Aug. 12, 2020
To Our Students:
We write today to update you on Case Western Reserve’s response to new Title IX regulations, as well as social media concerns raised regarding the university’s practices in addressing sexual misconduct complaints—in particular those involving sexual assault.
Before discussing details of these efforts, however, we want to underscore two points:
- Case Western Reserve is committed to ending all forms of gender discrimination and related mistreatment. Over the past five years, the university has significantly strengthened its sexual misconduct education and prevention efforts, as well as those involving investigation and adjudication of complaints.
- Nevertheless, we recognize that the work of addressing attitudes and behaviors that contribute to misconduct must continue and evolve—and that we all need to work together to help by protecting and supporting one another.
New Title IX Regulations
For those of you not familiar with Title IX, it is part of education statutes adopted in 1972. It 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.”
The university’s Office of Equity is responsible for addressing campus issues raised related to Title IX, such as ensuring equal access to university programs and protecting the rights of all on campus—students and employees—from discrimination based on or related to gender. Among the prohibited activities is sexual harassment, which includes sexual assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence.
Throughout their development, the new regulations have raised concerns across many in higher education, and our organizational representatives have been active in articulating them. That said, as of this Friday, they carry the force of law, and our university must comply.
Over the past several months, a Policy Review Committee including faculty, staff and students (nominated by the Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Council) has been meeting to assess how the university would incorporate the new regulations within its existing sexual misconduct policy. We deeply appreciate the time and thought these individuals brought to this process; their contributions have been invaluable.
In several instances, the regulations offer no flexibility in interpretation. These include:
- Additions to mandatory time periods (typically 10 days) for review and response to information at different stages of the investigation that will extend the length of the overall process;
- Required live and direct cross examination by advisors in hearings; and
- For those instances where cross examination does not take place, the requirement that the individuals deciding the matter not rely on any information previously provided relating to that witness.
In addition, the regulations stipulate that complaints of sexual assault reported to have happened off campus fall outside Title IX’s purview, which in our case means that the Office of Equity cannot pursue the matter under Title IX. Nevertheless, this restriction does not prevent the Office of Equity from investigating allegations of sexual misconduct through processes outside Title IX.
In addition, other university units, including the Office of Student Conduct, can look into complaints of behavior contrary to Case Western Reserve’s policies.
The university’s Code of Conduct for students, for example, prohibits:
“Inappropriate treatment of others, including but not limited to:
a. Causing physical harm to others
b. Verbal Abuse
c. Behavior that is threatening
d. Behavior that is intimidating
f. Behavior that is coercive
g. Behavior that endangers the health or safety of any person.”
The code also applies to misconduct off campus that “adversely affects the University community, the mission of the University and/or the pursuit of University goals.”
Finally, the new regulations did provide some leeway. For example, the Office of Equity has the option to:
- have university employees as mandated reporters;
- have preponderance of the evidence as the standard in formal resolutions; and
- follow the 2016 education department guidelines regarding LGBTQ+ students.
The office will continue to employ all of these options.
Additional Concerns Raised on Social Media
The stories students have posted on social media this summer have depicted harrowing and horrific experiences. In some instances, complaints reached the Office of Equity, but in many more the authors chose not to inform the university (and in some instances, the incidents described predated the establishment of a formal Title IX office). Even when students engaged with the investigators, some reported feeling poorly supported, others expressed deep disappointment with the results, and many felt a mix of emotions about the process.
These descriptions, as well as other conversations with students, have highlighted several areas where the university can enhance its education and awareness efforts, and better explain and illustrate specific aspects of the Title IX process. These efforts will be ongoing throughout the academic year, but we want to start by addressing a few high-level themes:
- The Role of the Office of Equity in Receiving and Addressing Complaints
One of the themes reflected in social media posts involved disappointment relating to the process of making a complaint—specifically a feeling that investigators did not express adequate sympathy or support for the person filing the report. While investigators do provide information about confidential resources and support to those making complaints, their primary role is to conduct a thorough and objective review of the allegations and prepare a report. The investigator cannot and will not favor one party over the other in an investigation—and also cannot in any way appear to do so.
That said, other individuals, among them the university’s Student Advocate, can provide direct support and short-term counseling, as can staff from the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and University Counseling Services. Earlier this year, the university applied for external funding to augment support services provided outside the equity office, and relevant units across the campus will continue to work to identify additional ways to bolster resources for students.
- Investigators and Panel Members
A misconception appears to exist regarding investigators. First, none of the investigators are Case Western Reserve students, and all are full-time and hold advanced degrees. In addition, every investigator participates in a minimum of 16 hours of training, which covers such topics as consent, incapacitation, and laws including the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (now in the process of reauthorization) and the 1990 Clery Act.
Panel members, meanwhile, include faculty, staff and students who include both genders and members of underrepresented groups on campus. Panel members also participate in a minimum of eight hours of training.
- Information Regarding Title IX
As part of updating the Office of Equity website to reflect adjustments related to the new regulations, we also will attempt to clarify and simplify presentation of information (for example, regarding the steps of the investigation and adjudication process) and provide additional requested data regarding disposition of cases. In addition, the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women will be launching a new campaign to follow-up to the Green Dot bystander intervention program called "It's On CWRU." It also is expanding education on consent and bystander intervention. In addition, the center is implementing a new orientation program Informed-U and will offer the Silent Witness program during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
As you may know, during the beginning of the semester Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark and Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Rob Solomon will announce members of a task force focused on ways the university community can create a true culture of respect across the entire campus. As they noted in introducing the task force model in late July, the group will include subcommittees focused on specific areas—among them sexual misconduct. We look forward to collaborating with these groups on additional measures to help make Case Western Reserve University a place free from gender-based harassment and assault.
We look forward to providing additional updates on these efforts as they become available.
Darnell Parker, EdD
Senior Associate Vice President for Equity and University Title IX Coordinator
General Counsel, Chief Risk Management Officer and Deputy Secretary of the Corporation