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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Complaintants: Fill the 9 questions online and make it short and sweet. Then you can write out your whole life story somewhere else.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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