Procedure For Sexual Misconduct Investigations At Calvin College
Sexual misconduct allegations in a college setting are serious, and can have serious, life-long consequences. It is important to understand what is going to happen during the course of these investigations, and to ensure that you put yourself in the best possible position to avoid a finding of responsibility for sexual assault or sexual harassment.
At Calvin College, allegations of sexual misconduct are investigated by a trained member of the Safer Spaces Committee, designated by the Safer Spaces Administrator (SSA), who serves in the role of Title IX Coordinator. The Safer Spaces Committee consists of members of Calvin faculty and staff. The SSA appoints a member of the committee to investigate a particular case.
If an accused student is found responsible for sexual misconduct, discipline is imposed by the Calvin Hearing Panel, who are members of the Safer Spaces Committee who have not been involved with investigating the allegations of sexual misconduct. The members of the Calvin Hearing Panel in a particular case are also appointed by the Safer Spaces Administrator.
The following is a description of the procedure that is utilized by Calvin College in investigating an allegation of sexual misconduct and in imposing discipline:
A COMPLAINT IS MADE.
A sexual misconduct investigation begins when a complaint is made to the Safer Spaces Administrator (SSA). A complaint can be made by a number of different people. The complaint can be made by the “Complainant,” or the person who claims to have been subjected to or to have been the victim of a sexual assault or sexual harassment. The complaint can also be made by any other community member, guest, or visitor of Calvin College.
A complaint can be made directly to the Safer Spaces Administrator. A complaint can also be made to a staff or faculty member, who will in turn report the allegations to the SSA. Any employee who learns of a complaint regarding sexual misconduct is obligated to report those allegations to the Safer Spaces Administrator. The only exception to that is if the reporting party wants to keep their report confidential, and report to a counselor, health care provider, or clergy.
Even the confidential reporting sources will not honor confidentiality in the event of extreme cases of threat or danger, and in cases involving the abuse of a minor. Any other employee of Calvin College must report any allegations of sexual misconduct to the SSA, or face termination of their employment.
A SAFER SPACES COORDINATOR MEETS WITH THE COMPLAINANT.
After the Safer Spaces Administrator receives a report of sexual misconduct, one of the Safer Spaces coordinators will meet with the complainant, or reporting party. During this meeting, the coordinator will explain to the complainant the investigation and discipline process, review the complainant’s options, review resources and support, and discuss interim remedies.
THE SAFER SPACES COORDINATOR DECIDES WHETHER TO IMPOSE INTERIM REMEDIES.
After meeting with the complainant, the Safer Spaces Coordinator may decide that interim remedies need to be imposed for the protection of the complainant and the community. These interim remedies can include things like referrals to counseling or other support services, altering housing, work assignments or schedules, altering academic assignments or responsibilities, providing campus escorts or other security arrangements, and suspension of students or student organizations.
THE SAFER SPACES ADMINISTRATOR ASSIGNS AN INVESTIGATOR WHO IS A MEMBER OF THE SAFER SPACES COMMITTEE.
After the Safer Spaces Coordinator meets with the complainant and decides whether to impose interim remedies, the report will be referred to one or more Safer Spaces Committee members who are trained to conduct investigations. The Safer Spaces investigator will notify the accused student of the investigation.
THE SAFER SPACES INVESTIGATOR BEGINS THEIR INVESTIGATION.
The Safer Spaces investigator will complete an interview with the accused student, an interview with the complainant, as well as any other witnesses they wish to interview. These witnesses may be witnesses that the investigator has discovered in his or her own investigation, or whose names have been provided to them by the accused student or the complainant. The investigator will choose which witnesses they want to interview, and which witnesses they do not.
The investigator may also attempt to obtain other types of evidence, such as social media, text messages, photos, videos, or other electronic evidence. If there is a criminal investigation being conducted at the same time as the Safer Spaces investigation, the investigator may also request that law enforcement provide them with copies of their reports or other evidence collected by the police. The investigator may also complete a site visit at the location of the alleged incident, if possible.
The Safer Spaces investigators endeavor to complete most investigations within 60 days. However, some investigations require a longer time period. The Safer Spaces investigator will notify the accused student and the complainant when there are delays in the investigation.
The accused student is not required to attend the interview with the investigators. As an accused student, you must be very careful in proceeding with the interview. Whenever there is an allegation of sexual misconduct, the possibility of criminal charges being brought is always present. Those criminal charges carry extremely serious penalties – some up to life in prison. Whatever you say during the course of the interview with the Safer Spaces investigator can also be used against you later in a criminal investigation. Even if you are not admitting to illegal conduct, any statements you make can later be twisted to be used against you, or you may confirm details of the complainant’s account of the incident that could not otherwise be confirmed.
There is a balancing act in participating in this interview, because on one hand, you want to do everything you can to avoid criminal charges that carry serious penalties, but on the other hand, you want to cooperate with the college to the extent that you can avoid serious academic discipline. Having an attorney to guide you through the process will help you navigate this balancing act.
During the investigation process, the accused student has the right to choose and consult with an advisor. This person can be your attorney, and your attorney can help to ensure that anything you say during the course of the interview is not going to cause you harm in the academic or criminal proceedings.
THE SAFER SPACES INVESTIGATOR PREPARES A REPORT OF RESULTS OF INVESTIGATION.
After the investigation is complete, the Safer Spaces investigator prepares a Report of Results of Investigation (RRI), outlining the findings of the investigator.
THE SAFER SPACES COORDINATOR REVIEWS THE REPORT OF RESULTS OF INVESTIGATION, AND CHOOSES A REPORT RESOLUTION PROCESS.
Once the investigator completes their Report of Results of Investigation, the Safer Spaces Coordinator will review the RRI, and confirms that the investigation has been fair, objective, impartial, and thorough.
After review of the RRI, the Safer Spaces Coordinator will choose the Report Resolution Process (RRP) that they believe is appropriate based upon the results of the investigation.
The possible RRPs include:
- No further action;
- Additional investigation;
- Informal resolutions such as education, counseling, mediation, or other informal remedial actions;
- Resolution without a hearing;
Informal resolutions are only available when agreed upon by the parties, but in no circumstances are available in cases of sexual assault or other allegations of violence.
Resolution without a hearing is used in circumstances where the accused student admits responsibility for a policy violation, and agrees with the proposed sanctions.
Where the facts or findings are contested, a hearing is the appropriate RRP.
IF A HEARING IS CHOSEN AS THE REPORT RESOLUTION PROCESS, THE SAFER SPACES ADMINISTRATOR WILL APPOINT THREE MEMBERS OF THE SAFER SPACES COMMITTEE TO SERVE ON THE CALVIN HEARING PANEL.
If the Safer Spaces Coordinator chooses a hearing as the appropriate Report Resolution Process, there will be a hearing in front the the Calvin Hearing Panel (CHP). The CHP is made up of three members of the Safer Spaces Committee, appointed by the Safer Spaces Administrator. The SSA will appoint a Chair of the Hearing Panel, along with two other members. The members of the CHP will be members of the Safer Spaces Committee that have not been involved with the investigation.
THE SAFER SPACES COORDINATOR WILL NOTIFY THE ACCUSED STUDENT OF THE ALLEGED POLICY VIOLATIONS.
After the members of the Calvin Hearing Panel have been appointed, the Safer Spaces Coordinator will notify the accused student of the alleged policy violations. The Coordinator will meet with the complainant and the accused student, and review the Report of Results of Investigation with both parties individually.
A copy of the formal charges to be answered to in front of the CHP will be provided to the accused student in writing.
THE CALVIN HEARING PANEL WILL CONDUCT A HEARING.
The Calvin Hearing Panel will conduct a hearing. The Report of Results of Investigation will be the primary evidence that is submitted at the hearing, and upon which the decision of the CHP will be based.
The accused student will have an opportunity to respond to all of the evidence, including the opportunity to review and respond to the contents of the RRI.
The accused student will also have the right to have an advisor present during the hearing process. This advisor may be an attorney for the accused student. The accused student is required to give advanced notice to the CHP of the advisor’s name and contact information.
THE CHP WILL CONDUCT DELIBERATIONS AND ISSUE RECOMMENDED FINDINGS AND SANCTIONS.
After the hearing is completed, the CHP will deliberate privately, and come to agreement on recommended findings and sanctions. The CHP will prepare written Recommended Findings and Sanctions (RFS) based on a standard of “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that in order to find that the accused student violated the sexual misconduct policy, the CHP must find that it is more likely than not that a policy violation occurred.
The RFS is provided to the complainant, the accused student, the SSA, and Calvin’s President.
THE PRESIDENT REVIEWS THE RFS, AND HAS THE ABILITY TO CHANGE OR REMAND FOR DIFFERENT FINDINGS AND SANCTIONS.
The President will review the RFS, and can change the findings or sanctions on his or her own, or can remand the matter back to the CHP for changes in the findings or sanctions.
If the President completes his or her review of the findings and sanctions and doesn’t wish to make any changes, the process will move forward toward the imposition of sanctions.
THE SAFER SPACES ADMINISTRATOR IMPOSES SANCTIONS.
The Safer Spaces Administrator will impose the recommended sanctions. Those sanctions may include counseling, altering housing, suspension, or expulsion.
THE ACCUSED STUDENT OR COMPLAINANT MAY APPEAL THE FINDING AND/OR SANCTIONS ON LIMITED GROUNDS.
After the determination and sanction have been issued, both the accused student and the complainant will have the opportunity to file an appeal of the sanction based on limited grounds. The only grounds available for appeal are (1) a procedural error occurred that significantly impacted the outcome of the hearing, (2) to consider new evidence that was unknown or unavailable during the original hearing or investigation that could substantially impact the original finding or the sanction, (3) the imposed sanctions imposed are substantially disproportionate to the severity of the violation.
The appeal will be heard by a three-person panel made up of Safer Spaces Committee members that have not had any prior involvement in the case. The panel will be appointed by the Safer Spaces Administrator.
An appeal must be submitted in writing by the accused student or complainant within 14 days of issuances of the RFS. Appeal decisions will be delivered to the parties in writing within 7 days of the decision. Once the appeal is decided, the outcome is final and binding.
If you have been accused of sexual misconduct at Calvin College, Keeley Blanchard is an experienced attorney representing students accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment in Title IX proceedings at the university and in criminal investigations and proceedings.