The Process at A Glance
If a current member of the Northwestern community (i.e., student, faculty, or staff) experiences any form of sexual misconduct perpetrated by another current member of the Northwestern community (i.e., student, faculty, or staff) they have the option to have their report investigated by the Office of Equity and may have the option to participate in a hearing through the University’s disciplinary system, the University Hearing and Appeals System (UHAS). UHAS is separate and distinct from legal or criminal justice processes and focuses specifically on determining whether members of the Northwestern community violated university policy and, if so, what sanctions should be applied. All staff affiliated with UHAS are specifically trained in responding to reports of sexual misconduct, stalking, and dating and domestic violence.
CARE staff are available to assist, advise, and support you at any point during this process, including by further breaking down any information on this page or by acting as confidential advisors during investigations. Please schedule an appointment here to learn more.
Once a report has been submitted, survivors may attend an intake meeting with the Office of Equity to discuss their various options. The Office of Equity will gather information to determine if the behavior being described could constitute a policy violation and, if so, under which policy. There are two Northwestern policies relevant to sexual misconduct, Title IX (TIX) and Policy on Institutional Equity (PIE). The complainant does not need to determine which policy is applicable to their experience, this should be done by the OE. Additionally, the OE will make determination based on the facts of the complaint (i.e., when, where, and what happened). The biggest difference between these two policies is that TIX complaints require a live hearing, while PIE complaints do not.
After meeting with OE, a survivor may decide not to proceed with an investigation or to pursue an informal or formal response. Survivors can decide not to continue participating in an investigation or hearing at any point, though in certain, rare cases where OE determines there is a larger threat to the campus community they may move forward with the process regardless. Informal responses include educational meetings, training, or advisory letters warning against repeating certain behaviors directed at the respondent.
If the Office of Equity and the survivor are in agreement about proceeding with a formal investigation, the survivor will meet with investigators from the Office. Investigators are responsible for exploring all aspects of the complaint; interviewing the complainant, respondent, and any witnesses; and reviewing all available documentation and evidence. Both parties are able to offer investigators evidence and names of witnesses. The investigators will write a preliminary report of findings that will be sent to the complainant and respondent. Both parties will have the opportunity to respond in writing to the report before it is finalized. Throughout this process, both parties may name an advisor who can accompany them to meetings and assist them with understanding and responding to the process.
Policy on Institutional Equity (PIE) Decision
If a complaint is being investigated under the Policy on Institutional Equity, a final report will then be released to both parties with a decision of responsibility for the alleged policy violation (i.e., respondent is responsible or not responsible for violating university policy). This decision is made on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence standard (it is more likely than not that the policy violation occurred).
Title IX (TIX) Hearing and Decision
If the complaint is being investigated as a violation of Title IX, a final report without a decision of responsibility will be released to both parties. A live hearing will then be held. During this hearing, a trained, appointed decision maker who has read the final report will have the opportunity to ask questions of the complainant, respondent, and witnesses. Additionally, the complainant and respondent will each have an advisor present throughout the hearing; these advisors will have the opportunity to question the other party and each witness. Many students choose to have an attorney as an advisor, but this is not required. If a student would like to have an attorney as an advisor, they may hire their own or may make use of one who is assigned by the university for free.
Accommodations for the hearing will be discussed before it is held. However, both parties must have the option to see and hear the other party’s statements throughout the hearing.
Following the hearing, the decision maker will release their decision of responsibility (i.e., respondent is responsible or not responsible for violating university policy). This decision is also made on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence standard (it is more likely than not that the policy violation occurred).
If a student respondent is found responsible for policy violations, the respondent and complainant will each have the opportunity to speak before a trained panel of faculty and staff volunteers who have read the final report and are familiar with the case. With this input in mind, these volunteers will agree upon and issue sanctions for the respondent, up to and including suspension and expulsion. If faculty or staff respondents are found responsible for policy violations, they will be sanctioned by different bodies. Please note that the respondent and complainant do not have to be in the same room for sanctioning.
Both the complainant and the respondent have the ability to appeal either the findings or the sanctions issued if they have legitimate grounds for doing so (as determined by staff reviewers) within 5 calendar days of receiving the outcome(s). These grounds can include the discovery of new information, procedural errors, conflict of interest/bias, or an obviously unreasonable or unsupported outcome.
Survivors are not obligated to participate in the full UHAS process or to receive a responsible finding to access support on campus. Both the Office of Equity and CARE are able to offer support and resources to remediate the impact of misconduct on your education and to help prevent the recurrence of harm.