Most college students are broadly familiar with Title IX. According to the Department of Justice, this law 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 College, although a private institution, receives government funding and is, therefore, required to enforce Title IX. The more complex and widely known proceedings listed under Title IX are the policies surrounding sexual harassment and violence.
“Colby has a policy that the Department of Education requires you to have that addresses… what falls under [the] broad umbrella of sexual harassment is sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner dating violence, and stalking… It’s really important for people to understand that our Title IX sexual harassment policy covers a broader range of behaviors,” Meg Hatch, the College’s Title IX coordinator and Associate Dean for the Student Experience said. There are many avenues available at the College to report anything that may fall under the broad umbrella the U.S. Department of Education classifies as “sexual harassment.”
Who to go to for resources
Emily Schusterbauer, the Confidential Title IX Advisor, tends to be the first stop for students who have experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, and/or stalking.
“Anyone can go to her and talk about what they’ve experienced. She is well versed in our policy and what processes are generally available to students,” Hatch said.
“She’s not required to share any information that she receives with me as the Title IX coordinator.”
Schusterbauer is not considered in this case a “responsible employee.” Responsible employees are required to report anything they hear about sexual misconduct to the Title IX coordinator. This includes Hatch and most faculty and staff, except for those who work at the counseling center, those who work at the health center, and the Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life. But speaking to a responsible employee is not as scary as people often think.
“If someone has information that someone may have experienced something that falls under those four broad categories, it’s my responsibility as the Title IX coordinator to ensure that I reach out to that person and let them know what the resources are, what’s confidential on campus, what’s confidential off campus, and what are the other things that are available to them here at Colby… [the person who reported] is not under any obligation to do anything else,” Hatch explained.
Schusterbauer’s office is located on the second floor of the Pugh Center in room 234, and Meg Hatch’s office is located on the second floor of Eustis in room 210A.
No Action Reporting
Students can choose to file a report and ask that no action be taken against the other person/people involved. The names of the accused parties are then entered into a database that keeps track of these reports.
“Most of the time we can honor this request, but there are three exceptions,” says Hatch.
(1) The events reported pose a threat to the safety of the rest of the College’s campus
(2) The person being reported has been reported before
(3) The person being reported is a faculty/staff member
If a report falls under these categories, the student is generally kept updated every step of the way. The student is also not obligated to participate in the investigative process but can choose to. If the accused party has been reported before, the students who filed previous reports will also be contacted about the investigation and are also under no obligation to participate.
“People can ask for no action but absolutely can come back in a week, or a month, or six months and say ‘I made a report, I asked for no action last time I was here but now I would like to have something else,’ and we can certainly do that,” Hatch said.
Informal Resolution Agreement Process
This process is initiated by a student sharing with Hatch what they had experienced.
“If the student is coming to me, it’s likely they’ve already had some time to think about what they would like to have as part of an informal resolution agreement that will allow them to continue to access everything that they should be able to access with some certain safety measures in place,” Hatch explained.
These agreements often include no contact orders between the parties and specific times the other parties can be in different spaces on campus. An anonymous student recounts her experience going through the informal resolution.
“My main goal [with the resolution] was that I didn’t want [the other parties] to go along thinking it was okay to do what they did again to someone else and I didn’t want that to be the environment they created… There’s a lot of things you can insert like no leadership positions or positions of power,” the student explained. “Don’t be afraid to ask for things.”
The reporting party can lay out everything they would like to have as part of the agreement, and then it is approved by the responding parties and the school itself. The responding parties can negotiate the terms of the agreement through the Title IX coordinators until a final agreement has been reached.
“At this point, the case is resolved,” Hatch said. “Neither party can come back in a week or a month or six months and say… ‘I want a different thing’ unless there have been additional things that have happened.”
“It was a lot of back and forth between me and the other parties,” the student explained. “One of the other parties is gone for the year and then the other party is here but they have strict restrictions on where they can go so I don’t have to bump into them like, they’re not allowed within my dorm, I get Dana they get Bobs, stuff like that.”
Formal Reporting Process
If a student wants to go through the formal resolution process, the receiving parties are brought in by Hatch to explain the situation.
“Here at Colby, we partner with outside investigators,” said Hatch.
“We have a pool of attorneys that specialize in Title IX broadly and then Colby’s policies specifically, so their job is to investigate.”
These investigators gather any evidence that might exist and conduct interviews with all parties involved. The student previously mentioned went through the beginnings of the formal reporting process before switching to the informal resolution.
“Each person probably went through…a three-hour interview,” she said. “After the interviews were done, we were just waiting for the investigator to create a synthesis of the report… it ended up being a document that was over a thousand pages long… she had to create a synthesis because at the end of the formal process there would be a [hearing]. I ended up stopping right before the hearing.”
The hearing required both parties to be present with their advisors and a single adjudicator who listens to the testimonies and makes a final decision as to whether or not the Title IX policy was violated. Both parties can also be cross-examined. The formal process is set by the federal Title IX guidelines and can be a long, arduous process.
“They were talking more about informal [resolution] because it was really just going on for too long. I think it was around early to mid-September when I decided this is just too much… this process [started in] mid to late March,” the student said. “There was definitely…the expectation that I did informal. Even my own lawyer was very much pushing towards it. I know Colby just kind of wanted to be done with it, and the other parties wanted to be done with it of course. Everyone wanted to do it and it was easiest so that’s what I went for.”
Changes in Title IX
In 2020, under the Trump administration, some significant changes were made to the federal definition of Title IX.
“I describe what happened when 2020 regulations came out as a narrowing of the behaviors that were defined under Title IX,” says Hatch. “It’s important for folks to know that when this happened, we didn’t just say ‘oh these things just no longer apply’… what we did was move those behaviors under our student code of conduct.”
Hatch also wants to dispel the myth that infractions of the Student Code of Conduct are not taken as seriously as Title IX.
“We still take [those behaviors] pretty seriously, and they can have some pretty serious consequences,” she explained.
Title IX also changed where the College has jurisdiction to enforce its Title IX policy. It covers only things that happen in the U.S. on land owned by the College. Hatch assures students that the College still addresses issues outside of the Title IX–governed jurisdiction but through external processes.
As previously mentioned in this article, the formal reporting process currently culminates in a hearing with both parties present. Before 2020, the formal reporting process at the College consisted of a panel of faculty and staff that would review all the evidence gathered by the investigators and come to an agreement surrounding disciplinary measures.
“The parties didn’t have to participate in that process. They could provide written impact statements about how the case has impacted them… they didn’t have to come in and provide testimony,” Hatch said. “The hearing feels very much like a courtroom whereas the panel… was quite frankly less painful and traumatic for everyone.”
The U.S. Department of Education is in the process of reviewing the current Title IX policies passed in 2020, so there will likely be a new policy in place in the spring. But for now, these are the avenues available for students who want to report an incident and/or be provided resources for support.
~ Mahika Gupta `23