Beacon Breakdown: What happens when a student files a Title IX report?

The Beacon spoke with Pamela White, Emerson’s Title IX coordinator, and examined the Title IX sexual misconduct policy on Emerson’s website pertaining to reports against students. The college’s current Title IX policy is based on law interpreted by the Barack Obama administration from 2008-16. It is subject to change if Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed revisions are approved.

What happens when someone files a Title IX report against a student?

An incident reported to the Title IX office should be one which violates the college’s sexual misconduct policy, which includes unwanted sexual advances or insults and threats based on gender. Anyone involved in the incident can submit a report by telling a school employee about the incident or directly contacting White.

When someone files a report, they are labelled as the complainant, and the person accused is referred to as the respondent.

After the report reaches White, the complainant decides whether or not to pursue an investigation. White said complainants usually want support through resources such as Healing and Advocacy and do not want a report to turn into an investigation.

All parties involved in a Title IX investigation have the right to know who is involved, including the accused, accuser, and all witnesses. White said she evaluates cases based on the probability that the report is true, although she did not specify how the office determines the verity of a report. The Obama Administration’s standards require at least a 51-percent chance of being true.

What is the difference between a report and an investigation?

An investigation requires a written complaint, while a report can simply be verbal. A report becomes a formal complaint if it includes enough information to identify the respondent, a written explanation of what happened, and a signature from the complainant.

A report must show that it ties into a section of the sexual harassment policy for the Title IX coordinator to assign it to a special investigator to turn into an investigation. Until Emerson hires a deputy Title IX coordinator, cases are assigned to outside investigators.

Appendix A of the policy details the process for resolving reports of sexual misconduct against Emerson students and how to initiate an investigation.

White said most reports are unofficial because they fail to meet all of the requirements under Appendix A, such as having a written statement. The Title IX office keeps records of all reports, formal or incomplete, and unofficial complaints can become official if the complainant files a formal complaint.

What happens during a Title IX investigation?

After the coordinator appoints an investigator to the case, the coordinator meets with both the complainant and respondent separately to inform them on the details of the case and their rights. This includes that they have the right to have an advisor present, that the college will not provide an attorney, and that the complainant can pursue a criminal report with the police outside of the college’s investigation.

Both parties can submit evidence and witnesses, and the coordinator advises them on their options for confidential resources on campus.

The investigator interviews the accuser, the accused, and the witnesses independently to examine all relevant evidence in the case. Both parties in the case can review the investigator’s report; however, they must do so in the Title IX coordinator’s office, and they are not allowed to make copies of the report.

The Title IX coordinator can decide whether or not the accused party violated the misconduct policy based on the findings in the report. The Title IX coordinator submits the final report to the Office of the General Counsel for comment, then to the director of student conduct. The director of student conduct notifies both parties in the case of the Title IX investigator’s findings and the investigator’s decision.

If the accused is found to have violated the policy, the case continues to a separate process to decide on sanctions.

How does the school decide on sanctions?

If the investigator finds a student is guilty of violating the sexual misconduct policy, the director of student conduct will form a sanctions panel.

The complainant and respondent can each submit a written impact statement, in which each party can explain what they think is relevant for the sanctions panel to know. The director of student conduct reviews the statements to ensure neither statement introduces new evidence or challenges the investigator’s findings.

When the sanctions panel convenes, they review the final report, any prior disciplinary records for the respondent, and the impact statements. Once they reach a decision, they send their recommendation to the director of student conduct, who can choose to accept the recommendation or ask the panel to reconsider. Then, the director informs the respondent, complainant, and Title IX coordinator of the sanctions imposed. The complainant is allowed to appeal this decision if they believe the sanctions are not appropriate or if sanctions are not imposed.

How long does it take to resolve a case?

White said the official process to resolve a case takes around 60-90 days to allow the investigator and coordinator to go through the required steps to perform an official investigation.

How are cases handled without an investigator at Emerson?

The college does not have an investigator working in the Title IX office, but the school works with outside investigators on open cases. White said the Title IX office investigates reports without any change other than using outside investigators. White is the office’s only employee until the school hires a deputy Title IX coordinator.

“We’ve never not had an investigator,” White said in an interview.

If you file a report but don’t want to proceed with an investigation, what are your options?

If a student wishes to file a report without opening an investigation, the Title IX coordinator will still assess the situation to decide if the office wants to pursue an investigation.

In the meantime, individuals can obtain accommodations for their work, class schedule, and housing to ensure their safety. Individuals can also request a no-contact order, which imposes contact and communication restrictions on an individual to prevent any potential harmful interaction.

The Title IX office can implement these measures without opening an investigation. Anyone involved in the case can request that the college take measures to support any parties involved, or the college can impose measures to ensure community members’ safety. The college will not remove an accused student from classes or organizations until the investigation completes, they’re found responsible of a violation, and the director of student conduct imposes a sanction.

What happens if a student withdraws a report or complaint?

Students are allowed to withdraw reports or ask the Title IX Office to not investigate. A student can withdraw an investigation before or after it is filed, but if the Title IX coordinator believes the accused is a continuous threat to others, the office can choose to continue the investigation.

How are complaints handled on the Emerson Los Angeles and Kasteel Well campuses?

White serves as the Title IX coordinator for all three Emerson campuses. The respective Title IX reporters at each campus send any student or staff reports to White. While the Emerson Los Angeles and Kasteel Well campuses have a deputy Title IX reporter, they ultimately report to the Boston campus.

What are some student resources?

The college encourages all members of the community to reach out to the Title IX Office if they experienced or witnessed any violations of the sexual misconduct policy.

Concerned students are also encouraged to reach out to Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services, the Center for Health and Wellness, and the Healing and Advocacy Center.

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