Answers to Questions from Students Following April 3, 2014 Panel

The following questions were presented to the Title IX Coordinating Committee following a student-organized Title IX panel on April 3, 2014. The answers were prepared by the Title IX Coordinating Committee.

  1. There is widespread skepticism on campus that systematic policy change – e.g. regarding sexual assault – are infeasible. What could the administration do to credibly show it is possible to act?
  2. Title IX also mandates that resources be provided for pregnant women on campus. What has the university done to comply with this?
  3. What is NU doing to respond to the petition by concerned faculty regarding sexual violence policies?
  4. Is the victim of sexual assault or harassment the only person who can press charges with the police?
  5. You emphasized that victims of sexual harassment and assault are never forced to withdraw from the university. What about students dealing with mental illness- are they ever forced to withdraw? And could this overlap with victims of sexual assault?
  6. How much weight is given to prior offenses? Why?
  7. If the alleged perpetrator continually runs into the victim (causing anxiety and panic attacks) does the school have a responsibility to act on this?
  8. When a student is on medical leave or has left NU (before graduating), do they still have access to CARE, CAPS and other services even if they are not enrolled? If so, for how long?
  9. Is sexual harassment from an authority figure or employer a different crime than simply sexual harassment?
  10. What is the usual length of time it takes for cases of student on student violence, and staff/student violence?
  11. Are there records of the number of students who use services offered by the school to help support survivors, and which services are more frequently in use?
1. There is widespread skepticism on campus that systematic policy change – e.g. regarding sexual assault – are infeasible. What could the administration do to credibly show it is possible to act?

The best way to show that it is possible to act here at Northwestern is to highlight some of the recent success we have had creating change on our campus.  Northwestern is proud of its many recent achievements in improving its policies and practices and services with respect to sexual violence, all of which show a willingness to change in order to implement best practices in this area. Among the highlights of recent changes are:

  • Forming the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence in 2010, which includes many student representatives, staff, and community partners, to address sexual misconduct response and prevention;
  • Winning a three-year Office on Violence Against Women Act grant and establishing the Center for Advocacy, Response, and Education (CARE) in 2011, which provides confidential counseling and survivor-centered advocacy for students who have experienced sexual violence.  CARE includes two full-time staff members who have received Illinois state certifications as sexual assault survivor and domestic violence survivor advocates;
  • In January 2014, implementing the Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Stalking, Dating and Domestic Violence, which is applicable to all university faculty, staff, and students.  The policy explains in detail the definition of consent, and prohibits numerous types of sexual misconduct;
  • Also in January 2014, implementing the new policy on Consensual Romantic or Sexual Relationships Between Faculty, Staff and Students.  This policy includes an absolute prohibition on relationships between faculty and undergraduate students and coaches and students. (Previously, such relationships were prohibited where the faculty was in a supervisory or evaluative role over the student). We are one of the first universities to implement this type of prohibition.  Faculty relationships with grad students in their program or department must now be disclosed and a plan developed to manage any potential conflict of interest, even if they do not work directly together;   
  • Designating a Title IX Coordinator and four Deputy Title IX Coordinators to oversee the handling of Title IX compliance, including coordinating the investigation of and response to sex discrimination complaints, responding to inquiries concerning Title IX, tracking incidents and trends involving sexual misconduct, coordinating equity in athletics compliance, publicizing Northwestern’s policies and providing training on preventing sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual violence;
  • Launching a new Title IX website providing detailed information on university policies, processes, and resources to handle sexual misconduct;
  • Forming a Title IX Coordinating Committee last April consisting of the offices involved in Title IX compliance. These offices are: Dean of Students, Student Conduct, Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention, CARE,  NUPD, Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, Athletics, Women’s Center, CAPS, Global Safety, and advised by the Office of General Counsel.  The committee revises and improves policies, procedures, and internal communication protocols as needed to ensure compliance with Title IX.  We meet monthly to discuss and implement best practices in Title IX compliance.

In addition, Northwestern continues to explore and implement new ways to improve practices and prevention on campus.  Some highlights of what we hope will  come in the future include improved procedures in student-student sexual misconduct cases, training for staff and faculty, and revision of current policies and practices.

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2. Title IX also mandates that resources be provided for pregnant women on campus. What has the university done to comply with this?

Pursuant to Title IX, Northwestern does not discriminate against pregnant or nursing women nor exclude them from any of its programs or activities. Northwestern treats pregnant women similarly to those in similar medical situations and provides leaves of absences as medically necessary. Some of the resources Northwestern offers are:

  • Resource and referral information for childcare
  • Access to near site childcare centers offering priority access to Northwestern students and discounted rates
  • Free Sittercity membership to help locate in-home childcare
  • Nannyshare Program
  • New mothers packets detailing support services for new parents
  • Fee assistance programs (provided they meet eligibility requirements) for child care
  • Support groups through the Women’s Center
  • Mothers’ Rooms on campus to allow for private pumping space
  • NU Mamas and Papas-  a student parent organization
 3. What is NU doing to respond to the petition by concerned faculty regarding sexual violence policies?

In response to the petition that faculty posted on change.org about sexual violence policies, the Title IX Coordinating Committee issued a response addressing the points made in the petition. The Title IX Coordinating Committee response can be found HERE.

The Title IX Coordinating Committee is continuing to explore ideas raised in the petition and by other concerned community members, as well as procedures used at other institutions, to implement best practices with respect to addressing and preventing sexual violence on campus.  Northwestern is currently revising the new sexual misconduct and consensual relations policies to specify a range of sanctions including, for example, written warnings, loss of privileges, mandatory training or counseling, probation, suspension, demotion, exclusion, expulsion, and termination of employment, including revocation of tenure -- an idea that was suggested in the petition.

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4. Is the victim of sexual assault or harassment the only person who can press charges with the police?

There are three common ways for criminal charges to be brought against an individual: a complaint, an indictment, and an information.  All three ways require the cooperation of the victim/survivor.  A complaint is an affidavit signed by the victim.  An indictment is a finding, typically from a grand jury, based on testimony under oath.  This requires the cooperation/testimony of the victim/survivor.  An information is a formal criminal charge brought by the state’s attorney without the necessity of obtaining an indictment.  An information requires the cooperation of the victim/survivor with the state’s attorney.

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5. You emphasized that victims of sexual harassment and assault are never forced to withdraw from the university. What about students dealing with mental illness- are they ever forced to withdraw? And could this overlap with victims of sexual assault?

No.  In fact, when assisting individuals who have been sexually assaulted or harassed, it is critical to empower them with options.  Forcing someone to take a medical leave would be the direct opposite of empowerment.  NU currently has a voluntary medical leave of absence process available for students who choose to request it and are approved for it.

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6. How much weight is given to prior offenses? Why?

Title IX mandates that the university take corrective actions needed to prevent the recurrence of the inappropriate behavior. In the case of complaints against faculty and staff, evidence of a pattern of perpetration increases the severity of discipline needed.  If a respondent has previously been disciplined for a behavior and then repeated the behavior, that indicates that stronger disciplinary action will be needed.  

Similarly, in the student conduct process, prior findings of responsibility for policy violations are given considerable weight in the sanctioning phase.  During the hearing phase, only the current allegations are considered because it is important to look at the actions of an individual in each case independently to ensure objectivity.  If a student is found responsible for a policy violation, their prior conduct history is taken into account in the sanctioning phase.  This is done to ensure that the student receives sanctions that are most likely to prompt them to learn from their actions and change their behavior – as well as to ensure the safety of the campus community. 

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7. If the alleged perpetrator continually runs into the victim (causing anxiety and panic attacks) does the school have a responsibility to act on this?

Northwestern has a responsibility to remediate the impact and prevent the reoccurrence of sexual misconduct in our campus community.  The Office of Student Conduct and the Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention have the ability to take interim action to ensure the safety and security of the person reporting the misconduct.  Interim actions may include: a no-contact directive, removal of privileges, relocation within campus housing, suspension of activity (including attendance in a specific class), and administrative leave pending an investigation of a staff or faculty member.  Through a conduct hearing or investigation, if a respondent is found responsible for the policy violation, these interim actions may be made permanent or may be altered to better meet the needs of the person reporting the misconduct.

When a police report is filed, even without a criminal charge, an order of protection can be sought through the court to limit contact between an alleged offender and victim. An alleged victim of a sex offense, even without a police report or a criminal charge, can seek a civil no-contact order which provides many of the same remedies that an order of protection can provide.

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8. When a student is on medical leave or has left NU (before graduating), do they still have access to CARE, CAPS and other services even if they are not enrolled? If so, for how long?

CARE will continue to provide services to students who continue to be associated with the NU community. Until a student graduates or leaves NU permanently, CARE will work with them regardless of whether they’re on medical leave or not enrolled in classes. If someone graduates or completely withdraws from NU, then CARE can no longer provide services. The limits of CARE’s services are described in the confidentiality policy that all students sign when they begin to receive services from CARE.

Only enrolled students are eligible for services at CAPS.  However, CAPS will provide referrals, if requested, for individuals who are no longer students.  If a student is taking a voluntary medical leave, CAPS staff will oftentimes work with students to help them get connected to the most appropriate treatment.  

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9. Is sexual harassment from an authority figure or employer a different crime than simply sexual harassment?

In the legal system, there are several elements of criminal sex offenses that either elevate the offense to a higher offense or are otherwise aggravating factors (age of offender/victim, certain relationships between offender and victim – custodial or caregiver, etc.).  In the higher education setting there is not a criminal aggravating factor based on an authoritative role of an offender versus a victim.

Under Northwestern’s policy, sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which includes, but is not limited to, unwelcome sexual advances; the use or threatened use of sexual favors as a basis for academic or employment decisions; conduct that creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive academic or working environment; conduct that has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance; and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a person's ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity.

It is important to note that, while sexual violence and stalking are crimes and may also be sexual harassment, not all sexual harassment is a crime.  For example, sexual assault (defined by Illinois law as sexual penetration by force or threat of force, or without consent), is a crime, while making inappropriate comments about someone’s appearance is not a crime but may be sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can be between parties of the same or different status at the university (faculty, staff, student, or other).  The status of the parties, and whether one party has power or authority over the other, is relevant to determining the severity of the offense and the sanctions under the University’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Stalking, and Dating and Domestic Violence.

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10. What is the usual length of time it takes for cases of student on student violence, and staff/student violence?

Investigations of complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, against staff or faculty members are handled by the Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention.  Most cases are investigated and resolved within 60 days of receiving a complaint .

The Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution handles complaints against students.  The goal is to have sexual misconduct cases resolved within 60 days of receiving a complaint from a student.  Often we are able to resolve them much more quickly than that, but there are also times when there are complicating factors that require us to take more time.  For example, there may be times when a student files an initial complaint but is leaving for a study abroad trip.  Situations like this may lengthen the time required for an investigation.

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11. Are there records of the number of students who use services offered by the school to help support survivors, and which services are more frequently in use?

CARE reports the total number of students who receive advocacy services from our office annually in our report to the VPSA (available on the CARE website at http://www.northwestern.edu/care/get-involved/campus-coalition-on-sexual-violence.html). In our first year, from September 2011 – May 2012, we provided advocacy services for 17 students. In our second year, from June 2012 – May 2013, we provided advocacy services for 54 students. From June 2013 – April 7, 2014, we have provided advocacy services to 62 students.

The Women’s Center worked clinically with 23 students reporting some form of sexual assault while in college.  That is not inclusive of the number who have experienced some form of sexual violence prior to coming to college.  Although these categories are not always mutually exclusive, it is accurate in relation to college sexual assault experience.

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