Title IX Gets Complicated

Title IX gets complicatedTitle IX gets complicated

Since the 1970s, students who endured gender-related discrimination, harassment, or assault could seek redress by filing a formal complaint—in large part due to Title IX, the federal civil rights statute that forbids discrimination in education based on sex. The regulations ensured that colleges and universities, including Carleton, took threats to equality seriously.

Last spring, however, the US Department of Education introduced changes to the statute that have made filing formal complaints significantly more complicated, and Carleton and other academic institutions have been scrambling to comply with the new regulations.

According to Laura Riehle-Merrill, Carleton’s Title IX coordinator, the most notable change is to the formal complaint process, which culminates in a hearing. Specifically, parties must now submit to cross-examination by the other party’s self-selected adviser, which could be a parent, a friend, or even a lawyer. That might seem fair in a court of law, but responding to questions, especially in person, can be traumatic for people who have experienced sexual harassment or assault—which is why, up until now, Title IX–compliant schools did not allow complainants to be questioned by private citizens or conduct hearings with parties in the same physical space.

To mitigate the potential chilling effects of face-to-face encounters and unpredictable interrogations, Carleton has kept crucial people and protocols in place: the community board that reviews the complaint, for example, is trained in how to handle issues that are trauma-based. Additionally, the college will allow parties to attend hearings via video (even post-COVID) rather than having to occupy the same room.

Riehle-Merrill says the college will also continue to offer other options, like limiting interactions between parties or granting a complainant’s request to switch classes or dorms. “Whether or not a party opts to make a formal complaint, there’s a great deal of support we can offer—academic or housing accommodations, a broad and mutual no-contact order, and referral to counseling,” she says. “Carleton will continue to do everything in our power to make our policy and process as supportive and trauma-informed as possible.”

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