new law (SB 255) which provides, “When funding is made available, each public postsecondary education institution shall administer an annual, anonymous sexual assault climate survey to its students.”
  • In addition, the Massachusetts legislature is considering Bill S. 650, which would create a task force to develop a sexual assault climate survey to be administered by colleges and universities selected by the task force.

Meanwhile, Boston University launched a student survey in March 2015 (see FAQs about BU’s survey) and, while not required by law, the University of California conducted a campus climate survey on its campuses in Spring 2013 (see results and FAQs). Previously, we’ve reported on published data from other climate surveys, what experts say, and how to get started.

With Congress back in session, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act may have gained some momentum from the July 29th hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Testimony received at that hearing included strong support from the Association of American Universities for campus climate surveys, pointing out that it is important that schools directly or indirectly control survey administration so that it addresses the unique circumstances of individual campuses.

We will continue to watch this closely as the patchwork quilt of climate survey requirements continues to unfold. We will also be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, October 13th with Peter Novak from University of San Francisco and Jessica Ladd from Sexual Health Innovations about climate surveys and data.  Follow our twitter account @CampusClarity for the link to register as the date gets closer.

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Reporting and Retaliation: Exploring the Complexities of Compliance
Posted by On Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Last week, Alexandra Brodsky, co-founder of Know Your IX, published an article in Feministing.com  titled “We need to make workplace sexual harassment easier to report,” focusing on low-wage earning women’s experiences with sexual harassment and reporting in the workplace.   The article posits, “here’s the truth: we haven’t provided women facing workplace harassment with the protections from retaliation that they need to speak up safely.”

Both Title IX and Title VII prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, including retaliation against those who complain.  However, according to Brodsky, the fear of retaliation is not something that can be fully mitigated by these laws.  It appears that many victims’ fear is justified, as retaliation against reporters of harassment or assault is extremely common with retaliation being the number one complaint at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Brodsky argues that social and financial factors also influence a victim’s willingness – or even ability – to report sexual harassment. Specifically for non-English speaking women, immigrants, and those who are isolated in their jobs, the harasser holds a great deal of power and control over the victim.  Many victims of workplace harassment and retaliation need their jobs to keep themselves and their families alive.  They are often not earning a living wage, being paid under the table, and working overtime without compensation.

Brodsky suggests that to find a real solution to workplace sexual harassment and the lack of reporting, low-wage workers must earn a living wage and have equal legal protection regardless of citizenship status.  The fear of retaliation and a lack of trust in proper claim investigation have contributed to the 70% of folks who have been sexually harassed by a co-worker, boss, or other superior, saying that they never reported it, as reported in a 2013 HuffPost/YouGov Poll.

This sounds extremely similar to the experiences of survivors of sexual assault on college campuses.  Title IX and the Clery Act prohibit retaliation against reporters of sexual assault, as it violates an individual’s right to be free from a hostile educational environment. In its comments on the final regulations, the Department of Education admitted it did not have the authority to assure complainants they would not be subject to an investigation of their immigration status, but warned schools that “threatening an individual with deportation or invoking an individual’s immigration status in an attempt to intimidate or deter the individual from filing or participating in a complaint of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking would violate the Clery Act’s protection against retaliation . . .” (see p. 62772).

A 2015 campus climate survey administered at the University of Michigan found that only 3.6% of students who experienced an unwanted sexual experience reported it to an official university resource.  The problem isn’t isolated to one university.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ recent report estimates that 80% of rapes or sexual victimizations against college women go unreported to the police – with 1 in 5 victims saying “fear of reprisal” was a reason they didn’t report.  The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault reports “fear of reprisal” as the number one reason survivors of sexual assault don’t report the incident.

There are two major questions that come out of this information.  First, do people at your organization or institution know that Title VII, Title IX, and the Clery Act prohibit retaliation?  If they do, what is being done to ensure their safety from retaliation outside of the legal language?  It is imperative to create a safe and accountable environment that supports targets of sexual harassment and sexual assault.  Ideally, trainings, courses, and educational experiences will stop sexual assault and harassment before they begin.  However, by only focusing on prevention, we run the risk of ignoring the reality of the situation.  Sexual assault and harassment are happening daily, and when someone is brave enough to report the incident, it is the responsibility of the institution or organization to have a culture of support.

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Three Takeaways From the OCR’s Guidance Package
Posted by On Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Without much fanfare, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a “Guidance Package” on April 24, 2015, which includes a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), a Dear Title IX Coordinator Letter, and a Title IX Resource Guide. The three takeaways from the OCR’s Guidance Package are: (1) all primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools must have a Title IX coordinator; (2) Title IX coordinators must be given adequate authority and training to meet their obligations; and (3) interfering with a Title IX coordinator’s efforts to do their job violates Title IX’s anti-retaliation provision.

The DCL is a seven-page reminder that “all school districts, colleges, and universities receiving Federal financial assistance must designate at least one employee to coordinate their efforts to comply with and carry out their responsibilities under Title IX . . ..” Another significant guidance document—Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence, released in April of 2014 — had already pointed out that designating a Title IX coordinator is one of three key procedural requirements in the Title IX regulations. This latest DCL leaves no doubt that this is not a matter of simply adding a title to someone’s long list of job duties:

This position may not be left vacant; a recipient must have at least one person designated and actually serving as the Title IX coordinator at all times.

An OCR spokesperson said that many schools currently under investigation do not have a Title IX coordinator. For example, Brown University just hired its first Title IX coordinator this month. Apparently, the OCR is lighting a fire under schools that have not yet taken this step.

The DCL lays out the Title IX coordinator’s responsibilities and authority, emphasizing that it is a Title IX violation to interfere with the Title IX coordinator’s performance of their job responsibilities:

Title IX’s broad anti-retaliation provision protects Title IX coordinators from discrimination, intimidation, threats, and coercion for the purpose of interfering with the performance of their job responsibilities.

To establish a strong and visible role in the community for the Title IX coordinator, the DCL encourages schools to create a prominent link on its homepage to a dedicated webpage with the Title IX coordinator’s contact information, Title IX policies and grievance procedures, and other resources related to Title IX compliance and gender equity.

To keep informed of the laws, regulations, and OCR guidance on campus safety, the DCL recommends regular training for Title IX coordinators and all employees whose responsibilities are related to the school’s Title IX obligations.

Also included in the guidance package is a Letter to Title IX Coordinators with a Resource Guide, which covers Title IX basics, as well as the Title IX coordinator’s administrative duties and role in helping schools meet their Title IX obligations. The letter contains this warning: “To be an effective Title IX coordinator, you must have the full support of your institution.”

As Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in the OCR’s press release, “A critical responsibility for schools under Title IX is to designate a well-qualified, well-trained Title IX coordinator and to give that coordinator the authority and support necessary to do the job.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, April 10, 2015

This week we have more on the growing list of school’s under investigation, data on what usually happens to those schools, and one of the possible consequences of increased scrutiny of colleges and universities.

The List of Schools Investigated for Title IX Grows to 106

The U.S Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is currently investigating 106 colleges and universities for Title IX compliance related to the schools’ handling of sexual violence cases. This number has almost doubled since May last year, when the DOE first revealed the list of schools it was investigating. Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, explained last May that the OCR was releasing the list “to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights.” She also clarified that being under investigation did not mean that the college or university “is violating or has violated the law.”

Four Charts Showing What Happens to Schools Accused of Discrimination

What happens to schools investigated by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights? Based on nearly 9,000 complaints the OCR investigated over the last 11 years, these charts reveal the vast majority of Title IX cases were simply dismissed. Furthermore, no Title IX investigation resulted in “enforcement,” where the OCR would strip a school of federal funding. Instead schools enter into resolution agreements with the OCR first, obligating schools to take steps that meet the OCR’s Title IX compliance requirements. For example, it was reported last May that after “Tufts defiantly backed out of an agreement,” the OCR “warned that it could move to terminate Tufts’ federal funding if the university did not comply, a result so catastrophic that it virtually required Tufts to reach some understanding with the government.” Once Tufts’ president received “clarity” about the basis for OCR finding the university in violation of Title IX, Tufts agreed to change its policies on how to handle sexual assault cases.

The Tufts case supports commentators in the recent Bloomberg article, suggesting that the lack of enforcement demonstrates how the threat of losing federal funding forces schools into compliance: too much is at stake for schools to do anything but concede to the OCR’s requests. Other commentators, however, argue that the lack of enforcement exposes the OCR’s weakness and the lack of political will to punish schools for violating Title IX. It is worth noting, however, that the number of Title IX complaints rose fivefold between 2012 and 2013. The article attributes the spike to the OCR’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which laid out a school’s responsibilities to respond to complaints of sexual harassment.

30 Fraternities Shut Down in Past Month

One way schools are responding to increased scrutiny by the OCR and in the media is by cracking down on misconduct. As we’ve been covering for a while now, fraternities in particular have felt the heat of school’s greater vigilance. As this Huffington Post article reports, since the beginning of March alone, thirty fraternities have been shut down by their school or their national headquarters. The incidents that prompted the closures cover a range of student conduct violations. According to the article, one fraternity used a stun gun to intimidate its pledges and another damaged 45 rooms at a ski resort. The article suggests that the Internet may also be partially responsible for the increased scrutiny, since it’s easier to “circulate ­­– and catch – examples of misbehavior.” The article ends, however, with a comment from Jason Laker, a professor at San Jose State University. Laker reminds us that some of fraternity members’ bad behavior may have roots in larger cultural constructs of masculinity.

 

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When FERPA Meets HIPAA
Posted by On Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Last week, we wrote about the dramatic rise in mental health issues among college students and the shortage of counseling services at some schools to meet this increased demand. This post looks at another potential barrier to students accessing mental health care created by the recent revelation that the University of Oregon accessed a student’s counseling records and gave them to its attorneys to help defend itself against the student’s lawsuit, which accused the school of mishandling her sexual assault complaint.

In its response to the student’s lawsuit, UOregon states that “governing laws permit and encourage collecting [counseling] records” to investigate the student’s claim that the school’s actions and inaction caused her emotional distress.

This argument raises the question: doesn’t HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protect the confidentiality of these records? The answer is no. Under HIPAA’s regulations, student education records are not “protected health information” if they are covered by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). [45 CFR § 160.103]

The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services anticipated the next question, “does FERPA or HIPAA apply to records at health clinics run by postsecondary institutions?” and provided an answer in their 2008 Joint Guidance document:

FERPA applies to most public and private postsecondary institutions and, thus, to the records on students at the campus health clinics of such institutions.

If FERPA protects the confidentiality of education records, doesn’t UOregon need the student’s consent before accessing and sharing a student’s education records? According to federal regulations, the answer is no if the records help the institution defend itself against the student’s lawsuit:

If a parent or eligible student initiates legal action against an educational agency or institution, the educational agency or institution may disclose to the court, without a court order or subpoena, the student’s education records that are relevant for the educational agency or institution to defend itself. [34 CFR § 99.31(a)(9)(iii)(B)]

However, we should point out that this rule doesn’t apply if the therapist doesn’t work for the university. In that instance, the student would be able to ask the court to look at the records and decide what was relevant before they were disclosed to the university, according to Gonzaga law professor Lynn Daggett.

A letter of concern from a UOregon Senior Staff Therapist first revealed that the student’s clinical records were accessed by the university without the student’s consent. To fulfill her professional duty to protect a client’s clinical information to the best of her ability, the UOregon therapist reported the disclosure of student records to the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners as “prohibited or unprofessional conduct.”

In response to the Letter of Concern, former law professor Katie Rose Guest Pryal researched the university’s right to use the student’s post-rape therapy records to defend against her lawsuit and discovered the “ugly truth” that FERPA allows schools to access records kept by the school’s mental health counselors. Pryal ends her piece with this advice for the Department of Education: “Fix this devastating privacy loophole” because UOregon’s action “could well chill the desire of students to seek support at university counseling centers everywhere.”

However, the Joint Guidance is clear that the disclosure by UOregon does not require student consent:

If the institution chooses to do so, a disclosure may be made to any party with a prior written consent from the eligible student (see 34 CFR § 99.30) or under any of the disclosures permitted without consent in 34 CFR § 99.31 of FERPA.

In response to the outcry over UOregon providing a student’s treatment records to its attorneys, the Department urged “higher education institutions to not only comply with FERPA, but also to respect the expectation of confidentiality that all Americans hold when talking to a counselor or therapist.”

This debate occurs at a time when a sexual assault victim’s confidentiality is a central issue in creating a safe and supportive environment to encourage victims to come forward. Moreover, the expectation of confidentiality is not just a concern for victims but also should concern students accused of sexual assault who have sued schools, claiming their due process rights were violated.

Title IX guidance says topics covered in student prevention training should include “reporting options, including formal reporting and confidential disclosure options …” In addition, schools need to make sure that their “professional counselors, pastoral counselors, and non-professional counselors or advocates also understand the extent to which they may keep a report confidential.”

Last week, UOregon’s interim general counsel told the school’s Senate committee, “in hindsight, he would have acted differently before requesting copies of a student’s confidential therapy records.” Unfortunately, a UOregon law professor, who is also a member of the committee, has already seen the chilling effect of this action, “Students now have a perception that their records are not safe . . . I have seen it in my work, and it is devastating.”

Now UOregon’s committee is drafting a policy to prohibit attorneys or school administrators from accessing a student’s counseling or therapy records without the student’s consent. To avoid the devastating effects of silencing students who need help, other schools may want to consider adopting similar policies to reassure students that their confidential resources really are confidential.

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White House Task Force Releases New Resource
Posted by On Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Last April, when the White House released the first report from its Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, they promised to provide schools with a sample Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement. On Monday, the White House finally released their sample MOU. The release coincided with last week’s anniversary of President Obama establishing the White House Task Force.

As described in the document, Memorandums of Understanding “describe the responsibilities of the parties in carrying out an activity or process of mutual interest.” These documents help schools, local law enforcement, and other key stakeholders respond to and prevent incidents in a more coordinated, collaborative, and effective way.

The sample MOU, however, is only meant as a road map; each institution will have to tailor it to its unique needs. As the Department of Justice’s press release explained, “the sample MOU is…intended to be a starting point for a conversation between campus administrators, campus police and local law enforcement on how to improve collaborations between critical first responders.”

Furthermore, while the sample MOU is focused on sexual assault, it encourages schools and local enforcement agencies to develop MOUs around other issues, including domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

We’ll continue to keep you informed as the White House Task Force releases more resources and information.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Saturday, December 6, 2014

For this week’s roundup we bring you three perspectives on campus sexual violence we believe are well-worth reading.

Domestic Violence on Campus

This sobering piece from Inside Higher Ed is a reminder that although it may currently be receiving less attention in the media, domestic violence on college campuses is every bit the problem sexual assault is. 20% of students have “experienced domestic violence with a current partner,” and college-aged women are more likely than any other age group to experience intimate partner violence. Fortunately, it also reports on proactive steps being taken by colleges and universities to combat domestic violence amongst their student populations, pointing to the suspension of athletes accused of or arrested for domestic violence, new Department of Education rules requiring schools to report domestic violence statistics, and schools that are offering support to victim/survivors, raising awareness, and encouraging bystander intervention to help prevent violent incidents. It also points out that domestic and dating violence can be a violation of Title IX because it often involves sexual harassment, including sexual violence.

Why Do Schools Investigate Sexual Violence?

That’s a question more and more people have been asking in recent months, as more and more stories about sexual assault cases on college campuses, and the sometimes hideous mishandling of those cases by school administrators, dominate headlines. In this opinion piece for Time Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Senior Vice President Robert Shibley argues in favor of policies that would encourage or even require schools to bring more sexual assault cases to the police. Shibley claims that schools are ill-equipped to investigate and adjudicate offenses that would be felonies if tried in the criminal justice system and that law enforcement is the only apparatus through which obviously dangerous sexual predators can be removed from society at large. He argues compellingly that it would be in everyone’s interest if local law enforcement were better trained and equipped to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of sexual violence. On the other side of the debate is the Politico piece linked to above, co-penned by Elizabeth Deutsch and Alexandra Brodsky, founding co-director of Know Your IX. They investigate the history of sexual harassment and violence and Title IX and argue that while law enforcement has an important role to play in preventing and investigating campus sexual violence, school administrators are an equally crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to ensuring that victim/survivors and potential victim/survivors have the access to federally-funded education they are guaranteed by law. As Deutsch and Brodsky point out, police do not have the power to switch a student’s dorm, punish emotional abuse, or any of a number of solutions open to administrators.

Some of the Most Disturbing Confessions of Campus Perpetrators

As part of a piece documenting the history of sexual assault on college campuses, NPR spoke to Mary Koss, one of the first researchers to investigate campus sexual violence and the first person to report that 1 in 4 women will be raped while in college. Koss spoke about some of the most disturbing findings she’s come across in her decades of research on the subject, which she describes as a “list of ‘OMG’ experiences.” Such “OMG experiences” include the revelation that 7.7 percent of the male students surveyed admitted to having had or attempted to have forced sex and, perhaps far worse that hardly any of those men considered what they had done or attempted to do a crime. In the piece Koss also speaks about school’s reactions to sexual assault and how a lack of consequences for the crime can contribute to its prevalence and the attitudes revealed by the “OMG experiences” described above.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 5, 2014

Just this year the Department of Education released guidance making Title IX protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students explicit. The move came on the heels of years of controversy surrounding the treatment of transgender students, on topics such as housing, bathroom use, and even disciplinary actions. Here are three recent stories about policy changes, federal exemptions, and the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students.

Women’s Colleges Open Their Doors to Transgender Women

Several traditionally all-female colleges have changed their policies to make them more officially welcoming to transgender and non-gender conforming applicants and students. Mills College, an all-female university in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently changed school policy to officially reflect the long-time practice of accepting self-identified females who are “transgender or gender fluid.” Transgender male students who transition while attending Mills will be welcome to stay on. Similarly, Mount Holyoke College announced a change to their admissions policy this week to explicitly welcome transgender applicants. Under the new policy, the school will accept any applicant who is not a cisgender male. Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella introduced the amended policy as a move to recognize “human rights at home.” The change has been met largely with enthusiasm from students and alumni.

Christian Colleges Seek Title IX Exemptions to Expel Transgender Students

Since the Education Department’s guidance explicitly expanded Title IX protections to transgender students, several Christian colleges have sought and received exemptions allowing them to discriminate against transgender students while still receiving federal funding. Citing religious beliefs, George Fox University received an exemption to deny housing to a transgender student. Exemptions granted to Spring Arbor University and Simpson University go a step further, allowing them to expel transgender students and reject transgender applicants. Such policies have existed for years on the campuses in question, but will now remain legal despite the Education Department’s guidance. Executive director of Campus Pride, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ students, has objected to the exemptions and the policies they preserve, calling these schools “dinosaurs of bigotry.” According to Windmeyer, “These policies are harmful to students.”

Transgender Challenges Transcend School Policies

Of course, not all of the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students can be solved (or created) by new school policies. This piece from Buzzfeed highlights difficulties that range from receiving appropriate housing to explaining preferred pronouns, repeatedly, to classmates and even professors. Transgender students talk about the awkwardness of emailing professors to request the use of a preferred name or of answering shockingly intimate questions posed by near-strangers on campus. While changing policies is an important piece of making all student welcome and comfortable on campus, changing culture is just as crucial to create a more inclusive learning environment.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, August 1, 2014

One of the most important requirements of Title IX, and one that many schools may be scrambling to fulfill, is that any school that receives federal funding must appoint a Title IX coordinator. Today, we want to focus on this requirement, with a few stories about the duties of Title IX coordinators, and some interviews with Title IX compliance officers about what their position requires.

Must-Knows for Title IX Coordinators

This piece, written by Anthony Walesby, current Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs for the University of Michigan, and former federal investigator for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, outlines the must-knows for Title IX coordinators and the crucial role they play in addressing campus sexual violence. Walesby emphasizes the importance of staying informed about Title IX requirements since a school’s Title IX compliance is ultimately the responsibility of its Title IX coordinator, but he also points out that compliance requires the participation of many campus partners who have other interests and concerns. Therefore, Walesby gives this advice to Title IX coordinators:  “Your work may not always be appreciated or popular with everyone all the time, but in the end, you are doing what is in the best interest of your institution. Always keep that in mind.”

Q&A with Stanford’s New Title IX Coordinator

Much like Walesby, Stanford’s recently appointed dedicated Title IX coordinator, Catherine Criswell, comes to the university after a 19-year career with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, in which she focused largely on Title IX investigations. In this interview, Criswell talks about how that experience will inform her work on the Stanford campus, discusses the importance of creating “lasting culture change around issues of sexual assault and sexual violence,” and lays out some of her plans for her work as Title IX coordinator, including establishing a campus climate survey, as recommended by the White House task force report.  In addition to being a neutral investigator, Criswell sees her role as educating the campus community about Title IX rights and reaching out to students, faculty, and staff to find out more “about the climate around these issues at Stanford and about what they would like to see happen.”

Q&A with Harvard’s New Title IX Coordinator

We’ve reported before on Harvard’s new sexual assault policy, set to go into effect with the start of the coming school year. In this interview Mia Karvonides, Harvard’s Title IX officer (and another former OCR attorney) discusses the challenges of implementing the new policy across multiple Schools, each with their own Title IX coordinators, the process of formulating the new policy, and the resources available to Harvard students who are victim/survivors of sexual violence and harassment. However, as Karvonides points out, Harvard is one community and the new central office she heads – the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution – will investigate complaints of sexual misconduct against students and “create a new level of continuity and consistency.”

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