Earlier this month, administrators released drafts of new Title IX policies that will change the way that GW deals with sexual misconduct cases, and the procedures and policy changes were approved by the Board of Trustees Friday.
Under the current policy, a panel made up of volunteer faculty and students would oversee reports of sexual violence, and some faculty members were deemed mandatory reporters. When the new policy takes effect July 1, a single investigator will gather evidence and decide if there is enough to warrant a policy violation and at least 14 different types of staff roles, including all faculty and academic advisers, will qualify as “responsible employees,” who are required to report situations of sexual misconduct to the Title IX office.
On a panel, it is easier for members to shift blame and sit back waiting for another member to speak out instead of stepping up themselves.
These changes come after a federal investigation by the Department of Education and a year of external review from a law firm. These changes also occur in the wake of two lawsuits against the University by current and former students regarding the handling of sexual misconduct reports in the past month. While these updates are a step in the right direction for GW, they can’t stop here and the new policies are underwhelming when considering the increased scrutiny GW has faced following several Title IX complaints.
Some of the changes do seem positive. An individual investigator will likely be more efficient and effective than a panel because it will leave one person accountable. On a panel, it is easier for members to shift blame and sit back waiting for another member to speak out instead of stepping up themselves. But the new policy will remedy that.
Of GW’s 12 peer schools, eight currently use a single-investigator model or a hybrid model in which the facts and findings collected by the investigator are then used by a hearing board-type model to determine the outcome of the case. The other four schools rely on a hearing board model to determine the final outcome. With peer schools following similar policies, GW is updating to align with other peer schools, which is likely a step in the right direction.
While we agree that an individual investigator is better than a panel, making all faculty mandatory reporters may be a misstep.
Students should be able to confide in professors and have personal relationships without fear of private conversations becoming public. Mandating that professors reveal information in a one-size-fits-all policy like this could hurt relationships and discourage students from connecting with professors or revealing details to them.
Students also often disclose private information to professors for reasons that would affect their academic performance, like to excuse an absence or late assignment, but do not intend to confide in a professor.
If a conversation that they intended to be private was then revealed to an outside office – regardless of how close their relationship with the faculty member is – the student may feel that the professor went against their wishes by revealing the information to the Title IX office, even though the faculty was just following policy and attempting to help them.
The mandatory reporter system also doesn’t take individual preferences into account, which could leave students feelings deceived and vulnerable if their situation is reported to the Title IX office without their consent by another individual.
Instances of sexual misconduct are deeply personal and some students may not want to report their case for a variety of reasons. Each case is different and should stay that way, but mandating that all situations are reported to the Title IX office will affect people differently.
Although the new policy may unintentionally make some students feel uneasy, it could help connect more students with the Title IX office. Students might not know how to get help from the office or what steps they can take to report cases, so while this new policy may not solve the entire problem, it is a step forward.
Moving forward, Title IX policies need to be more sensitive toward the individual desires of each student in sensitive situations. There are steps that can be taken to improve the mandatory reporter policy and ensure positive aspects outweigh possible negative results.
As this policy is implemented, mandatory reporters need to be trained thoroughly in how to react to students if they disclose information about sexual misconduct to save relationships and ensure the policy actually helps students. If a professor responds appropriately and can communicate the policy to the student, they will feel more comfortable when the Title IX office reaches out and the outreach may be more effective than it would be if the situation was reported without their knowledge. This also eases any potential damage to relationships, because students will feel like they are supported no matter what choice they make regarding reporting.
GW needs to build on these changes if they really want to improve how the University responds to reports of sexual misconduct.
Because these situations are highly personal, the policy should also be updated to give more power to students. Students should be able to override a responsible reporter and tell the faculty member not to report their situation. That way, students can maintain their privacy and still get support from professors.
While these policies are a step in the right direction, there is still room for improvement. These new policies are in place at other schools, and GW is making a change that could be beneficial to students. However, it is disappointing that these changes are minimal and still seem to have flaws. Mandatory reporting highlights the need for extensive Title IX training, especially as faculty are given more responsibility in protecting students. GW needs to build on these changes if they really want to improve how the University responds to reports of sexual misconduct.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Matt Dynes.