By Connor Toups
On June 23, 1972, Patsy Mink, a congresswoman from Hawaii, watched in triumph as President Nixon signed Title IX, the amendment she had co-sponsored that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational institutions, into law. It’s unclear if Mink knew exactly how impactful Title IX would be in breaking down barriers for women in higher education, or if she knew that Title IX would eventually extend its influence to everything from female college sports to sexual assault protections. Title IX has, in the 40+ years since it became law, transformed the educational sphere and has extended its influence to almost every corner of American education.
Here at Stanford, students have been confronted in recent weeks with numerous new stories about Title IX: a change in policy from Betsy Devos, an investigative report on discrepancies in the process, an investigation into misconduct by a Stanford lecturer, a heartbreaking story on Title IX’s limitations in covering emotional abuse. And yet, despite all this focus on Title IX and the impact it has on college life, the Title IX process with regards to prohibited sexual conduct remains incredibly opaque to the average student. Stanford’s 30-page document outlining its process isn’t exactly the most accessible. In the belief that this publication has a responsibility to inform, I sat down with Jill Thomas, Stanford’s Title IX Coordinator, to understand the process a bit more. Below is a paraphrased account of what she told me:
When someone reports — whether that someone by the complaining student or a “responsible employee” — the first goal of the Title IX office is to provide resources and to make sure they are well. After that, the office hopes to hear out the complaining party, gather information and then “see if the facts line up with the policy definition and violations.” Essentially, they figure out if the offense constitutes a breach of Stanford’s policy on “Prohibited Sexual Conduct.” The coordinator then decides whether or not the office can give a “notice of concern” based on whether or not she believes that there is enough information that “a reasonable panel could sustain a finding of responsibility by a preponderance standard, which is just over 50 percent [certainty that the responding party was responsible.]” Once the office gives a notice of concern, they do an investigation; that investigation report goes to the Title IX Coordinator for her to decide whether or not a notice of charge goes out. Once the coordinator issues a notice of charge, there are a few options: The complaining party can decide they want a “non-hearing process,” which is essentially a contract between the complaining party (the person who came forward to the Title IX office) and the responding party (the person who is accused of misconduct). This non-hearing process maintains the complaining party’s confidentiality to an extent. The two parties agree on a set of terms that they have to abide by for, typically, the duration of the their time at Stanford; for example, the responding party might be barred from certain places on campus that the complaining party likes to frequent. This contract can be amended continuously; Thomas brought up the hypothetical of a complaining party wanting to go to a frat party and amending the contract so that the responding party would be prohibited from attending.
Thomas, however, noted that there’s “always an exception to the rule.” The coordinator can overrule the complaining party’s request for confidentiality and push the complaint towards a formal process because “first and foremost, the Title IX office has a duty to protect students and the community.” The office might overrule a request for confidentiality if, for example, there are numerous reports of misconduct regarding the same student; the 30-page document also mentions the age of the complainant, the involvement of a weapon, physical restraints or battery, or the ability of the University to obtain other relevant information.
If the complaining party wants a formal hearing or if the coordinator overrules the request for a non-hearing process, the process goes to a hearing. After some “evidentiary rulings that happen behind the scenes,” the hearing panel — made up of three people — gets an evidentiary file. The panel can call witnesses, the two parties can testify, witnesses can testify, documents can be entered. The panel then makes a decision; it must come to 3-0 unanimous decision to find someone responsible.
Thomas also mentioned another option. She mentioned that if a student didn’t want to proceed with any formal process but simply wanted to get in official writing with the Title IX office that something had happened to them, the Title IX office would take those reports as well.
In the Provost’s new report on the Title IX process, she emphasized the underreporting that occurs with regards to sexual assault. While there are certainly a plethora of factors for this — a fear of not being believed, of retaliation, of nothing being achieved — we, as a community, have to recognize that the opaqueness of the process also drives students away. It’s on us to fix that opaqueness; it’s on all of us to learn the process; it’s on us to educate our peers on how to report. It’s on us because campus sexual assault affects one in five women on college campuses; it’s on us because one campus assault is one too many; it’s on us because ignorance is part of the problem and not a part of the solution.
Students who wish to report an assault should contact Jill Thomas at 650) 497-4955 or at email@example.com.
Contact Connor Toups at ctoups22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.