A recent California State of Appeals decision has caused all California colleges and universities to revise their sexual misconduct investigation procedures.
The state appellate court ruled that all schools must allow accused students the right to a hearing and cross-examination.
A campus-wide email was sent out on April 11 to all students, informing them of the updated sexual misconduct procedures. These changes only apply to cases that meet the following description: the accused is a student, finding of guilt could result in severe punishment such as expulsion, and the credibility of any party is crucial to the finding.
In cases that don’t meet these criteria, the updated sexual misconduct revisions don’t apply.
“In the past, you would have a single investigator determine if there was sexual finding,” said Susan Hua, interim Title IX coordinator and assistant vice president of institutional equity and compliance. “Now the initial investigator does their investigation and then gives the report to a hearing officer. The hearing officer will then conduct a hearing and decide what the sexual findings are.”
Cal Poly Pomona currently has not conducted any official hearings at this time.
There are a few cases pending hearing.
The chancellor’s office is in charge of assigning and vetting the hearing officers, as the university waits for a hearing officer to be appointed for the pending cases.
“Unfortunately, this court case that was decided in January has made it take more time with investigations,” Hua said.
Prior to this ruling, most student sexual misconduct cases took place in private, where the accuser and accused only talked through a Title IX investigator.
The court ruling currently allows student to be cross-examined by a neutral party.
Some, like student Jannell Rivera, a fourth-year nutritional science major, worry that having to go through hearings could prevent students from reporting sexual misconduct.
“I do believe that individuals may negatively take advantage of the situation to condone themselves or others due to fear of the consequences,” she said. “But hopefully, it will deter individuals from performing such acts.”
Students do have the option to resolve the case in an early resolution process, but both parties must agree to resolve matters in early resolution for it to be an option.
In this process, any disciplinary actions or remedies are agreed upon by both parties.
Early resolution has always been an option in the investigation procedures, and now students have more time to decide if they want to choose this option.
Students have up until before the hearing officer makes a decision on the results of the case to choose early resolution, similarly to a plea deal.
“I think there need to be as many options as possible for someone who feels they have been harmed,” Hua said. “Some accusers want to go through the whole process and some don’t want any contact or to go through an investigation.”
Hua added that no contact is a form of early resolution.
“If an accuser is a senior and the accused is a junior, they both can come to the agreement in early resolution, that the accused will be suspended from school for one year till the accuser graduates,” Hua said.
Student sexual misconduct investigation procedures are now more similar to city and state investigations done outside of a university.
“I don’t think anyone should let hearings, as part of the investigation procedures, stop them from speaking up,” Rivera said. “I once deterred myself from speaking up. To this day, I regret not speaking up. I could have saved myself from years of pain and self-pity.”
Campus-related sexual misconduct incidents can be reported at the Title IX office located on the second floor of the west side of the Student Services Building.
Student Advocacy Services (SAS) is also available for students who have experienced any sexual abuse, domestic violence, or stalking. SAS provides confidential support on how to address specific situations and is located in Building 66, room 117B and 119.
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