Procedure For Sexual Misconduct Investigations at Hope 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 Hope College, allegations of sexual misconduct are investigated by members of the Equity Resolution Process pool appointed by the Title IX Coordinator. The Equity Resolution Process pool consists of members of Hope faculty and staff that are appointed to three-year terms. The Title IX Coordinator then appoints members of the pool to investigate a particular case, typically in teams of two investigators.
If an accused student is found responsible for sexual misconduct, discipline is imposed by Resolution Administrators, who are members of the Equity Resolution Process pool who have not been involved with investigating the allegations of sexual misconduct. The Resolution Administrators in a particular case are also appointed by the Title IX Coordinator.
The following is a description of the procedure that is utilized by Hope 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 Title IX coordinator. 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 Hope College.
A complaint can be made directly to the Title IX Coordinator. A complaint can also be made to an administrative advisor or faculty member. Any employee who learns of a complaint regarding sexual misconduct is obligated to report those allegations to the Title IX Coordinator. The only exception to that is if the reporting party wants to keep their report confidential, and report to the following people:
- A member of the Counseling and Psychological Services staff;
- A member of the Health Center staff;
- The Victim Advocate/Prevention Educator;
- A member of the Campus Ministries staff;
- An off-campus, non-employee.
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 Hope College must report any allegations of sexual misconduct, or face termination of their employment. This includes Residence Life student staff members.
The Title IX Coordinator conducts a preliminary inquiry.
After the Title IX Coordinator receives a report of sexual misconduct, they will conduct a preliminary inquiry, generally within the first three days of receiving the report. The purpose of the preliminary inquiry is to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that there has been a violation of the college’s policy, and if so, whether to proceed with the formal investigation process.
If there is no reasonable cause to believe that there has been a violation of the college’s policy (for example, what was reported to the Title IX Coordinator did not constitute sexual misconduct under the university’s policy), then the inquiry ends and no formal investigation is commenced.
If the Title IX Coordinator determines that the complainant describes a violation of the college’s policy, but the complainant does not want to proceed with the formal investigation process, the Title IX Coordinator then evaluates whether or not the allegations include evidence of violence, threat, pattern, predation, and/or a weapon. In the event that the allegations include these factors, the Title IX Coordinator will proceed with a formal investigation, even against the wishes of the Complainant. If the allegations do not contain these factors, the Title IX Coordinator is permitted, but not required, to respect the wishes of the complainant and not move forward with a formal investigation.
The Title IX Coordinator decides which formal investigation process to utilize.
If the Title IX Coordinator finds that there is reasonable cause to believe that there has been a violation of the college’s policy, and finds based on the allegations and the wishes of the complainant that it is appropriate to proceed with a formal investigation, then the Title IX Coordinator will decide to use one of two processes for the formal investigation.
The first option is to use the Conflict Resolution process. The Conflict Resolution process is typically used for the least serious allegations, and may only be used when both the complainant and the accused student agree to the use of this process. However, the Title IX Coordinator can prevent the use of the Conflict Resolution process, even if both the complainant and accused student agree to the use of this process.
The second option is to use the Administrative Resolution process. The Administrative Resolution process is used for all but the least serious allegations, and whenever the complainant and accused student do not both agree to the use of the Conflict Resolution process. At the end of the investigation, two Resolution Administrators who are a part of the Equity Resolution Process pool will decide what sanctions, if any, to impose on the accused student.
What happens if the Conflict Resolution process is utilized?
If it is agreed by the complainant, accused student, and the Title IX coordinator that the Conflict Resolution process will be utilized, then a meeting or meetings will be held with a trained administrator who will engage facilitating a resolution that is agreeable to both parties. The accused student and the complainant engage in mediation regarding a resolution to the allegations. Sanctions cannot be imposed by Hope College through the Conflict Resolution process, but the parties can reach agreement on appropriate remedies. Those agreed-upon remedies will be documented by Hope College, and failure to abide by those remedies may result in the accused student being referred instead to the Administrative Resolution process.
This process is highly preferable for an accused student. While you don’t want during this process to admit to any wrongdoing that constitutes illegal conduct, nearly any other remedies proposed in this context are preferable to formal sanctions being imposed by Hope College.
If the Conflict Resolution process is not chosen at the outset, the Title IX Coordinator begins the formal investigation process.
If the Title IX Coordinator does not initially choose to pursue the Conflict Resolution process, they will proceed with the formal investigation. The Title IX Coordinator and the parties can always choose later on in the process to engage in the Conflict Resolution process rather than the Administrative Resolution process.
The Title IX Coordinator decides whether to impose interim remedies.
After the preliminary inquiry, the Title IX 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 and health services, notifying the community, altering the housing arrangement of the accused student, providing campus escorts, providing transportation accommodations, implementing contact limitations between the complainant and the accused student, and adjustments to academic deadlines or course schedules.
The Title IX Coordinator can also suspend an accused student on an interim basis if, in the judgment of the Title IX Coordinator, the accused student endangers the safety or well-being of any member of the campus community. If the Title IX Coordinator intends to suspend an accused student on an interim basis, the accused student will first be entitled to a meeting with the Title IX Coordinator to explain why the student believes that an interim suspension is not required.
The Title IX Coordinator chooses investigators from the Equity Resolution Process pool.
After the preliminary inquiry is completed, the process moves into the formal investigation phase. The investigation will be completed by investigators, chosen by the Title IX Coordinator, who are members of the Equity Resolution Process pool. Typically, the Title IX Coordinator will choose two investigators from the ERP pool, and they will work as a team on the investigation.
The ERP investigators prepare a written description of the allegations and provide it to the accused student.
The ERP investigators will notify the accused student of their right to an advisor, and provide them with a written description of the allegations against them. This written description of the allegations will also include a list of the policies that are alleged to have been violated, along with a description of the procedures and the potential sanctions that could be imposed.
The ERP investigators begin their investigation.
The ERP investigators 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 investigators have discovered in their own investigation, or whose names have been provided to them by the accused student or the complainant. The investigators will choose which witnesses they want to interview, and which witnesses they do not.
The accused student and the complainant will be provided with a list of witnesses that the investigators intend to interview during the investigation process, and will be given an opportunity to submit questions that they believe the investigators should ask those witnesses during their interviews.
Witnesses who are students are required to submit to an interview with investigators, or be subject to discipline for a policy violation.
The investigators 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 ERP investigation, the investigators may also request that law enforcement provide them with copies of their reports or other evidence collected by the police. The investigators may also complete a site visit at the location of the alleged incident, if possible.
The ERP investigators endeavor to complete most investigations within 10 days. However, some investigations require a longer time period, and may take weeks or months. The ERP investigators 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 ERP 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 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 ERP investigators share the evidence gathered with the accused student and the complainant.
During the investigation process, the ERP investigators will share all relevant evidence that will be used in reaching a determination with the accused student and the complainant, and will give both an opportunity to respond to the evidence prior to issuing a determination.
The ERP investigators will prepare a report.
The ERP investigators will draft a report summarizing the evidence that was collected and the interviews that were conducted during the investigation process.
The accused student and the complainant will be given an opportunity to comment on the report.
After the report has been completed, the accused student and complainant will be given an opportunity to review the report, and to provide comment on the report to the ERP investigators. Before a finding is recommended, the ERP investigators may choose to incorporate some of those comments into the final report, if they believe that is appropriate.
The ERP investigators will recommend a finding.
After the period of comment has ended, the ERP investigators will recommend a finding about whether or not the accused student is in violation of Hope College policy. Their finding is based on a standard of preponderance of the evidence. This means that they make a determination whether it is more likely than not that the accused student is in violation of policy.
The ERP investigators provide their report with the recommended finding to the Resolution Administrators.
When the ERP investigators finish their report, they provide the final report, along with a recommendation for a particular finding, to the Resolution Administrators. The Resolution Administrators are two members of the ERP pool appointed by the Title IX Coordinator to make a determination and impose sanctions. They cannot be the same two ERP pool members who completed the formal investigation, nor can they have acted in any other role in the case.
The Resolution Administrators make a determination.
The Resolution Administrators will review the report of the ERP investigators. The accused student may also submit two letters of character reference to the Resolution Administrators. The Resolution Administrators will not speak directly to the character references.
The Resolution Administrators will then make a determination, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether or not the accused student is responsible for sexual misconduct in violation of Hope College’s policy. “Preponderance of the evidence” means more likely than not.
The Resolution Administrators impose sanctions.
If the Resolution Administrators decide that it is more likely than not that the accused student has committed a policy violation, then they will decide the appropriate sanction to impose. Sanctions include a warning letter, probation, a withheld suspension (if the student is later found in violation of any of the college’s policies, they will be immediately suspended), suspension, or expulsion. Additionally, the Resolution Administrator can imposed educational sanctions, loss of housing, meal, or other campus access privileges, organizational sanctions, and referral for assessments.
The accused student or complainant may appeal the determination 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 finding, (2) a claim that the finding was inconsistent with the weight of the evidence, (3) to present new evidence that was not available during the original investigation that would substantially impact either the determination or the sanction, and (4) the sanctions imposed fall outside of the range of sanctions available for the violation or the cumulative history of the accused student.
The appeal will be heard by a three-person panel made up of ERP pool members that have not had any prior involvement in the case. The panel will be appointed by the Title IX Coordinator.
An appeal must be completed within seven days of the accused student and complainant receiving notice of the determination.
If you have been accused of sexual misconduct at Hope 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.