Students just want to know their Title IX rights: A guide to navigating the policy and system

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 at 5:37 PM
Students just want to know their Title IX rights: A guide to navigating the policy and system by Livia Homerski
Graphic: Livia Homerski

A few semesters ago in The Spectator office, we were discussing the roughly hour-long Title IX training course that pops into students’ emails every year. We believed that the training was missing something, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what that was.

Thanks to the training, we know what situations regarding sexual misconduct or assault could look like, along with what we could do in those situations. But, how Title IX works on the student’s side was not really discussed. As students are who this policy is mostly for, it seems that few know what the process is actually like until they are attempting to navigate through it for the first time.

For those who don’t know, Title IX is a policy that “requires universities to ensure an environment free of sexual discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual violence,” according to Edinboro University’s webpage on Title IX. The official law states: “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.”

Sexual assault and harassment are harrowing situations that could have a pronounced effect on a student’s life. Just as campus fire and emergency drills are practiced, all students should have a walk-through and clear understanding of what filing for a Title IX complaint would be like if an emergency situation such as an assault would occur. I spoke with Andrew Matt, interim Title IX coordinator at Edinboro, about how this policy functions.

There are two processes to follow that work side-by-side: the Title IX process, as well as the legal process. Title IX stays on the university side of things, so if a student wanted to press charges in the case of assault or an additional crime, they would have to go to the police and fill out a CSA report.

Title IX not only covers sexual assault, but also issues that aren’t deemed as serious legally, such as doing a sexual favor in return for a higher position or better grade (quid pro quo) or a toxic environment of stalking or sexual harassment.
An incident has occurred. What should I do?

Know that reporting is an option. You may be feeling traumatized, confused, angry, or any other slew of emotions. You may need time to process the incident and not feel ready to report, while then being faced with a full-blown investigation. Or, you may want to report it right away. Both are completely valid.

“It’s a really hard situation that a student could end up going through, and by letting people know that something is going on, that’s the best thing that could happen because that person could have a better chance at finding resources,” said Matt.

It’s recommended that, no matter what, you keep all evidence preserved. You can always decide whether you want to report and pursue criminal charges in the future. The Title IX office will also keep your report documented in case you decide to make a claim after the initial report.

If and when you do decide to report, every member of faculty and staff, including resident assistants, are mandated reporters, so you should go to whomever you feel most comfortable talking with. Mandatory reporters provide students with support, resources and information in case they would want to make a claim. Then, said mandatory reporter would record the information and send it to the Title IX office. The only faculty members excused as mandatory reporters are the counselors at CAPS due to their position as mental health workers.

According to Edinboro.edu, you could also directly contact Matt, once again the interim Title IX coordinator; Angela Vincent, chief of police; any campus police officer; Beth Zewe, university ombudsperson; and in the case of sex discrimination or sexual misconduct regarding any member of the executive leadership team, such as a president, provost, and vice presidents: Dr. Victoria Sanders, the PASSHE Title IX coordinator.

“The biggest goal is that the student has the assistance they need and that there are people available on campus who are here to help get them through that situation, however that may be,” explained Matt when asked what the most important thing every student should know about Title IX.

Who will be handling my case?

For “student v. student” claims, Michelle Ritzel, the deputy Title IX coordinator on campus, will reach out to the affected student(s) and give them appropriate resources. If the student decides to pursue a case, they will choose from a list of volunteer investigators on campus. Then two advisers are selected: one for the claimant and one for the respondent. Both investigators and advisers are staff and faculty volunteers that have gone through training provided by PASSHE. These advisers provide the student with information about the process of the proceedings and their rights — they are not representatives of those students.

For “student v. faculty” or “staff” claims, they go directly to Matt, and he reaches out to the student. Matt is also the one who will be investigating those claims.

According to Edinboro’s “Reporting an Incident,” the report and investigation should be resolved within 60 days. The only exception to this is if an investigation happens to occur during a break, the investigation will be put on pause. However, if you report the incident and two weeks go by without any notification, you should probably follow up.

I want to pursue a case. What do I need to make a strong case?

Come prepared with a typed statement and all the evidence you can possibly find. Have text messages ready, along with emails, letters and phone logs, plus any video, photo, or audio evidence. If you’ve been assaulted, have a bag with the unwashed clothes you were wearing at the time of the incident. Do not shower or do anything to remove potential DNA evidence until you go to Ghering Health Center, the police station, or a hospital and are administered a rape kit. If there are witnesses, have their statements typed and signed.

You’re also allowed to bring an adviser or someone for support to any meeting. This can be a friend, family member, faculty member, or attorney. However, they are not allowed to speak for you, meaning that you should be the one doing the majority of the talking.

The investigators will want to gather as much information as possible so they can put together a thorough report and send that to the Title IX coordinator. Once a report is looked over and approved, it will be sent to Cynthia Waldinger of judicial affairs, who is the director of student conduct and assistant to the dean of students. She will make a decision whether there’s adequate evidence to proceed with a hearing.

In order for a case to be considered, there must be a “preponderance of the evidence,” which means that there is a 50 percent chance “+1” that the incident occurred. The +1 is not a percent, but extra evidence that has the potential to show that what was reported likely happened. Matt explained preponderance of evidence as: “that point where the investigator and judicial affairs coordinator, and especially the hearing board, have reached that point where they say ‘the evidence now has switched.’ That weighing of the evidence has just moved over 50/50, and we can say that this is what occurred.”

Once that preponderance of evidence is shown, then Waldinger will put the case in front of a hearing board made of the Title IX volunteers. Both the claimant and the respondent will attend and make their claims. This is guided by the advisers for both of the students in the case, as well as Ritzel or Matt. Then the hearing board makes their decision on whether or not the standard of proof has been met for the situation, as well as how to proceed and what will happen.

Remember, it’s your option and right to report when you deem necessary. Please feel free to reach out to any of the resources listed above if you have been a victim of sexual harassment or assault. Know that you are not alone and that there are people who will want to help.

Livia Homerski | ae.spectator@gmail.com

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