OCE revises sexual misconduct policy procedures for Title IX cases

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COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

The College of William and Mary’s Office of Compliance and Equity recently made changes relating to sexual misconduct and the College’s procedures for handling it. This encompasses the Aug. 22 instatement of a deciding official, an improved investigation timeline process and revised sanctions to two policies related to sexual misconduct.

Every December at the College, officials go through an annual review process of policies and decide what needs to be changed. According to Interim Chief Compliance Officer, Title IX Coordinator, and Age Discrimination Act Coordinator Pamela Mason, College officials look at trends in court rulings in and outside of the College’s jurisdiction and coordinate feedback with Title IX officials at other schools.

One of the biggest changes the College decided upon is the implementation of an independent deciding official to oversee cases. In the past, a dean has overseen cases alongside the Title IX team. Mason said the decision to delegate the position to someone other than a dean because deans have many other roles.

“The [deciding official is] not going to be a full-time job, but [will be] a designated decision maker — that’s their designated job,” Mason said. “They get trained on that, they are experienced in it, and their job is to read the report [and] make a determination.”

Director of The Haven Liz Cascone said that the addition of a deciding official provides an opportunity for the deciding official to both meet with the involved parties and to streamline the investigation process.

“The new procedure creates the ability for the deciding official to directly speak with the parties involved (when needed) in an investigation in order to gain more clarity about the case or collect more information,” Cascone said in an email. “This can be an important step in ensuring that the deciding official has all the relevant information in order to make a decision. One benefit of using an independent deciding official is the potential to improve the timeline of an investigation. Having dedicated personnel in this role could help the process move more rapidly.”

Currently, the College is still in the process of hiring a deciding official and finalizing the qualifications needed for the position.

Because of the inclusion of a deciding official, the overall investigative procedure has changed. Administrative resolutions and conference resolutions are now a part of the process in which the deciding official determines and oversees how allegations will be addressed. Administrative resolutions involve allegations that are solved by officials, whereas conference resolutions involve allegations that are heard by the involved parties and potential witnesses.

Mason said conference resolutions have a longer timeline than those conducted administratively by about six days. The previous iteration of the policy saw decisions issued by day 60, but the new policy cuts that to day 38 if under an administrative resolution, and to day 42 if under a conference resolution. If found guilty of a policy violation, the party will receive decisions about sanctions on day 40 if under an administrative resolution and on day 46 if under a conference resolution.

Students who believed that the investigation process would benefit from a change to a more streamlined timeline were involved in the policy revision process.

“We did listen very carefully to the students’ input, especially when it came to the timing of these — just how long they were taking and that was a big factor in whether people were willing to report and or go through the process,” Mason said. “For us, that was important to really take that into consideration and try to make these changes to be more prompt.”

In the previous procedural policy, involved parties were unable to speak with the dean and instead were allowed a comment period. Mason said that while this comment period was helpful, officials often found it would unintentionally prolong the investigation as new information arose or was contested back and forth. Because involved parties can now meet with a deciding official in a conference resolution and provide written comments, the commentary process has been streamlined, which helps shorten the overall length of an investigation.

“The conference [resolution] is intended to be very narrow in scope — not a rehashing of every element and every detail that happened between two individuals but just what is in dispute here,” Mason said.

Other changes to the procedural policy include altered primary sanctions, which more clearly specify different types of student suspension, including deferred suspension. Additional changes were made to secondary sanctions which involve the loss or relocation of housing, no contact orders and course withdrawals.

While Mason said the College already had an amnesty policy, the overall policy revisions this year have been directed at keeping up with current standards of equity used elsewhere.

“From an equity standpoint, we need to give the respondent or the person being accused the same amnesty in Title IX cases to speak freely if they’ve done something that’s not in furtherance of the offense,” Mason said. “… Multiple times we’ve had somebody accused of something and earlier in the night both parties had been drinking underage and we didn’t find the underlying Title IX action to have been substantiated — not that it didn’t happen but we didn’t have enough evidence — but the person was still held responsible for an alcohol violation and that didn’t seem equitable in the process.”

HOPE President Rhea Sharma ’19 said that HOPE views the changes to the policies, such as the decision to add a deciding official, as positive, but stressed that the policy needs time to be judged on its effectiveness.

“It is clear that W&M is trying to make the procedures for handling sexual misconduct a somewhat easier process,” Sharma said in an email. “They’ve added the position of Deciding Official that makes decisions regarding cases, and it may be beneficial to have one person dedicated to the case, rather than a dean that is also busy with other responsibilities. … I think it’s hard to judge the efficiency of this policy, as it is still new. However, we are hopeful that the administration at this school is trying to make this process as efficient and helpful as possible.”