Wilkes alumna offers Title IX clarifications

Posted by Laura E. Laughlin on April 7, 2016

A Look At Students’ Rights On Campus Under Title IX

When most people hear Title IX, they think of sports.  However, Title IX gives rights that extend beyond ensuring that women and men have equal sports’ teams on campus.  In fact, Title IX has nothing to do with sports. Though it is used and referenced in that context most frequently.

The actual text of Title IX 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…”

As you can see, Title IX has nothing to do with sports.  Instead, it guarantees equal rights to students in colleges that receive Federal funding.  So yes these rights do extend to equal rights in the context of sports. But, they also extend to students who are victims of crime on campus.

Specifically, students who are victims of sexual assault have rights and protections under Title IX.  Sexual violence is an extreme form of sexual harassment and schools have an obligation to respond. All students have the right to equal access to his or her education.

What Obligations Does My School Have?

Generally, schools have an obligation to train their staff regarding sexual assault on campus.  They also must have some way for students to report sexual assault.  Once the sexual assault is reported, the school must investigate and if appropriate, adjudicate.  Adjudicating could mean anything from bringing charges under the school’s student code of conduct, holding a hearing to determine what happened, or issuing punishment.  If the school is going to adjudicate the abuser, the burden of proof is less than that of a criminal case.  In these types of adjudications, the burden is a “preponderance of the evidence.”  A preponderance of the evidence means that more likely than not, the allegations occurred.  “A preponderance of the evidence” is the standard used in civil cases.  “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard used in a criminal case.

Also, if the school knows about harassment that creates a hostile environment for students the school must take immediate action to:

  1. Eliminate the harassment;
  2. Prevent its recurrence; and
  3. Address the effects of the harassment.

Addressing the effects of the harassment can include an obligation on the school to prevent retaliation by other students due to the sexual assault.

What Are My Rights At The Campus Disciplinary Proceedings?

Victims have the right to a prompt and equitable grievance procedure.  Prompt means that the investigation should be completed within 60 days.  Equitable means that the victim is entitled to everything the accused gets. This includes finding out what the charges against the accused are, the ability to see all the evidence, the right to an appeal and the right to have an attorney present.  Believe it or not, victims are sometimes left in the dark throughout the investigation and disciplinary proceedings.

What Kind Of Accommodations Can I Ask My School For?

The following accommodations are not guaranteed, but are examples of ways that schools have assisted students in the past.

  • A No Contact Order between you and your abuser
  • Establishing set times that the abuser can access the cafeteria or library to prevent you from running into them
  • That the abuser be transferred into a different class for the classes you have together
  • That the abuser be moved to a dormitory separate from yours
  • Receiving a designated school administrator to help you inform your professors about what happened that could potentially lead to additional time for assignments or other accommodations to assist in keeping your grades up
  • Access to tutoring for your classes
  • Psychological treatment or other mental health services

What Can I Do To Exercise My Rights?

You should contact a crime victims’ attorney as soon as possible for a free, confidential consultation.  Each person’s case is different so it is best to speak with an attorney to help you decide the best course of action for you.  There are time limitations on when you can bring certain actions so it’s best to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.

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Laura E. Laughlin

Attorney Comment:

Wilkes University, my alma mater, has been doing a great job in making Title IX and students’ rights on campus a recurring theme in its student newspaper.  I was happy to help add to the discussion to advise students of their rights under Title IX on campus.  My hope is that with more discussion, there will be more education and a greater ability for students to get the protections they are entitled to and deserve.

If you think your own or a loved one’s rights under Title IX may have been violated, call me for a free consultation at (215) 875-8000.