Campus Life and Title IX’s jurisdiction, explained

| Senior News Editor

In light of the recent controversy surrounding Kappa Sigma’s new pledge class, Title IX and Campus Life are clarifying their respective roles in the response process to allegations of sexual assault.

Photo by Curran Neenan

The Title IX office does not play a role in sexual assault allegations unless a complaint is brought to the office directly. For action to be initiated, the office needs a description of the situation in order to ensure that it falls under Title IX’s jurisdiction. The office also needs the name of either the survivor or the perpetrator.

With the survivor’s name, the office can reach out to provide resources and inform the survivor of their options if they wish to report. Title IX director Jessica Kennedy acknowledged that if the Title IX Office receives only the perpetrator’s name, the situation is further complicated.

“The situation could be slightly different if what we have is the name of a potential perpetrator, because without more information to go on, it’s difficult to know how to proceed,” Kennedy said. “And generally speaking, we would gather the information that we do have and then make a decision [on] how to move forward.”

Because Kappa Sigma did not reach out to Kennedy’s office directly and because they did not provide Title IX with the information necessary to initiate an investigation, Title IX did not provide counsel.

According to Kennedy, if Kappa Sigma had reached out to Title IX directly, the Title IX office would have directed them back to Campus Life to provide them with information and supply the necessary information to start an investigation. If an investigation is not pursued, the fraternity member’s standing in their organization is up to the chapter’s leadership.

“Unless and until someone brings a complaint to our office to investigate, we don’t play a role in determining how any group should vet its members or determine who should be a member,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said that she would be willing to discuss the steps of how to proceed with cases such as these with any students who have further questions. She emphasized that student organizations should also reach out to Campus Life with any concerns they may have.

“My door is always open, as is the door of the Campus Life office… we would be happy to respond to any of those concerns in person or via email or by telephone, and talk a little bit more about the information that we share with student groups about expectations for responding to these kinds of reports, for managing their membership,” Kennedy said. “And certainly, if anyone has a concern, I hope they will raise it with us because I’d like to be able to share more information with them about how we do our best to support our student groups and educate them about any kinds of issues that can come up, particularly those related to my office.”

Currently, Title IX and the University’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Preventention (RSVP) Center offers survivors the option to receive accomodations for classes or housing. Survivors can file for academic accommodations without filing a Title IX report. No such option currently exists for student organizations.

While the University can prohibit fraternity membership if a student has an open Title IX violation, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Wild said that the University cannot take action against allegations that have not been reported or proven.

“I think there would be very few instances of someone trying to not be truthful about a person, but it’s still, from a University perspective, our position is always going to be due process,” Wild said. “There has to be some due process that a person accused of something has to have at least the ability to be confronted by that information.”

While he recognized the ambiguity of the situation and lack of action that students can take if survivors do not report, both Wild and Kennedy emphasized that the University condemns students from pursuing personal investigations.

Wild said that there have been several cases within the past few years of students expressing interest in conducting interviews for similar offenses, and explained that should the University choose to initiate an investigation, the results may be compromised.

“The potential for doing damage, particularly to any survivor, but also to any accused student, is very high because they’re not trained investigators, they’re not generally trauma informed,” Kennedy said. “And it’s really not something that folks without training should be investigating, so the idea is turn over the information that you have to see if an investigation can be launched. But in the meantime, decisions have to be made based on what information you do have.”

Each year, Title IX holds training sessions for newly-elected club leaders, Kennedy explained. She recommends that each student organization proactively sets up a system of how they will proceed if an issue related to sexual misconduct occurs because organizations have total jurisdiction over membership in these circumstances.

“Establishing a process now and advertising it, publicizing it to your membership means that if and when this does come up, that everyone knows what will happen, what is to be expected, and there won’t be any surprises,” Kennedy said.

Austin Sandoval-Sweeney, associate director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, discussed with the Interfraternity Council and Women’s Panhellenic Association leadership, Feb. 17, how fraternity members should handle information in situations such as these, as part of ongoing meetings between Campus Life leadership and the University’s Greek Life leadership.

While there are few actionable solutions currently in place for members of student groups to follow outlined by the University, Wild discussed Campus Life’s plan to distribute a document that will clearly outline which University entities that student groups should reach out to if they hear of sexual misconduct within their group. This process will aid Campus Life in their objectives to provide sufficient resources for prevention, survivor support and fairness in the investigation process.

Moving forward, Campus Life aims to continue to work with Greek leadership to provide solutions for survivors and others affected by sexual violence.

“Talking with the members, especially the leadership in those communities, is really important to us as we seek to solve solutions to this problem that is well acknowledged,” Leslie Heusted, Executive Director of Campus Life, said. “We have ongoing conversations about what that could look like. And it’s really important to us that we’re doing that in tandem and in partnership with the students that make up the community in order to make sure that we have the buy-in that will help us be most helpful as we move forward. So certainly, we continue to do that work in partnership with the students.”

Editor’s Note: The Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H) provides confidential and anonymous support and can be reached at 314-935-8080 during the fall and spring academic semesters.

There are counselors at the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center, located in Seigle Hall, Suite 435, available confidentially to any University student. The office can be reached at tel:314-935-3445 or by email at mailto:[email protected]

The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at tel:1-800-656-4673 or via online chat at 24/7.

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