Procedure for Sexual Misconduct Investigations at Grand Valley State University
Sexual misconduct allegations in a university 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 Grand Valley State University, the office that investigates allegations of sexual misconduct is called the Division of Inclusion and Equity, which is headed by the Title IX Coordinator and Equity Officer/Director. Discipline is imposed by a sanctioning panel made up of a standing pool of trained university members appointed by the Dean of Students Office in collaboration with the Title IX coordinator, if the Division of Inclusion and Equity makes a determination that you are responsible for sexual misconduct.
The following is a description of the procedure that is utilized by Grand Valley State University 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 Title IX coordinator. The complaint can be made directly to the Title IX coordinator, or online. The online reporting provides an option for anonymous reports to be made.
The complaint can be made by the “complainant,” or the person who claims to have been subjected to or have been the victim of a sexual assault or sexual harassment. A complaint can be made by a third party who has knowledge of an alleged sexual assault or alleged sexual harassment.
A complaint can be made by a “Responsible Employee.” A responsible employee is an employee of Grand Valley State University who is required by their sexual misconduct policy to act as a mandatory reporter of sexual misconduct. This means that if an employee of Grand Valley State University, which includes nearly all faculty and staff of the university, learns about allegations of sexual misconduct by either a student or other faculty, they are required to report it to the Title IX coordinator or face termination of their employment.
An initial assessment is conducted.
After a complaint is made to the Title IX coordinator, an initial assessment is completed. The Title IX coordinator will provide information to the complainant, and will decide whether to initiate an investigation regarding the reported incident.
The accused student is notified of the investigation.
If the Title IX coordinator decides to initiate an investigation as a result of the report that was made to them, they will notify the accused student that the investigation is being initiated. Additionally, the Title IX coordinator may have decided to impose “interim protective measures” that impact the accused student. For example, they may impose a no contact directive with the complainant, or order a change of university residence. If this occurs, the accused student will be notified, receive written notice of all available resources and options, and be given the option to conduct a meeting with the Title IX coordinator to discuss those resources and options.
The information regarding the allegation is reported to the Sexual Misconduct Assessment and Response Team.
After the initial assessment, the Title IX coordinator will provide all known information regarding the alleged incident, including identifying information for the complainant, the accused student, and all known witnesses, to the Sexual Misconduct Assessment and Response Team (SMART).
SMART is a team of people made up of the Title IX coordinator or another designee from their office, a Grand Valley State University Police Department (GVPD) officer, a representative from the Dean of Student’s office, a representative from the Women’s Center, and a representative from the General Counsel’s office. When necessary, the team might also include representatives from the Provost’s office, Housing, Human Resources, and/or Athletics.
SMART completes a risk assessment.
After SMART receives the report from the Title IX coordinator, they begin their process by assessing whether or not the information contained within the report indicates that there is a threat to the health and safety of the complainant or any other member of the university community.
In order to make this determination, SMART looks at the prior history of the accused student, whether the accused student has threatened violence, whether there are accusations against more than one student, whether the accusation involves physical violence or a pattern of committing prohibited conduct, whether drugs or alcohol were involved, whether the complainant alleges that he or she was physically helpless or incapacitated during the alleged incident, whether the complainant is a minor, and whether or not there are other aggravating circumstances or predatory conduct present during the alleged incident.
SMART decides whether or not to report the alleged incident to law enforcement.
After SMART completes the risk assessment, they will consider whether or not their policy requires that they report the alleged incident to law enforcement. The team will consider whether making a report to law enforcement is necessary to protect the health or safety of the complainant or others. If they reach a consensus that making a report is necessary, the GVPD officer will make the report to the appropriate law enforcement agency. If there is no consensus within the team, the GVPD officer on their own can decide to make the report to law enforcement.
The complainant will be notified that a report has been made to law enforcement. However, neither SMART nor the Title IX coordinator will inform the accused student that a report has been made to law enforcement.
The Title IX coordinator will decide whether to proceed with a university investigation and resolution.
After the assessment by SMART, the Title IX coordinator will decide how to proceed, including whether or not to complete a university investigation and resolution. In deciding how to proceed, the Title IX coordinator will take into account the wishes of the complainant.
Sometimes, the complainant will not want an investigation pursued. In that event, the Title IX coordinator must take the complainant’s wishes into account, but may decide that the allegations are serious enough that an investigation must be pursued against the wishes of the complainant.
A notice of investigation is reduced to writing and provided to the accused student and the complainant.
After a complaint is made to the Title IX coordinator, if the decision is made to initiate an investigation, a notice of investigation is reduced to writing. This writing must include the identity of the complainant and the accused student; the date, time, location, and nature of the alleged prohibited conduct; the potential policy violations; information about the expectations for the parties under the university policies and procedures; an explanation of the policy against retaliation; instruct the complainant and the accused student to preserve evidence; and provide a copy of the university’s policies and procedures. The notice of investigation is then provided to the accused student and the complainant.
An investigator with the Division of Inclusion and Equity will conduct an investigation.
An 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 their 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 university 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.
This investigation will typically be completed within 45 days. The accused student and the complainant will be notified if the investigator anticipates that the investigation will exceed 45 days.
The accused student is not required to attend the interview with the investigator. 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 university investigators 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 university 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 investigator will complete a draft investigation report.
After the investigator has completed his or her investigation, they compile a summary of the interviews conducted and the evidence obtained during the course of the investigation.
The accused and the complainant review the draft investigation report.
When the summary of the interviews and evidence is completed, the investigator will make the summary available for review for a period of two days. The accused and the complainant will have the opportunity to review the summary with their chosen advisor. The accused student can bring a lawyer as their advisor to help them review the evidence.
The accused and the complainant may provide comments or additional evidence.
After the accused student and the complainant review the draft investigation report, they will both be given the opportunity to provide comment disputing part of the evidence, to provide the investigator with additional witnesses that should be interviewed, or with additional evidence that should be reviewed prior to a final determination being made by the investigator. This information must be provided to the investigator within the two day period designated for the review of the draft investigation report.
The investigator completes additional investigation, if necessary.
If either the accused student or the complainant provide the investigator with additional evidence or suggest additional witnesses to be interviewed, then the investigator may complete additional investigation if they believe that it is necessary.
The investigator completes a final investigation report.
The investigator will then issue a final investigation report. The final investigation report will contain a summary of the interviews and evidence gathered by the investigator, as well as a finding by the investigator about whether or not the accused student is responsible for sexual misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence. The investigator then provides the final investigation report to the Title IX coordinator.
The final investigation report is distributed to the accused student and the complainant.
The Title IX coordinator will simultaneously notify the accused student and the complainant of the findings, and provide them both with a copy of the final investigation report.
The final investigation report is provided to the sanctioning panel.
When there is a finding that, by a preponderance of the evidence, the accused student is responsible for sexual misconduct in violation of university policy, the final investigation report will be provided to the sanctioning panel.
The sanctioning panel is made up of a standing pool of trained university members appointed by the Dean of Students Office in collaboration with the Title IX coordinator.
The sanctioning panel recommends discipline.
The sanctioning panel will review the final investigation report, and will make a recommendation for discipline to the Dean of Students. The possible discipline includes a warning notice, reprimand, restitution, removal or non-renewal of scholarships or extracurricular activities, requirement for professional assessment, university housing transfer or renewal, restriction from employment at the university, disciplinary probation, suspension held in abeyance, suspension, or expulsion.
The Dean of Students imposes discipline.
After the recommendation for discipline is received by the sanctioning panel, the Dean of Students imposes the recommended discipline.
The accused and complainant have the opportunity to file an appeal.
After the sanction has 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 finding, (2) to present new evidence that was not available during the original investigation that would substantially impact either the finding or the sanction, and (3) the sanctions imposed fall outside of the range of sanctions available for the violation or the cumulative history of the accused student.
An appeal must be completed within two days of the accused student and complainant receiving notice of the sanction.
If you have been accused of sexual misconduct at Grand Valley State University, 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.