Title IX streamlined at ND

first_imgThe email that appeared in student inboxes Wednesday afternoon was the first of its kind this year, but it is not likely to be the last. “Crime alert,” it read. “Sexual assault reported.” The email informed students of the first assault reported on campus this year. It also arrived a little more than a year after the beginning of a new and more structured sexual assault policy at Notre Dame. That subject line may be jarring, but associate vice president of Residence Life Heather Russell is familiar with reports of sexual assault on a college campus. And she doesn’t mind if, for the moment, students are familiar with them too. “I’m a firm believer that if we’re building a system that works … our students will know, and the numbers (of reports) will go right up,” Russell said. “That’s not in my opinion because there are more sexual assaults or sexual harassment cases on campus. It’s because people who previously would not have reported are now coming forward to report. And that’s what we actually hope will happen.” In addition to her position at the head of Residence Life, Russell served as the University’s Deputy Title IX coordinator this past year. As the University adjusted its sexual assault policies to reflect new requirements from the federal government, she was the first point of contact for all reports of sexual assault on campus. In the first year of the new policy, Russell said she handled eight reported cases of alleged sexual assault. Six additional cases of alleged sexual harassment, which include a variety of environmental concerns such as language or posters, were also brought to her office. Those numbers significantly exceeded the staff’s expectations for the number of reports this past year, Russell said. “I think in terms of setting the right expectations, the timeline and the process, students knew what to expect,” Russell said. “Students didn’t seem surprised who went through the process. I believe we had really good communication throughout the process, and we were timely in our investigations and our decisions.” Making adjustments A report of sexual assault begins with a conversation. Last year, the University’s new policy laid out guidelines for bringing that conversation to Russell’s attention for a Title IX investigation. Some sources – members of Campus Ministry, health professionals at St. Liam’s or local hospitals, counselors – could keep the conversation confidential. Others – resident assistants, professors, law enforcement – were required to bring such conversations to Russell’s attention. “Rectors were considered confidential sources last year,” Russell said. “This year, OCR [the (Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education]) has asked us to keep all hall staff in the same category.” After Russell learns of an assault, she said the investigation must be conducted within 60 days. In that time period, Russell issues a no-contact order between the accused and the accuser, and each party is assigned a sexual assault resource coordinator (SARC) to help him or her through the process of the investigation. Sometimes this process involved a series of interviews to describe the reported assault to Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), a Title IX investigator and the ResLife disciplinary investigators. “What I consistently heard was it was a little overwhelming for our students, both the complainant and the accused, to go through what felt like a repeat process,” Russell said. Now, the interview process will be more streamlined and less repetitive, Russell said. If both parties have been interviewed by NDSP, they do not need to repeat those interviews with more investigators in Russell’s office. “We’re cutting out that middle process,” she said. Breaking a trend In April 2011, all universities and colleges also received a message about sexual assault. This one came in the form of the “Dear Colleague” letter issued last spring by the OCR. The letter called for all colleges to more strongly implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sexual discrimination at institutions that receive federal fund. The letter required the University to create Russell’s position and develop a more clearly outlined investigation process for sexual assault. Russell said OCR penned the letter and changed the federal regulations to combat the trend of “bad actors,” or repeat perpetrators of sexual assault. “So [if] a student assaults one of our students, there is a high likelihood that that student will hurt somebody else,” Russell said. “So even though that student who was assaulted may not want to pursue the case, if we don’t pursue it, another one of our students may be at risk.” Previously, Russell said Notre Dame’s policy allowed the victim of an assault to determine whether he or she wanted to pursue disciplinary or criminal action against the accused. If a victim requested not to go forward with any penalties, the case would automatically be closed. In the letter, OCR required universities to pursue cases against any individuals who might be a bad actor, even if the victim did not want to open an investigation for university discipline or criminal justice. “The fear across the country was that what that ‘Dear Colleague’ letter was asking would inadvertently have a chilling effect on reports of sexual assault or sexual harassment on a college campus,” Russell said. Instead, the increase in reports showed an opposite effect. And despite the high possibility of bad actors, Russell said she did not work with a single case that involved a repeat offender this past year. “The reason the guidelines were put in place was to ferret out those kinds of people, and as of yet, in one year testing the guidelines, we did not see that here,” Russell said. A veteran advocate for sexual assault prevention, Russell said she was not surprised by the trend she did discover in this year’s reports – alcohol abuse in connection with sexual assault. “I’m happy to say we didn’t find [that trend at Notre Dame],” Russell said. “What we found to be a trend is what we knew to be a trend even before this year, which is in cases of sexual assault on our campus typically alcohol is involved with at least one of the parties, sometimes with both parties.” Looking ahead This week marked the beginning of the policy’s second year in operation, but it also is the end of Russell’s tenure ae Deputy Title IX Coordinator. As she returns her focus to Residence Life, Dr. Bill Stackman will assume control of sexual assault investigations. Stackman will officially begin his job as the associate vice president for Student Services on Monday. “We’d like to get to the place where Title IX is less about our reaction to cases and more about a comprehensive model that has to do with prevention, education, intervention and response,” Russell said. “And [Stackman] is a person well equipped to do that.” Russell said her time as a shepherd for the new policy was demanding but positive. “It was a fantastic part of the position not because I want those things to happen, but because it’s great to be able to be present to students in those kinds of situations and help see they get the resources they need and help bring things to closure for them.last_img read more

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Provost creates committee to alter Title IX procedures to comply with federal law

first_imgA committee will advise the Office of General Council to permanently adapt the University’s Title IX regulations in order to comply with the new federal regulations declared in May 2020 by the U.S. Department of Education, provost Marie Lynn Miranda announced in an email Wednesday.Vice president and associate provost for faculty affairs Maura Ryan will serve as chair. Other members of the committee were elected by Academic Council or appointed by Miranda.The Academic Council approved temporary measures to bring the University into compliance with the new regulations on Aug. 10.“The adopted changes removed the regulatory Title IX matters from Article IV/Section 9 of the Academic Articles and placed them within the Procedures for Resolving Concerns of Discriminatory Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Other Sex-Based Misconduct,” Miranda said.According to the meeting minutes, the University required changes in two areas to comply with the federal regulations. The University needed to use one standard of evidence across all cases and appeals, “regardless of who the complainant and respondent are.”While almost all hearings had used a preponderance of evidence standard, faculty members may request a hearing and appeal under a clear and convincing standard if a violation results in a severe sanction.The University was also required to change their regulations to “provide both complainants and respondents with equivalent appeal opportunities and processes.”In the past, the same appeal procedure was not granted to complainant’s when the respondent was a faculty member.The temporary measures applied the preponderance of evidence to all cases, and determined that the severe sanctions appeal process would “no longer apply to sexual harassment cases.”The proposal would only be in place for the 2020 fall semester, and required more significant changes in the long-term, Miranda said. Without further action by the Academic Council, the temporary measures will revert to the previous standards on Nov. 20 2020.The new committee, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Institutional Equity will review proposed permanent changes to the Title IX policies.Miranda asked the committee to consider a number of questions including how the changes in the evidentiary standards may effect decisions to report or “participate in investigations of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations.”Miranda said the committee should address all of the following questions: “How do our procedures for addressing Title IX and other sex-based misconduct best protect due process across all parties, consistent with federal regulations? What are the features of an appeal process that is equitable across all parties? How do our policies and procedures reflect the protections and responsibilities of academic freedom?”Notre Dame will also determine the changes other universities have chosen to help in the decision making. All students, faculty and staff may submit comments and questions to [email protected], and the committee will hold public presentations in order to provide the University community with updates.Tags: Office of General Counsel, Provost Marie Lynn Miranda, Title IXlast_img read more

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