Mar. 20, 2017 Community Update
Questions & Answers Regarding the Recent OCR Title IX Inquiry
When and how were you notified of the latest Title IX investigation?
On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, we received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) asking Southwestern to provide some information regarding our policies and procedures related to sexual misconduct cases and an individual sexual misconduct case adjudicated by our Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board. On Thursday, March 16, President Burger notified the campus community and Trustees. Parents received the message through the Office of University Relations.
Why did they open the investigation?
An individual registered a complaint with the OCR regarding the University’s processing of the case and/or any resulting disciplinary action. We have not been made aware of the exact nature of this complaint to the OCR.
What exactly is the OCR investigating?
The OCR is investigating whether we provided a prompt and equitable response to a complaint of sexual misconduct. It is a review of our general policies and procedures and our handling of that specific complaint, and we welcome that review.
Were you aware of the allegation before the OCR’s investigation letter was sent to Southwestern?
Since this current investigation by OCR is based upon our handling of a particular sexual misconduct complaint, we were of course aware of the sexual misconduct allegation by the individual bringing the complaint, and we handled the complaint in full compliance with our policies for handling such complaints. The letter we received from the OCR on March 15 was the first time we became aware that the individual involved in the allegations had—subsequent to our sexual misconduct hearing—filed a complaint to the OCR about our handling of it.
What does this formal complaint to the OCR allege?
We have not yet seen the complaint made to the OCR by the individual involved as it was not provided in what we received from the OCR. We have been informed by the OCR that its opening of an investigation in no way implies that it has made a determination regarding the merits of the complaint it has received, and that OCR is a neutral-fact finder. We have been asked to provide information about our handling of such complaints and other information relating to Title IX. In addition, we have been asked more specifically for information about our handling of the sexual misconduct process used to investigate and reach a resolution of the individual’s complaint of sexual misconduct.
Where and when did the incident occur and who was involved?
To protect our students’ right to privacy and in compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Southwestern does not disclose the specifics of this or any case.
What steps will occur in response to these investigations?
The University will respond to the OCR’s questions and provide all documents it requests. We are confident that upon a review of SU policies, SU will be found compliant with Title IX. However, as President Burger noted in his message to the SU community, if the OCR makes suggestions on how we can improve, we will welcome that input.
What are the potential outcomes that might arise from the investigation? In the case that SU is ruled as having violated Title IX policy, what would occur and how would SU respond?
Our understanding is that OCR investigations of this type may result in an agreement between the OCR and a university that the latter make certain improvements in its processes going forward. As stated earlier, we welcome the OCR’s review and any suggestions it may have. The University continually reviews policies, procedures, and practices and will continue to do so.
Why was this reported in the media before the Southwestern community was made aware?
As it often does throughout the year, the OCR updated a list made available to the press in which it listed all of the 314 open investigations, and it highlighted the latest additions to that list. In this case, this press release was received by the media before we received notification from the OCR. This is why the Houston Chronicle article appeared before we released a statement.
What do you say to those that say a second complaint in two years is a sign of a systemic problem at the University?
We continue our commitment to preventing sexual misconduct. We meet regularly to discuss our campus-wide commitment to a safe environment and have been proactively developing initiatives through our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction Committee and other entities. Conversations with student and other groups are continuing as part of our evaluation of our training program and procedures. In the end, a change in any campus’s environment comes when all interested parties work together – in this case to raise awareness of what constitutes sexual misconduct and how we can best express our community’s commitment to end any form of sexual misconduct.
Are the two complaints of investigations linked at all?
How many complaints of sexual misconduct has the University received?
The University has responded to all issues of sexual misconduct that have been reported, either formally or informally, and done so with due process for all students involved. Since the fall of 2013, Southwestern has conducted 79 investigations. Not all investigations result in a hearing (some complainants do not wish to pursue a hearing and prefer to make use of University resources other than the judicial process).
What does the university do to educate students about sexual misconduct?
The University takes a multi-pronged approach to educating students about sexual misconduct. During orientation, all new students are required to attend three hours of programming to help them understand the definitions of sexual misconduct and the University’s affirmative consent policy. Incoming students are also required to complete an online educational module before coming to campus. University departments and student organizations conduct programs throughout the academic year, including bystander intervention training, panel discussions, consent campaigns, self-defense courses, alcohol awareness events, and more. Our “Yellow Book” (Help for Sexual Assault/Sexual Misconduct), available online and in hard copy, is a complete resource regarding the University’s sexual misconduct policy, how to get confidential help, and how and to whom to report incidents of sexual misconduct.
How are charges of sexual misconduct handled at SU?
Our policy and procedures are included in the “Yellow Book,” available for download here.
When and where did the alleged sexual assault occur and when was it reported?
We do not reveal the specifics of exactly when the alleged sexual misconduct occurred because – on a very small campus – it might inadvertently reveal to some the identity of the persons involved (both complainant and respondent). Privacy is required by law and assuring confidentiality encourages reporting of these very serious offenses to our community. We can state, however, that the incident involved in the OCR notice we received on March 15 occurred more than a year ago.
When was the “Yellow Book” created?
The “Yellow Book” was created in 2006.
Has Southwestern received an update from OCR regarding the investigation of March 2016?
We have not heard from OCR regarding the earlier investigation. The average time for OCR to complete such investigations is 1.6 years, with some investigations taking up to six years.
How can I find out the status of investigations and other information regarding Title IX?
The Title IX web page is updated frequently, and as information becomes available, it will be shared through that page.
Posted March 20, 2017