UPDATE: Chapman’s sexual misconduct policy is changing, here’s why it matters

Half of Americans think men getting away with sexual misconduct is a major problem, according to data from Pew Research Center. Photo by Claire Treu.

UPDATE: Responses from Chapman’s Lead Title IX Coordinator Deann Yocum-Gaffney and Director of Student Conduct Colleen Wood have been added to the story. 

Chapman is changing the way it handles sexual assault and harassment complaints.

The new rules, announced in an email by Dean of Students Jerry Price, directly comply with February rulings in the California Court of Appeals, which found that the accused, if facing serious discipline or expulsion, should have a right to a hearing and be able to question their accuser. This was in response to the controversial expulsion of a student at the University of Southern California (USC), who argued he was “denied a fair hearing” because respondents were biased, according to the appeal.

The new rules – which are effective immediately – also appear to adhere with the wish list of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has requested new policies that give more rights to the accused in sexual misconduct cases.

Title IX has been fiercely criticized by conservatives for setting up accused students – mostly young men –  to be unjustly disciplined by universities after accusations of sexual misconduct and rape. Since her appointment as Secretary of Education, DeVos has frequently expressed concern that the Obama-era reforms may be trampling the rights of accused perpetrators.

Part of this is because Title IX investigations use the preponderance of evidence standard, which makes it easier for someone to be found responsible for sexual misconduct than in criminal cases. Title IX investigations more closely mimic civil cases (like lawsuits) rather than criminal trials. This is because rape if often difficult to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” on college campuses; there are often no witnesses and victims might not feel comfortable reporting an assault until long after they happen. As of now, the preponderance of evidence standard is still in place.

The new Chapman policy, which has to be in compliance with Title IX and state law, states that the outcome of the investigation – whether an alleged perpetrator is found to be “responsible” for an assault or not – will be in the hands of “hearing officers” instead of investigators. This means a live hearing for the accuser, the accused and relevant witnesses will also be conducted, Price said in his email, noting that alleged victims and perpetrators will not be required to be in the same room at the same time. The requirement for a live hearing process is new. Previously, investigators made decisions regarding culpability following investigations – now hearing officers have the final say. The Title IX coordinator will determine what disciplinary actions, if any, will follow the hearing.

Hearing officers are “specially trained university employees who have the responsibility to determine whether the university policy was violated,” according to Chapman’s Lead Title IX Coordinator Deann Yocum-Gaffney. It is at present unclear what type of training hearing officers must complete. The California Court of Appeals calls these officers “neutral fact finders.”

The move also follows a resolution by the Student Government Association (SGA) which asked Chapman to keep the old policies in place.

“These changes are in response to some misconduct at other universities in regards to ‘rushing to judgment’ against the accused,” SGA Upper Senator Alex Ballard told Prowl in an email. “While I do believe that these policies will create additional barriers and hesitations for survivors to come forward, it is an unfortunate fact that this is something out of the university’s hands.”

Both the old and new guidelines stipulate that investigations be completed within 60 days.

The new policy revised the way investigators communicate, requiring a minimum of monthly updates to accusers and the accused at a minimum, which Ballard said SGA’s resolution recommended.

After a complaint is filed, investigators will submit a summary report. A hearing will be granted after a complaint is evaluated by Title IX coordinators. The accuser and accused are then notified and are assigned a hearing officer 10 days prior to the hearing, as stated in the new Misconduct Policy.

“The hearing is an opportunity for the hearing officer(s) to hear from the complainant, respondent, and witness(es) and to gather information needed to determine whether the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy and/or the Student Conduct Code has been violated,” the Misconduct Policy states.

The hearings will be recorded through audio, written notes and/or video and will become the property of the university, but not shared with the public, according to the new policy.

Accusers and alleged assailants are not required to be in  the same room during the hearing because it can be traumatic for victims to face their perpetrator. While the new policy doesn’t state that the accused can “cross-examine” their accusers, it says they can question other parties through the hearing officers.

“During the hearing the complainant and respondent will have the opportunity present their account of the events, to ask questions of other parties through the hearing officer(s), and to provide a closing statement,” the policy states.

Some students are concerned the new protocols will discourage victims from reporting sexual assault and harassment.

Live hearings “will deter people from coming forward. Some people probably won’t want everyone to know what happened to them,” said sophomore math major Justine Sitton.

Either party can refuse to participate in the investigation or hearing, but doing so will impede investigations, administrators warned.  “A lack of participation may be a severe or even insurmountable obstacle for the investigation. As such, if a complainant chooses not to participate in the investigation, the Title IX Coordinator shall determine whether or not to proceed with the investigation,” according to the new Misconduct Policy.

If both parties agree to move forward with the hearing process, hearing officers will release a report to each party deeming the alleged perpetrator not responsible or responsible of violating the policy. If the hearing officers find the latter, Chapman’s Title IX Coordinator will be consulted for further sanctions, according to the new rules.

Disciplinary actions range from loss of privileges, “educational sanctions,” suspension or expulsion, according to the policy.

These changes were made to keep Chapman updated with policies that “follow best practices and are in compliance with relevant guidance and laws,” according to Price.

Ballard said he was “surprised to see this student body-wide announcement from the Dean of Students, especially given that SGA received no notice of these changes prior to this mass communication.”

Some elements of the policy were not included in Price’s email and only “discovered upon a thorough reading of the updated (policy),” Ballard said.

Director of Student Conduct Colleen Wood claimed said she and Yocum-Gaffney had met with Ballard on Feb. 27.

“During that meeting, we noted that we were in the midst of a policy revision due to the case law changes. We also discussed their desire for changes to the amnesty policy as well as other items,” Wood said.

“Further adjustments” to the policy may be made, Price said, promising to keep the campus community informed as changes occur.

 

Correction: A previous version of this story said the Title IX Coordinator would be responsible for determining the disciplinary measures if someone is found to have violated the policy. This has been corrected to say that the hearing officer(s) would consult the Title IX Coordinator. In addition, both the old and new policy guidelines state that a minimum of monthly updates must be provided to the parties involved in an investigation. 

 

Claire Treu and Sydnee Valdez

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