Dear Colleague Letter establishes law clarification
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 14:01
A Dear Colleague Letter clarifies to federally funded universities that any and all cases of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment must undergo investigation by the university, instead of being overlooked.
The clarification to the Title IX investigations law regarding sexual misconduct and harassment were placed into effect April 2011 by the federal government.
The Dear Colleague Letter does not change the law itself, rather it clarified the law’s interpretation, Andrea Rubin, the assistant director of student conduct, said.
“The law stayed the exact same and the duties of the school stayed the same, it’s just that the federal government came in and said ‘you’re not doing what we need you to be doing,’” Rubin said. “The federal government made clear that the institution is responsible for investigating any and every Title IX complaint on campus, whether or not the students involved want to participate in the process of the investigation.”
Because some universities have a “push it under the rug” attitude toward these investigations, the federal government took action to change this to emphasize the safety of students as a high concern, Rubin said.
Before the Dear Colleague Letter came out, whatever the victim wanted is what happened, said Robert Reed, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. The letter clarified to universities that Title IX investigations must occur to ensure the safety of students.
“Title IX doesn’t allow us that flexibility in the sense that it’s not victim driven. The university is required by Title IX and the federal government to do certain things and those certain things will go into place regardless of whether the victim wants it to go into place or not,” Reed said. “So it’s a little bit challenging because sometimes the victim is not necessarily wishing those things but those things still have to be done.”
Although it is the duty of the university to undergo an investigation with any Title IX issue on campus, there are still privileged members of the community who are not allowed to divulge information, Rubin said.
This includes a priest acting as he would during confession as well as a school counselor.
“It doesn’t matter what I say to him, he can’t reveal that information to anybody. He can’t be forced by court. Even through subpoena, he can’t be forced to divulge what was said,” Rubin said, regarding divulging sexual misconduct or sexual harassment incidences to a priest or a counselor.
The well-being of the students is of utmost concern and safety, Rubin said. Rubin said she wishes to teach students that there are people who they can feel safe talking to.
“One of the things that I want to do is to do more training with the students and campus in general about those things to let students know that if they want to talk to somebody and they don’t want anybody to know, there’s three people they can talk to. You can talk to health, you can talk to counseling and you can talk to a priest,” Rubin said.
Criminal investigations are a separate entity from investigations done by the university. It is up to the victim whether or not they choose to press criminal charges with the New Orleans Police Department.
Students must decide how to deal with issues that may occur outside of campus. With on-campus issues, however, there is an obligation to investigate, Rubin said.
“The university will facilitate and assist any student who chooses to file criminal charges, however, the university cannot force a student to file criminal charges, that power is retained by the individual student,” Rubin said.
“However, the university can and will move forward with disciplinary charges if the investigation warrants such action.”
Students are encouraged to report any Title IX issues that may come about. However, they will not be forced to cooperate in any investigation.
Connor McCullar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org