Northwest’s Title IX policy was updated by the institution’s Title IX and Equity unit, specifically imposing changes to the hearing process following a complaint, after the U.S. Department of Education finalized its own regulations on the policy.
Updates followed a change in regulations from the DOE regarding how hearings would be arranged for complainants and respondents to share their testimonies. Complainants are victims who report an incident regarding sexual harassment, assualt, dating or domestic violence, or stalking. Respondents are those individuals accused of committing the act.
Complaints to the office must come from a current student or applicant engaged in educational programs and/or activities for the office to take action. The respondent in the complaint must meet the same requirements for the Title IX office to begin an investigation.
This is a change from last year’s policy, limiting incidents to only those that occur on campus by Bearcat community members. If an incident should occur off campus and/or by someone not involved with Northwest, the Title IX office will redirect the complainant to other resources such as Maryville Public Safety.
Since the revision, the Title IX and Equity unit is encouraged to informally resolve a complaint if both parties are willing to agree. If not, the complaint moves to a live hearing. This change concerns Will Sabio, assistant vice president of student affairs for Title IX and equity. In previous years, the complaint would have undergone investigation within the Title IX office and reached a decision on their own. In a hearing, both parties must be present with an adviser of choice. If one party does not have their own, the institution will provide them one.
A hearing would be run by someone experienced in managing live hearings to field objections, move the process forward and prevent the victim from being revictimized. Each party can be cross examined by the other party’s adviser of choice. Sabio fears the arrangement will be intimidating to potential victims.
“From my lens, I have concerns about some of the regulations and what they say and what they imply and what they could mean to victims who have the courage to report after they’ve experienced trauma,” Sabio said.
According to Title IX records from the 2019-20 academic year, there were nine Title IX complaints including four incidents of sexual assault, two reports of sexual harrasment and two complaints regarding dating violence. This semester, there’s been one incident of sexual assault, one report of sexual harasment and two complaints of stalking as of Oct. 5.
The Missourian asked for additional, more detailed Title IX documents from the University via a public records request, but Northwest sought a $135 fee in return for preparing and providing the records.
But as Sabio suggested, as the Title IX policy evolves into a more complicated process, its goals can become diluted by the jargon.
In an email to The Missourian, University Wellness Services counselor Dana Mallett recommended complainants know what to expect in a hearing beforehand to lessen anxiety and overcome a fear of the unknown.
If the complainant wishes, the University Police Department can run a concurrent police investigation with the Title IX investigation. Title IX makes decisions based on a preponderance of evidence, meaning more likely than not the action in question happened. Police find respondents guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“It’s our responsibility under Title IX to prove the respondent responsible not to prove the respondent is innocent,” Sabio said.
When it comes to complainants who do share their experience, counselor Courtney Koch said active listening is key to making the victim feel validated. Mirroring the language a victim uses prevents mislabeling his or her trauma.
According to Section XVIII of the policy, a victim’s sexual history cannot be used to aid or discredit his or her recount of a Title IX violation unless it could prove the respondent in question was not tied to the incident. This prevents respondents and/or their advisers from attempting to group a violation with a separate pattern of behavior.
“I hope to see all stigmas around sexual assault eliminated from society so sexual assaults are more easily prevented and survivors of sexual assault are more likely to be believed and supported,” Koch said.
The Northwest Coalition Against Violence, also known as The Lighthouse Project, connects victims to advocates at any time a day, seven days a week. Wellness Services’ Green Dot program provides trainings for bystanders and the violence prevention initiative focused on reducing power-based personal violence, like stalking, sexual assault, and dating violence, by intervening directly, getting someone to step in or creating a distraction to diffuse the situation.
Title IX aims to protect students, faculty and staff from sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking that occurs on campus.
Reports can be made over the phone or via email to the Title IX and Equity office, the University Police Department or directly to Sabio.
Assistant Director of Prevention, Outreach and Education B.K. Taylor advises victims to reach out to the Title IX office or the resources it partners with.
The Title IX Office works with Green Dot, Maryville Public Safety, the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Department, Residential Life, the Wellness Center and the University Police Department to provide training and support to those who aid survivors of sexual assault. The Northwest Police Department received a $300,000 grant to help these survivors over the next three years with the goal of bringing Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANE nurses, back into the Maryville community.
Until a victim is ready to report, Mallett recommends establishing a support system to discuss benefits and potential difficulties with each option and to support the student with whatever they choose.
“Ultimately, being supportive and offering opportunities for the survivor t make their own choices and be informed as much as possible are things that can be helpful for individuals in this situation,” Mallett said.