GW must adopt additional avenues for students to appeal Title IX decisions

When it comes to the University’s Title IX office, it is time to catch up with our peer schools.

GW’s Title IX office is unfortunately and detrimentally lagging behind all of its 14 peer schools when it comes to the ways students can appeal a Title IX decision. The only way to currently appeal a Title IX decision is if there is new information or evidence relevant to the case. Out of our 14 peer schools, GW is the only school to offer just one justification to appeal a Title IX decision. It is time for that to change.

Students are the ones negatively impacted by GW’s limited avenues of appeal. Having only one avenue to appeal sends the message that the University isn’t open to having a broader appeals process for students. It can give students the feeling that the University believes its decision regarding a Title IX case is always right the first time and wants to make it more difficult to appeal. GW should be on par with its peer schools by offering more avenues for appeal so the Title IX office can handle complaints more effectively and students can feel more confident in the process.

All of GW’s peer schools offer at least two avenues of appeal. It’s time for GW to adopt two additional avenues that most peer schools already offer: procedural error and sanctions. Procedural error allows students to appeal a case if the disciplinary panel didn’t follow University policies or if there was an improper execution of procedures. The Department of Education recommends that universities allow students to appeal based on procedural error, making it even more jarring that GW does not already offer students that option. The latter is when the sanctions aren’t proportionate to the violation because they are either excessive or insufficient, which should be offered for students who believe their assailant did not get the appropriate punishment.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel – GW just needs to be in line with peer schools by offering a broad range of appeal options. We should have the ability to appeal sanctions that don’t fit the University’s policies. It would ensure those who appeal the decision receive due process and allows the Title IX office to re-evaluate and make sure it’s following its own guidelines. If the University doesn’t allow an appeal or gives a different sanction than recommended, the least they can do is offer a detailed explanation that lays out their reasons for doing so – something sexual assault survivor and alumna Aniqa Raihan said was not given when she learned from her outcome letter that her assailant received less than the recommended sanction. All parties involved in a Title IX case have the right to receive a specific explanation and justification about the University’s decision to give a different punishment than recommended in the code of conduct.

The new information justification isn’t sufficient, especially for sexual assault cases where the chances of finding new evidence or testimony become less likely as time goes on. The code of conduct also states students only have five days after receiving the outcome letter to appeal. Adopting new avenues to appeal may not have a huge impact on many students’ lives, but it would mean a lot for those who do need to appeal their cases. By making the justifications to appeal broad, the University can make it easier for students to appeal decisions that they reasonably believe are wrong.

But in order to encourage more students to come forward and report or appeal incidents of sexual assault or violence, GW needs to make information about the Title IX office, its investigation process and the appeal policy easily available online. Students may be stopped from even filing a complaint or an appeal in the first place if the process is not outlined clearly on the University’s website. GW can revamp its Title IX website to be user-friendly and organized like Northwestern University’s system, so students contemplating whether to report can quickly find the information they need.

After reporting, students may also find that GW’s Title IX office has fewer staff members than some other schools. But before the office thinks of expanding more, they must focus on preventing turnover, which The Hatchet’s editorial board has argued for in the past. This summer, the University expanded the office by hiring a paralegal and private investigator –positions that were not previously in place – and a new assistant director. As the Title IX office has faced problems with turnover in recent years, the University should prioritize retention. This ensures students that there will be the same people overseeing their case throughout the entire process, which can make them more comfortable with reporting and going through the process.

And, after years of University controversy, it was announced in August that GW was one of 250 colleges under investigation by the Department of Education for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. The community still does not know what specifically spurred the investigation, as the University and the Department of Education have not released details. However, the federal investigation and the outside legal review currently being conducted will likely examine whether necessary improvements to the office need to be made and where transparency can be increased. The first such improvements should be the adoption of more avenues for students to appeal their Title IX cases and increased accessibility of appeal information online.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.

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