Northwestern to add Title IX investigator amid process overhaul

Olivia Exstrum, Campus Editor

Northwestern is in the process of hiring a full-time Title IX investigator, one step in a complete overhaul of the hearing and appeals system for sexual misconduct cases.

The overhaul began in September when NU implemented a new University Hearing and Appeals System for all cases of alleged student misconduct, including sexual assault. Until this academic year, cases of sexual assault were adjudicated through the now-defunct Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System while other conduct cases were resolved through UHAS.

“Northwestern’s conduct process was rewritten completely,” said Tara Sullivan, director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, in an email to The Daily. “Though it retained the name UHAS … it is a completely new process.”

The changes were based on recommendations from the White House and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and new regulations under the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the Clery Act, Sullivan said in an email to The Daily.

In sexual misconduct hearings, the reporting student and the responding student will speak with the panel and an investigator. Title IX Coordinator Joan Slavin said in an email to The Daily that the Title IX office is interviewing candidates for the investigator position. Carrie Wachter, coordinator of sexual violence response services and advocacy at the Center for Awareness, Response, and Education, said there are four finalists for the position. The new job was posted in December. The investigator will also work with the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office.

“We expect that the number of complaints filed will continue to grow given nationwide attention to the issues of campus sexual assault, sexual harassment, and dating and domestic violence,” Slavin said.

Slavin said although the office considered contracting external investigators, hiring a full-time investigator was the “best option.”

“Hiring an employee is more cost-effective,” Slavin said, “and by hiring an investigator, we can ensure that the person is available to conduct investigations for Northwestern whenever needed.”

Wachter said having a full-time investigator will help the voices of students and survivors be heard.

“They’re having a sole person who’s investigating all sexual misconduct,” she said. “It’s a huge win for us.”

Through the new UHAS process, disciplinary cases can be resolved through an administrative or a panel hearing depending on the severity of the complaint. In Administrative Hearings, the accused party and a conduct administrator assigned to the case will discuss the alleged misconduct. All cases of alleged sexual misconduct are referred to a panel hearing. In the new system, the student reporting sexual misconduct does not need to be in the same room as the alleged assailant for the hearing.

Under the new changes, students are not included on the three-member panel hearings for cases of sexual misconduct, according to the 2014-2015 Student Handbook.

Sullivan said in an email that the new process “allows for increased transparency and ease of understanding, increased timeliness, and ensures a process and outcomes that are fair and equitable.”

Under the defunct SAHAS process, the complaining and responding students, who were both in the room for the hearing, each made their case and called witnesses before the panel, which decided whether the respondent had violated policy. The panel also determined sanctions for the respondent.

In addition, not all sexual misconduct cases were adjudicated through panel hearings in SAHAS. Students could have cases of assault resolved by mediation with University administrator or through a panel hearing. The panel included students, faculty and administrators who received training.

In the 2012-2013 academic year, just one case of sexual assault was heard through SAHAS.

Associated Student Government Senate passed a resolution during its meeting on Jan. 28 calling for students to be re-instated on Title IX conduct hearings. When she explained the proposal during ASG’s Jan. 21 meeting, President Julia Watson said including students in the hearings would help keep the process fair.

“Students provide valuable perspective as peers that faculty and staff cannot,” the resolution says. “They relate to the student experience directly and provide insight during questioning and discussion.”

Additionally, a working group began meeting over the summer to decide on a campus climate survey on sexual assault, Slavin said. Health Promotion and Wellness, CARE, the Women’s Center, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, the Office of Student Affairs Assessment and the Office of Institutional Research are all involved in the working group.

The group recommended that the survey be distributed to the student body in April, Slavin said.

Slavin said she has been working with the Office of the Provost to create a new faculty discipline process for cases that involve faculty respondents. She said a draft of the process is currently under review by Faculty Senate’s Faculty Handbook Committee. The new process is in line with new VAWA regulations and U.S. Department of Education Title IX recommendations, she said.

The University is also choosing between two vendors for online Title IX training for faculty, staff and graduate students. Although Slavin said she is unsure of when the training will be implemented, she hopes it will be introduced in phases later this year.

Jeanne Kuang contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @olivesocean

Previous stories on this topic:

    New disciplinary rules include independent investigator in student conduct dispute
    ASG changes election procedure for off-campus senators
    ASG considers proposal to include students on Title IX hearings