Wilkes alumna offers Title IX clarifications

Laura Laughlin, lawyer at Freiwald Law, shares: It is more than just sports

Laura Laughlin, Guest Writer

When most people hear Title IX, they think of sports. However, Title IX gives rights that extend beyond ensuring that women and men have equal sports’ teams on campus. In fact, Title IX has nothing to do with sports, despite it being used and referenced in that context most frequently.

The actual text of Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”

As you can see, Title IX has nothing to do with sports. Instead, it guarantees equal rights to students in colleges that receive Federal funding. Although these rights do extend to equal rights in the context of sports, they also apply to students who are victims of crime on campus.
Specifically, students who are victims of sexual assault have rights and protections under Title IX. Sexual violence is an extreme form of sexual harassment and schools have an obligation to respond and give the student equal access to his or her education.

What obligations does Wilkes University have?

Generally, schools have an obligation to train their staff regarding sexual assault on campus. They also must have some way for students to report sexual assault. Once the sexual assault is reported, the school must investigate and if appropriate, adjudicate. Adjudicating could mean anything from bringing charges under the school’s student code of conduct, holding a hearing to determine what happened, or issuing punishment.

If the school is going to adjudicate the abuser, the burden of proof is less than that of a criminal case. In these types of adjudications, the burden is a “preponderance of the evidence.” A preponderance of the evidence means that more likely than not, the allegations occurred. “A preponderance of the evidence” is the standard used in civil cases. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard used in a criminal case.

Also, if the school knows or reasonably should know about student on student harassment that creates a hostile environment (if the harassment interferes with your ability to learn or participate in educational or extracurricular activities, it can usually be considered “hostile”) the school must take immediate action to:

1. Eliminate the harassment;
2. Prevent its recurrence; and
3. Address the effects of the harassment.

Addressing the effects of the harassment can include an obligation on the school to prevent retaliation by other students due to the sexual assault.
What are my rights at the Campus Disciplinary Proceedings?
You have the right to a prompt and equitable grievance procedure. Prompt means that the investigation should be completed within 60 days. Equitable means that the victim is entitled to everything the accused gets, including finding out what the charges against the accused are, the ability to see all the evidence, the right to an appeal and if the accused is allowed an attorney, then you can have one as well.

What kind of accommodations can I ask Wilkes for?

The following accommodations are not guaranteed, but are examples of ways that schools have assisted students in the past.

– A No Contact Order between you and your abuser
– Establishing set times that the abuser can access the cafeteria or library to prevent you from running into them
– That the abuser be transferred into a different class for the classes you have together
– That the abuser be moved to a dormitory separate from yours
– Receiving a designated school administrator to help you inform your professors about what happened that could potentially lead to additional time for assignments or other accommodations to assist in keeping your grades up
– Access to tutoring for your classes
– Psychological treatment or other mental health services

What can I do to exercise my rights?

Wilkes has designated Title IX Coordinators on campus. Here’s a link to Wilkes’ website for more information on who to contact regarding issues related to Title IX. http://www.wilkes.edu/campus-life/student-affairs/sexual-misconduct/title-ix-coordinators/

In addition, http://knowyourix.org/ is an informative, helpful website with more information about Title IX rights.

As an attorney representing crime victims and others who have suffered serious injury, I see all too often the impact that violent crime or carelessness can have upon a person. A crime or careless act could also have repercussions outside of the Wilkes campus.

For example, civil litigation is when a person files a lawsuit for money damages. Civil litigation is not only about receiving financial compensation, but can help to change policies and procedures at your school for the better. However, civil litigation is bound by strict time limitations. In most cases, if you wait longer than two years, you could lose the rights to potential claims you might have.

It’s always good to know your rights and be prepared to enforce them, if you so choose.