As colleges and universities grapple with unexpected and indefinite closures, officials are being forced to figure out what to do with open sexual assault investigations, and find a way for students to continue to report misconduct.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, some colleges require the process of adjudicating sexual-assault complaints to include a a live hearing with cross examination, following a 2018 court ruling that affected colleges in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
While administrators largely agree that many of these hearings can be held virtually, the resolution of sexual assault cases could still be delayed by a year or more.
One student, named Lexie, thought that her Title IX case against another student at her Midwestern public university would finally come to a close this month. The investigation wrapped up in January, and a hearing was scheduled for March 11. But covid-19 caused classes to be moved online, and administrators postponed the hearing until in-person classes resume over the summer, at the earliest. Lexie, however, is set to graduate in the spring.
“I just want it to be done,” she said. “It feels like I wasted my last semester of college.”
Faith Ferber, a graduate student at Rutgers University and a student-engagement organizer with the advocacy group Know Your IX, said that delaying the process prolongs the trauma for students who have already undergone a traumatic experience, which in addition to the incident itself also involves making appointments for investigative interviews, scheduling hearings, and responding to emails from the Title IX office—all while trying to keep up with classes.
She went through a Title IX investigation as an undergraduate. “I very much feel like if I knew it was going to take that long, I would never have reported it in the first place,” she said.