Courtesy of The Villanovan
On Friday, Aug. 14, new Title IX regulations went into effect mandating how colleges and universities investigate and adjudicate formal complaints of sexual misconduct involving students, faculty and staff. These new rules have impacted two areas of Title IX for the University: hearings and training.
“We recognize that our work as a community isn’t done,” Ryan Rost, Title IX Coordinator for the University, said in an interview with The Villanovan.
Complainants and respondents are now both required to have an advisor present at a hearing to conduct cross-examinations. Consistent with the Violence Against Women Act amendments to the Clery Act, the University has long permitted parties to have advisors. Under the new Title IX regulations, parties must be accompanied by an advisor to a hearing, so the advisor can ask relevant questions of the party and witnesses. If a party does not have a self-selected advisor for a hearing, the University will provide one who has been trained in the topic of sexual misconduct.
“Our approach to these types of situations is that while it was not required for a student to have an advisor, we always felt it was important that our students were not going through these types of situations by themselves,” Rost said. “For Villanova, we felt it was the right approach to have someone to support them in some way, shape or form. The requirement is now in line with our practices, from a support standpoint, but the requirement has gone a step further, allowing the advisor to conduct live cross-examination questions.”
Section 106.45(b) of the 2020 Title IX Rules require the sharing of “[a]ll materials used to train Title IX Coordinators, investigators, decision-makers, and any person who facilitates an informal resolution process. A recipient must make these training materials publicly available on its website, or if the recipient does not maintain a website the recipient must make these materials available upon request for inspection by members of the public.” The University is now legally required to make training materials publicly available.
The University is a member of the Student Conduct Institute, hosted by The State University of New York. SCI provides member institutions with training materials to train Title IX Coordinators, investigators, decision-makers, and any person who facilitates an informal resolution process in Title IX compliance and practices. These materials can be accessed through the University’s website.
The University’s Title IX Coordinator, Deputy Title IX Coordinators, investigators, hearing panel members, appellate officers, informal resolution facilitators and anyone issuing sanctions or disciplinary action is required to undergo training pertinent to Title IX and cases of secual misconduct.
“We are in the process of developing materials specific to Villanova,” Rost mentioned.
When the new Title IX regulations were issued in May, the University convened a Title IX Policy Committee, with key stakeholders from across campus. Faculty and staff from Student Life, the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, University Compliance Office, Office of the Provost, Human Resources, Charles Widger School of Law, Public Safety and Athletics were included in conversations, as well as students across campus and colleges.
“Our policy is reviewed and adjusted every summer, regardless of new regulations, so this was really a continuation of what our standard practice already is,” Rost said.
Throughout the summer, Rost worked with University representatives to facilitate conversations with students, faculty and staff, including two Title IX Listening Sessions, which were attended by more than 100 community members. The Title IX Policy Committee utilized feedback to update the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.
“A bigger focus from students that I spoke to was wanting transparency and explanation about decisions made by the University in regards to Title IX and why those decisions were made,” Rost said.
While many aspects of Title IX have changed for educational institutions, the University has long implemented additional regulations for cases of sexual misconduct, and many rules have not changed for members of the community.
The standard of evidence for the University will remain “Preponderance of the Evidence,” following a more likely than not standard for all cases of sexual misconduct. All sexual misconduct covered under the previous policy remains covered under the new policy — incuding sexual harassment, sexual assualt, sexual exploitation, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and retaliation.
The University will continue to address sexual misconduct that occurs off campus, online, or abroad. Under the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, the school acknowledges the significant impact sexual misconduct has on community members, regardless of where the incident occurs.
“It is the responsibility of every Villanovan to create a safe environment for all of our community members to live, learn, work and visit,” University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, PhD, O.S.A., wrote in a comprehensive email to the community on Aug. 20. “By doing so, Villanova can be what our mission, and the spirit of caritas, calls us to be — a place where mutual love and respect guide all aspects of community life.”
Additionally, all University faculty and staff, except confidential resources, must report information about any incident of sexual misconduct to Rost, as the Title IX Coordinator, or to a Deputy Title IX Coordinator. Numerous resources and supportive measures to those impacted by sexual misconduct will continue to be offered to all members of the community.
In regards to hearings, in line with processes of the past, the University will not force any community member to go through any particular process. Parties involved will receive information regarding the formal complaint process, but complainants and respondents both have the right to choose weather or not to participate in the grievance procedures.
New regulations require the availability of an informal resolution option if agreed upon by all parties and the University, except in cases of alleged employee-on-student sexual misconduct. Prior to the new regulations taking effect, the University had already provided the option of an informal resolution process, upon request and agreement by all parties and the University.
In compliance with University and CDC guidelines, the option of live hearings via remote technology will now be provided by the University. Formal resolution of most student sexual misconduct complaints, and some faculty and staff complaints, have been adjudicated via live, in-person hearings. Whether held in-person or via remote technology, the University will continue to have a clear policy that prohibits disruptive, threatening, intimidating or uncivil behavior during hearings.
“Villanova has an ongoing commitment to strengthening our resources for all members of our community, with a focus on supporting vulnerable and marginalized populations,” Rost wrote in her email to the community on Aug. 31. “Education and prevention efforts will continue to emphasize support for impacted individuals, as well as prompt and equitable processes in response to reports and complaints of sexual misconduct.”
As the policies evolve over the course of the school year, the University seeks longer-term, broad input from several members of the community. The University Compliance Office will host several Community Conversations during the month of September for community members to learn more and provide input about policy changes. In addition to Community Conversations, the University will launch sexual misconduct prevention and awareness education and training for all community members.
“We also recognize the need for ongoing dialogue regarding sexual misconduct prevention and response in order to create an environment free from harassment and sexual violence,” Rost wrote.