Title IX changes when it gets personal

Josephine MacLean

I never faced the realities of a Title IX investigation until last semester. Watching a close friend of mine undergo an investigation opened my eyes to ways we can make our Title IX process less traumatizing for everyone involved. Even the person accused of a violation. 

I never expected to write a column that defended those accused of Title IX violations. I participated in the MeToo movement and spent hours trying to understand UT’s complicated sexual assault problem. Creating a culture where sexual assault can be discussed, adjudicated and prevented is the goal. Right now, the Title IX process is confusing and traumatizing for both potential complainants and respondents. 

At the start of finals season last spring, my friend received an email with the subject “Required Meeting with Title IX Training and Investigations.”

In hindsight, and from a strictly line item perspective, this Title IX investigation was relatively painless. Someone reported the possibility of intimate partner violence, a few weeks later, the potential victim was contacted, and she clarified the report was unnecessary. Case closed. 

But for my friend, those three weeks of his life turned into a waking nightmare.

The email came around 4pm on a Friday.  My friend spent the weekend agonizing over what he could be accused of — the initial email only stated that he “may have been involved in a violation of the Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities.” 

The next Monday, the woman who answered the phone in the Dean’s office told him she could not help him. She repeated what he already knew — that he had an interview with Title IX investigators scheduled in about a month. To get more information, he’d have to wait until one of the investigators assigned to his case could speak with him.

Later in the week, the Title IX investigator told my friend that they could not share any more information with him because they had not reached out to the potential complainant. Three weeks later, the investigators contacted her. The report had been made by a third party, and when the potential victim was contacted, she told the office she did not want to continue with the investigation, closing my friend’s case. 

For the Title IX office, these short-lived investigations are part of a professional routine. But I  saw the mental toll it took on my friend and the additional stress he experienced trying to decipher which resources were available to him.

We later found out two documents that should have been attached were missing from the original notification email. The email’s sender did not attach the resource guide or the No Contact order, which bans communication between a complainant and respondent. Both documents are supposed to be included on every notification email that goes out. When I asked the Dean’s office, which oversees Title IX investigations, about this, they said there was no way they could have made this mistake. 

Facing accusations of assault can be terrifying for anyone. My friend had so little faith in the system that he couldn’t tell his own mother what he was facing. His reaction and experience with the process made it clear that Title IX cannot serve as the community safety net it is intended as if traumatizes everyone involved in the process. 

On a university campus, Title IX investigations covers issues that range from criminal assault to potential domestic disputes. This broad net sometimes catches those who have not committed crimes or even violated the student code of conduct. Before anything beyond the information in an initial report is known, the first reaction should be more empathetic. The university is not a law enforcement agency, it’s a community trying to keep students safe.  

As the MeToo movement continues and reports such as these become more and more common, it would benefit our system to look at the way it interacts with both potential victims and potential violators. They’re students too. 

MacLean is a geography and advertising senior from Austin.