The April 2011 Office of Civil Rights (OCR) “Dear Colleague” letter mandated changes for how institutions must handle reports of sexual misconduct. Recently, we conducted one of our informal 7 Second Surveys to learn whether a general sample of faculty and staff across campus were concerned about the changes and their institution's compliance, we received little response--and only a few of the respondents noted that they had more than a "little" anxiety. Most (84%) knew who their Title IX coordinator was, and most indicated that their Title IX coordinator had a handle on the compliance issue.
Yet, in a series of in-depth phone conversations conducted by Lisa LaPoint, assistant conference director with Academic Impressions, attorneys and Title IX coordinators note that complying with the mandated changes is something everyone on campus should be worried about.
"It is the responsibility of everyone on campus to understand Title IX compliance. Faculty and staff who work directly with students may not be the ones making decisions about Title IX compliance, but they need to understand what to do. Just one conversation with a student, if not handled correctly, can lead you down a terrible path."
Lisa LaPoint, Academic Impressions
To learn more, we reached out to two experts on Title IX compliance--Rabia Khan Harvey, assistant to the vice president for the Division of Student Development and Title IX Deputy Coordinator at Loyola University Chicago, and Scott Warner, partner at Franczek Radelet P.C.
Below, Harvey and Warner discuss with us critical steps some institutions may be missing and offer a brief checklist of questions that need to be answered at your institution.
Q&A with the Experts
Why is this issue especially important, and why is it critical to have a clear plan for how the institution will respond to cases of sexual misconduct?
Scott Warner: First and foremost, the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter issued by the Office for Civil Rights makes it clear that all institutions of higher education that receive federal funding must have procedures in place for addressing allegations of sexual misconduct (and other types of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX), must broadly disseminate them, and must offer training about the procedures and other aspects of Title IX compliance. In addition to ensuring compliance with Title IX, sexual misconduct has no place at colleges and universities, and it is important for all institutions to explain clearly to all members of their communities that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated and that it will be addressed if it occurs.
Rabia Khan Harvey: Furthermore, it is very important for colleges and universities to set a campus culture that is free from sex discrimination and gender-violence so that students are not being denied access or hindered from their own academic pursuits. Office of Civil Rights reminds us that Title IX applies not only to students but also to faculty and staff.
Are there critical steps some institutions are missing?
Scott Warner: The April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and several recent OCR investigations have resulted in there being a great deal of valuable information about Title IX compliance readily accessible. Despite the prevalence of this information, the amount of information can be overwhelming and challenging to synthesize.
As a result, it can be challenging for institutions to know, in practical terms, what steps they should take to ensure that they have the requisite policies and procedures in place.
To ensure that an institution has the essential components of a compliance plan in place, the institution should:
- Appoint and train a Title IX coordinator or a designee to review its anti-discrimination policies to ensure that they address sexual misconduct (i.e., sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence).
- Review its investigation and grievance procedures to ensure that they address the issues referenced in the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter.
- Provide training regarding Title IX issues to members of the community.
Checklist: Questions You Need to Answer
We also asked Harvey and Warner what critical questions professionals should be asking at their instiution--questions every faculty and staff member who works with students should know the answer to. Harvey noted that her institution's checklist was pages long, but she and Warner identified the following questions as the most key:
- Do I understand what to do if an allegation or report or sexual misconduct comes to my attention?
- Do I have processes and protocols in place to ensure interim safety measures for victims/complainants?
- Do we have a Title IX Coordinator or designee? Is his or her contact information readily available?
- Does our anti-discrimination policy specifically address sexual misconduct?
- Is our policy readily available and widely disseminated?
- Does our institution have a well-written and clear anti-retaliation policy to protect those who report incidents of gender violence to university authority?
- Do our investigation and grievance procedures address the issues referenced in the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter?
- What type of training is offered regarding sexual misconduct and other conduct prohibited by Title IX? Is this training extended and tailored to respective groups such as, but not limited to Title IX Investigators, Hearing Board Officers, faculty, staff, student-leaders, and other student groups such as student-athletes and members of a fraternity/sorority?
We recommend sharing this checklist with your colleagues.
Use this checklist as an opportunity to start critical conversations on your campus--and if you do not already know who your Title IX coordinator is, we recommend identifying them and taking this opportunity to engage them in dialogue and clarify what you need to do if you encounter a report of sexual misconduct on your campus.