Today I’m hosting a guest blogger at Tenure She Wrote talking about Title IX office and the process by which complaints are handled. For reasons which will become clear, this is written by a contributor who will remain anonymous.


Gaslighting: How Universities Use Their Title IX Office to Crush Complaints.

by Anonymous

Sexual assaults, harassment, gender and racial biases occur with frightening regularity for women in academia. In spite of increasing awareness of these problems, there is very little about what the Title IX process looks like from a personal perspective.

Participating in a Title IX case is nothing short of soul crushing. Your university will not support you, you will be the subject of gossip and, perhaps most distressingly, you will be intimidated and retaliated against for your honesty. Retaliation is illegal under Title IX, but not only does it occur, it is cornerstone of the process by which academics are silenced and, I suspect, the reason I could find so few first hand accounts of participating in a case.

I offer this advice based on my experience.

  1. Get a lawyer. Immediately. Even if you are a witness. Your participation in a Title IX action, or even your failure to participate, could cost you your job. Spend $1500 to keep your job. You will want a lawyer specializing in employment law. Look for things like ‘Best of the Bar’ in your local business journal. You should not tell your university you have a lawyer. It just makes them anxious. I don’t know or care why, but it does.
  2. Find a killer posse. Your already stressful academic life is about to get intolerable. Your posse should have 1000% (not a type-o) allegiance to you alone and your sanity. They will probably be academics who understand crappy academic behavior. Do not engage work colleagues. Your posse will be people who will never talk about you or your case. These people will be your lifesavers. Cherish them.
  3. Get a restraining order or other police protection if needed. I put this as the third point, because your killer posse is now the best judge of what is scary. You may be have been exposed repeatedly to a culture that allows people to behave in threatening ways as ‘a joke’. Take your safety seriously.
  4. If you are filing the complaint, do not send it to the university’s Title IX office. You’ll be directed there by every imaginable administrator and told they are independent of the university. This is utter bullshit. Google “US Department of Education Investigates Title IX…” and you’ll get a quick education in just how seriously in bed your admin is with the Title IX office. They are totally in bed together. Naked and humping like mad. File your complaint online here https://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/OCR/complaintform.cfm And file it within 180 days of your concerns coming to a head. If you are not the complainant, you don’t have a choice on who handles the complaint, so you’ll need to go with what is handed to you.
  5. Complaintants: Fill the 9 questions online and make it short and sweet. Then you can write out your whole life story somewhere else.
  6. Shut the first umbrella (STFU): You will suddenly be popular with your colleagues. People will drop by your office to ask you small questions and then give you looks of concern asking ‘if you’re okay’. You need to STFU. These people are not going to help you.
  7. You’re going to get an email from the Title IX office if you are a witness or have filed the complaint asking for a 15 minute interview.
  8. Ask if you can have your chairman/vice chairman/mentor/anyone who can back up what you are saying to your investigator. This person does NOT need to be involved in the case. You will need this person to verify that you told the investigator information they will deny, lose or not include in their report. You read that correctly. The system you are relying upon to report misconduct is about to rock your world in the worst way.
  9. The Title IX office will come after you. Their whole goal, in my experience, is to try to make any complaint go away. The easiest way to do this is to destroy witnesses. The easiest witnesses to destroy those who are tied to their university because they are afraid they will lose their jobs/academic standing/colleagues/students. Outside witnesses not affiliated with the university have little at stake. You, however, have a lot to lose.
  10. Do the interview as soon as you can. The investigator will want to come to you. This will be an effort to put you at ease and have you say too much. They will be a lawyer but will not identify themselves this way.
  11. When they get there, tell (don’t ask) them you are going to record the interview for both of you. This can be easily done with free phone apps. If they protest, say your dad/husband/brother/shaman/internet guru has been thru this or is a lawyer and insisted you do this. I’m insisting you do this. Offer to share the recording right away and send it to them by email before they leave your office. They will not like this and will be anxious. This recording can save your career.
  12. Saying anything other than what you witnessed/experienced is too much. This information will be used to introduce new information about you and you are about to become the focus of the investigation. This sounds absurd, but it’s true. The Title IX office will follow any true or untrue information the defendant provides about you, they can find on your social media accounts or hear through the academic grapevine (see Step 16).
  13. The sole goal of the investigator is to get you to share any information that can be used to discredit you. If you say something like “I had heard s/he was creepy, but I thought they were great when we spoke”, this will show up in a report saying ‘the witness/complainant knew of the defendant and thought they were creepy’. They want to present you as a biased person prone to drama/lies/gossip/litigation.
  14. Know that being honest does not meaning being candid. Do not ever, for any reason, answer open ended questions asked by either your administrator or the Title IX office. “Tell me about how you came to work here or know the person in the case” are both open ended questions. Think of the Title IX investigator as the defendants personal attorney. Treat them respectfully but know their goal is to make this go away for the University.
  15. Engage the investigator in email. After your interview, follow up reiterating any key points. Investigators loathe email. After they get your email, your phone will ring. Don’t answer it. Make them respond by email. They won’t answer your question or engage but will offer to have more phone conversations or in person interviews. Approve all emails with your lawyer.
  16. The investigation now becomes about you. The Title IX investigator will come back asking for a second meeting for just ‘5 minutes’. The will show ‘information that has come to light’ that casts you in a bad light. Maybe it was the qual student from the defendants group who thought you were mean, or a gossiping faculty member who thinks you’re too political or an email with a few lines highlighted when you first brought the matter to the admins attention. Regardless, it will be taken out of context. The information is wrong and you can easily clarify it. Do not engage. If you go on the record, and all of these conversations are on the record, your credibility has become something you will discuss. (Think of the parallel of this as asking a sexual assault survivor about her sexual history). Guard your privacy like its your job, because it could cost you your job.
    • How do I do that? Pull the ‘oh gosh, my dad/brother/shaman the lawyer absolutely said they’d be mad as heck if I said anything more….I’ll have to refer you to them’. You haven’t said you have a lawyer, but you know, they get it. Use this often.
  17. The investigator will ask for more interviews with the sole goal of making you share more. They will say things like, “I really see your point of view, but maybe we could talk more about how this came about”. You have been societally conditioned to be helpful to everyone. Give that up. Now. You are 100% able to say, ‘give me a list of questions, and I will send you an email’ but if you have said everything you have to say regarding the incident, shut your face.
  18. The investigator will want to let you know how the case has concluded in person. Unless you filed the complaint, don’t get involved in this. If you are the complainant, do this with your lawyer. This is another chance for the Title IX office to sideline you. Their goal is to get you on record as saying their finding is ‘unbelievable’ or anything revealing you had a bias. You don’t need to hear the findings, because the answer is that they found in the defendants behalf. They always do. They will not send you the report. Refer the Title IX office to your lawyer if they persist in asking you to meet.
  19. You will now get an email from someone with a very big title who is your bosses, bosses super boss. They will also confront you with something that puts you in a poor light (see step 16). They will also be the first people who will officially tell you that the case was found to be without merit. The super boss will say they are taking your ‘bad’ and totally unrelated behavior very seriously and maybe threaten you with disciplinary action. Do not engage with this or try to clarify it. Take some notes. You are taking notes of being intimidated and retaliated against.
  20. Go back to your lawyer. Write an email to the super boss that you view this as retaliatory and threatening. Have your lawyer edit the email to ensure that it is admissible in later actions.
  21. Go back to https://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/OCR/complaintform.cfm file a complaint against your university for intimidating you.

This process is ugly, long and can get expensive but I hope I just saved you a few extra thousand dollars in legal bills, some sanity and a lot of sleepless nights. If this sounds terrible, it is. But if you ever want anything to get better for students and colleagues who are sexually assaulted or done an injustice because of their race, gender or sexuality, you need to do this. In house Title IX offices are just doing the worst of the dirty work and this practice of universities investigating themselves is absurd. You also need to be willing to lose your job doing this. It’s the right thing to do. I’ve done it and I know.


UPDATED TO ADD two three links that are highly relevant to this discussion.

1. From The Chronicle – a summary of the results from the Association of American Universities survey: 1 in 4 Female Undergrads Experienced Sex Assault or Misconduct, AAU Survey Finds

2. From Huffingon Post in their Breaking the Silence: Addressing Sexual Assult on Campus series: UVA Violated Title IX, had ‘Mixed Record’ On Sexual Assault Cases, Federal Investigation Finds.

3. Added 9/24/2015: Another from Huffington Post by @TylerKingkade Students punished for sexual assault should have transcripts marked, Title IX group says

19 thoughts on “Title IX- A STEP BY STEP GUIDE

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  3. This is sound advice for any type of investigation you may be involved in, even one involving students. In a more general sense, I would particularly recommend #8 (take someone with you), #11 (record anything you can) and #12 (being honest is not being candid) as the golden rules for a number of different scenarios, a couple of which I have weathered. And even if the situation does not warrant hiring a lawyer, at least make and appointment with one for a consultation. #6 is very true – even if your colleagues are sympathetic, they will tout the “of course you are right, it isn’t FAIR” line, but your case is not about fairness, that doesn’t carry any weight whatsoever in an investigation, you need a couple of good technical or legal points to base your arguments on and a lawyer can help you find these. Then stick to those specific points (hopefully identifiable facts), and read #12 again.

    Well-articulated post. I hope the writer and their career is going well now.

  4. FWIW, I was in a department where a well-established faculty member was fired (or whatever it was, don’t know of the details, either way he was permanently gone) after grad students filed sexual harassment reports. The whole thing took maybe 2-3 months. The grad students are still there. So, at least some places something happens. My suspicion is that if the university has previously been in title IX trouble with the feds, they are far more worried about that then they are about the feelings/job of some professor who is causing problems.

  5. Thank you for the positive comments and help spreading my story through social media and email.
    While I had hoped that the investigation would be short, it was not. I certainly hadn’t heard of any Title IX complaints leading to dismissal within 2-3 months, so I’m glad swift appropriate action is being taken at some universities.
    I’m not going to comment on the state of my career at the moment (for obvious reasons), but I appreciate the sentiment of wishing me well. It has been intensely difficult, to say the least. In the context of the ongoing issues in the media, I have two comments I hope the Tenure She Wrote readers find helpful.
    The first is that I have seen nothing good come from the spurt of awareness of Title IX protections which occurred following the Department of Education’s investigation of 100+ schools*. Right now, I see university administration so worried about being Title IX complaint that they are mindlessly throwing money at administrators and middle managers who are ‘Trained in Title IX’ or can serve as ‘Title IX Compliance Officers’. In my experience, this has been just a box to check in the hopes the University will fall off the radar of the Department of Education. There is a strong sense that people who are good at paperwork and willing to harangue complainants, rather than those who are concerned with equity, safety, and honesty, are being placed in these positions. The culture I have seen is one of warnings, reprimands and fear which only increases the backlash against ‘political correctness’. I see faculty who are genuinely concerned with the issues of Title IX protections shuffled off to mindless, powerless and unfunded committees to discuss matters amongst themselves. I have come to the sad conclusion that many administrators seem to hope that any real issues will simply dissipate by the overwhelming work-load most academics face.
    Second, I would implore readers to know that every time see a colleague, student or employee act in a way that demeans women, minorities or other groups afforded equal (not special) rights under Title IX, you must address it. There is no good time in your career to do this. You will never have enough job security. You will never have enough friends in power and you will never have time for this. There are many, many people who did nothing in the case I wrote about, and I persist in my belief that they are good. They just made the wrong choice. And they saw others do the same and it seemed okay. When you do nothing, it gets easier for that person to hurt the careers and lives of the most vulnerable people in the system. The act you see or distressing thing you hear them say is never (ever) done in isolation.
    I’d like to thank @scitrigrrl for allowing me to post this and the women at Tenure She Wrote for providing this amazing platform. It is very much appreciated.


  6. “Price of liberty” and “eternal vigilance” and all that, true words whomever said them (Apparently it probably wasn’t Jefferson, but might have been Andrew Jackson).

  7. This post is incredibly sobering and incredibly important. It should be required reading for every single university employee or student.

    I have noticed that when the victims of these offenses are faculty/employees, there are even less clear channels for reporting and disciplinary action than when the victim is a student. The stakes and risks are, well, not necessarily higher, but very very different. So let’s remember that the victims here are not always students. They are also your colleagues, and that makes them very vulnerable.

    • Yes, and as mentioned in the original post – they need support to boost their integrity and any admin processes, and maybe help if you are able to take one of their classes (or something else practical) if they are snowed under with these matters; but they probably don’t want wishy washy sympathy (unless they are a close friend and ask to cry on your shoulder, their call – not yours). We should try to listen to what they want, not anticipate what we think they need.

  8. I am so sorry to hear about your experience. (Or more accurately, I feel sorry for what I am imagining was your experience.) A question for you. I am a recently appointed dean in a SLAC in the northeast who will be working closely with Title IX investigators as part of my job. How can I help this process be more fair and transparent? How can those of us with (some) power, help this situation?

  9. Thanks for asking, SLAC Dean, and congratulations on your new job.
    I think that simply wanting to do better is a welcome addition to this dialogue. If I were in a position of influence, I would consider the following items (in no particular order)
    1. Apologize to witnesses and complainants. Not for your actions but for a situation that is miserable and painful. Giving those involved a sense that you, as Dean, take ownership of the failings of your weakest links is important. In medicine and business we have known for a long time that the more clearly we engage consumers/patients when there is a mistake with an open admission of shortcomings, people are validated in their awful pain and healing can begin. I titled this post ‘Gaslighting’ for the simple reason that no one acknowledged in leadership has ever acknowledged this situation was dreadful and they owned their part in making it better. Simply saying ‘I’m so sorry I could have done better . I see that. What do you need right now? How can I make this better now and in the future?’ These sorts of things ultimately are more satisfactory, less expensive and activate a more fluid system that encourages opening a dialogue based on mutual respect and desire to do better. Note that UVA has still not accepted responsibility for mishandling a dozen cases cited by the Dept of Education. The only reason we know about UVA is because they have reached a settlement with DOE. DOE found that UVA has/had a ‘hostile environment’ for reporting. This is painfully obvious for many of us.
    2. Poll widely for similar offenses by the defendant(s). If it occurred in a dorm, call a dorm meeting and say ‘there has been an incident….we will have people on site and at X locations and we want to hear about anything you have experienced that falls under this category’. Poll the classes and groups the defendant participated in to get other stories of Title IX offenses. You do not need to start the investigation of the particular circumstances and evidence, but anyone who has their own story can feel they were given an opportunity to come forward.
    3. Offer time and resources to fix the immediate damage caused to reputation, health, and families. Do this without the expectation it is part of a settlement and don’t ask people to sign away their rights. People in the case may sue you. It happens. But a financial support tool would be practical, helpful and save additional angst. For this advice, I looked to the example of airlines that have accidents. These businesses immediately cut checks to families to cover lost wages, pay for funerals, travel, and other immediate needs. While the airlines could quibble about the cause of the accident, they take ownership of it and are sensitive to the many practical problems of people who are hurt. This is not to say I suggest cutting checks to everyone who has a complaint or is a witness per se, but know that reasonable efforts should be made to make his less burdensome.
    4. Be a highly cautious consumer of the untested programs and training material that is being pushed at academia in an effort to capitalize on the mess the Title IX process has become. I am not impressed with anything I have seen. It is all very ‘defensive’ in how people are managed.
    5. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the literature on healing, atonement and justice as it pertains to those disenfranchised by the system. I really have come to love the South African model put in place by Mandela where everyone is forgiven if they simply own what they did publically. I have no doubt that I will be proven “right” at some future time (hopefully in this lifetime!) but we need to reward those who are diligent in being present in this process.
    6. Aggressively be the tone police. You don’t need to go far on the internet to find Uni students being snarky and derogatory of the process of learning about Title IX and protecting people. Go after them if they are yours. They make you look like jerks. I’m not advocating for expelling/firing anyone for these concerns but have your social media folks be vigilant in identifying them and asking them to come and share their concerns and why they are disenfranchised. Make these voices part of the dialogue.
    7. Share data. Kate Clancy did a fabulous job of bringing sexual assault and harassment to light in a study in 2014*. Dispelling or confirming widely held beliefs about the incidence of false reporting, who is committing Title IX offenses (students, employees, faculty) and looking at psychological outcomes of victims will continue to hone our ability to dispell false ideas and do better in this process.

    Know that I disagree with University involvement/handling of any cases of violence. These are police matters. And not campus police. If a person is raped, beaten or otherwise assaulted, looking to campus police or the University in the hopes of privacy and normalcy is untenable and unrealistic. It also promotes a culture of shame. If someone was violently assaulted in any other matter, protecting them is paramount. Privacy, however, is not the guiding principle. I believe that many bad choices are made under the cloak of promoting privacy.

    I hope this helps. And again, thank you for your interest.

    * http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/17/young-scientists-face-rampant-sexual-harassment-in-the-field/

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  13. Item 4, bringing someone with you as a witness to the meeting, is written into the contract of most teachers at the elementary level. After I had an instance of an administrator summarizing our meeting in writing inaccurately, adding information in that was not part of the meeting, and deleting positive aspects of the meeting, I insisted on my right to have an observer whose job was to neutrally take notes on any subsequent meetings (about a topic that required subsequent meetings). All meetings after that became much more professional, as were the write ups. Ultimately, our differences were resolved to my (and the admin’s) satisfaction. With big thanks to my union steward who sat in at all meetings, saying nothing, taking notes. Do take an observer, do record the meetings. They will instantly become more professional, more honest, less hostile. (I have also been a recording observer for others.)

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