The University’s Title IX office has fewer staff members and fewer ways to appeal a decision in a sexual violence case than most of its peer schools.
GW is the only one of its 14 peer schools to offer just one justification to appeal a Title IX decision, requiring a claim to be based on “new information” relevant to the case. All other peer schools offer students multiple arguments to make in support of an appeal, including that the sanction didn’t match the offense committed or that University policies weren’t followed, according to analysis of Title IX policies by The Hatchet.
As GW faces a federal Title IX investigation and scrutiny of its treatment of sexual assault survivors, the analysis shows GW lags behind many of its competitors in two key aspects of its Title IX office – staffing and appeal options. Experts said this could mean a more difficult process for students involved in a sexual assault case.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined to comment on staffing or avenues for appeal in the Title IX office, but pointed to the University’s ongoing review of the office by outside experts – announced last summer – as a way of making sure Title IX policies and procedures “meet the needs of the GW community.”
“The review includes meeting with students and other members of the University community and includes reviewing other colleges and universities for best practices,” she said in an email.
Avenues for appeal
GW mandates that Title IX appeals be based only on “new information that is relevant to the case,” that could change its original outcome, according to the student code of conduct.
Peer school’s offer as many as four different justifications to appeal a decision. At University of Southern California, students can appeal the case on the basis of new evidence, but can also make a claim that findings by Title IX office were not backed by sufficient evidence, that the sanction is not proportionate to the violation or that the disciplinary hearing panel did not follow University policies, according to its website.
“An ideal appeals process allows both sides to appeal.”
Of GW’s peer schools, six universities offer two ways to appeal, four schools offer three ways to appeal and four universities offer four ways to appeal.
American University offers three grounds for appeal, including new evidence, improper execution of any procedures throughout the process and insufficient or excessive sanctions, according to its website.
GW’s appellate system was one of the issues highlighted by alumna and sexual assault survivor Aniqa Raihan who filed a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education last month alleging the University mishandled her sexual violence case.
In a petition against the University last spring, Raihan called for officials to “provide survivors with the opportunity to appeal not only the outcome of their cases, but the sanctions as well, and create a separate appellate board to hear these appeals.”
Experts said having more than one way to appeal a case’s outcome gives all parties more of a voice when they feel their decision is unfair.
Carly Mee, staff attorney for SurvJustice, a non-profit offering legal assistance to survivors, said ideally students will be able to appeal the outcome of their case on the basis of procedural error or the severity of the sanctions in addition to new evidence coming forward.
“An ideal appeals process allows both sides to appeal,” Mee said. “The survivor can say, ‘this is what the accused student is saying, but here’s what actually happened, and here’s how this was done right,’ and that goes both ways.”
Eight peer schools have more Title IX staff members than the four currently in GW’s office. Offices at those universities range from having between five to 13 staff members.
Georgetown University has nine staff members and Emory University has the highest number of Title IX staffers with 13 listed in its office. Many of these offices include multiple deputy Title IX coordinators, which serve to share in the duties of the head Title IX coordinator.
Two peer schools have the same number of staff members in their Title IX office, and three have fewer, including Boston University, which only has one staff member listed on their website.
In recent years, GW’s Title IX office has been plagued by high turnover. For about six months, Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad was the only permanent full-time staff member in the office following the departure of Carrie Ross, who served as the assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response, in January.
“Everything becomes richer when more voices are involved.”
Last summer, the office added three new staff members, filling the new positions of assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response, Title IX investigator and case manager.
Meredith Smith, the assistant provost for Title IX and clery compliance at Tulane University, said having multiple people working together in a Title IX office can provide the resources needed to support students and help officials bounce ideas off one another to further develop the office.
“Everything becomes richer when more voices are involved,” she said.
Smith said high turnover in Title IX offices can often be attributed to staff members feeling overwhelmed by the number of cases they are handling and the emotional investment required to best support the students they are working with.
“I think the other part is this is a very hard job in the best of circumstances, when you have to hear students telling stories that are so threaded with hurt,” she said. “It’s very hard because I think people who do this work are very empathetic.”
Dan Schorr, the managing director at Kroll Associates, a corporate investigations and risk consulting firm and the co-leader of its sexual misconduct and Title IX investigations practice, said having multiple staff members can ensure that cases are handled in a timely manner and that students have frequent communication with the Title IX office.
“Many Title IX offices are overwhelmed by the number of complaints that they have to handle, and they have a difficulty thoroughly and expeditiously investigating claims,” Schorr said.