How Midd Works: The Title IX Office

By KAYLA LICHTMAN

The Title IX Office shed light on its procedures and policies, attempting to make more visible what goes on behind the scenes, in the year’s first MiddWorks presentation on Oct. 10. Title IX Coordinator Sue Ritter and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Karen Guttentag explained that the mission of their office is to promote safety and equality, investigate policy violations and ensure that the school complies with legal guidelines.

The presenters expressed their commitment to maintaining the rigor of investigations while recognizing that they are time-sensitive. 

While prioritizing depth over haste adds to the length of each investigation, Ritter and Guttentag explained that they don’t believe setting arbitrary deadlines serves any parties well. Throughout each investigation, both parties must have equal access to review all evidence provided in the case. This can include interview transcripts, text messages or other forms of information.

The investigative process is not influenced by public discourse or political pressures, Ritter and Guttentag said. They stressed that their process is one of maximum transparency and privacy for the parties involved.

The Title IX Office is overseen by the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education. Because of this, many of its policies are dictated by national law, including the policies encompassing sexual harassment and other category-based harassment and discrimination.

Policies apply to faculty, staff and students and form a foundation upon which the Title IX Office conducts its investigations. The college also added the category of “dating or domestic misconduct,” which is not included in the federal law, to give the office more leeway to address harmful or problematic behavior.

Due to the private nature of investigations, the process may appear obscure. Ritter and Guttentag attempted to break down their investigative procedure to give the audience a better understanding of what they do.

When a student files a complaint, the office provides the student specific written information about their rights, regardless of whether the student decides to go through with an investigation. If they do proceed, investigations are required to be fair and impartial and conducted by unbiased, trained officials. 

Ritter and Guttentag said that they only enter the investigation process if a reporting student wants them to, except in rare circumstances. When there are factors that could indicate an ongoing, dangerous situation, the office may need to go forward in the name of campus safety contrary to the wishes of the complainant.

The Title IX Office also sometimes handles reports of misconduct committed off campus. If problems occur abroad, in town, or even over the summer, the Title IX Office will pursue an investigation if a hostile environment continues to impact the complainant’s experience on campus.

Ritter also explained that investigations are conducted as paper processes, rather than in the form of live hearings, which some other schools opt for. While Middlebury’s procedure takes longer, it also eliminated the pressure of confronting a live panel.

Ritter concluded by addressing the potential changes the Department of Education has signaled they will implement in the coming months under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Once the new policies are announced, the government will conduct a notice and comment period in which Middlebury will have the chance to respond to the guidelines. Regardless of  the outcome, the college will be bound to follow national laws regarding adjudication of sexual assault. 

Ritter said it is highly likely that the upcoming changes will lead to any changes in Middlebury’s policies. 

The “How Midd Works” initiative is led by the Student Government Association (SGA) and President Laurie L. Patton’s senior leadership group (SLG). The initiative is part of the SGA’s and SLG’s Common Agenda, and was developed to give students a better sense of how the college operates.

The next presentation in the MiddWorks series will be held on Oct. 25 and will describe the operations of the Student Financial Services office. 

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