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SMC panel examines Title IX implications

| Thursday, October 1, 2015

Saint Mary’s Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) held a panel regarding Title IX and the process of reporting sexual assault for both Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame campuses on Wednesday.

Panelists included Saint Mary’s Title IX coordinator and college counsel Rich Nugent, Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Johnson and Notre Dame’s interim Title IX deputy coordinator for student respondent cases Annie Eaton.

sexual assault colorSusan Zhu

Nugent said the Title IX process at Saint Mary’s has been improved this year.

“This year, we are doing things differently,” Nugent said. “We are not doing investigations in house. We have engaged two local attorneys who have real excellent expertise in this area.”

Nugent said Saint Mary’s students can report cases against Notre Dame students directly to the University, but he suggests they also notify the College to receive the full support and benefit of the resources offered.

Johnson said this year the College has increased campus-wide training on the Title IX process and is in the processes of adding more training that includes LGBTQ-specific information.

Eaton said the process at Notre Dame starts when she receives word of a case. She said she then reaches out to the complainant, and they discuss the situation. The complainant is then presented with all of the options and decides to proceed either with a legal case or with the University’s conduct process. She said the process then moves into investigations.

Eaton said the University uses the same outside attorneys to investigate.

“The investigators are not there to form an opinion about that case,” Eaton said. “They simply ask the facts. They collect evidence. … After that process is complete, they transcribe the interviews and they send it back to the deputy Title IX coordinator.”

She said once the University receives the report, the complainant again has the power to choose how to proceed. If the complainant chooses not to move forward, the case moves to associate vice presidents for review.

If the perpetrator is a repeat offender or is found to be a threat to the larger community, Eaton said, the school may take action against the offender without the complainant playing a role. The complainant has up to six months to decide whether or not to move forward with a conduct case.

“Going through any kind of sexual trauma is difficult,” Eaton said. “Sometimes students are ready, sometimes [they] aren’t. So we give that time limit for a student to still be able to change their mind to move forward.

“Even if the student experienced something a year ago but never [reported], and a year later decided they are ready, they can still do that. They can still do it four years later. As long as the respondent is still a student, we can move forward with the conduct process,” she said.

Johnson said Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s work closely with these issues and are in communication with one another. She said her job is handling the appeals processes, helping with support and clarification of information and ensuring that students are treated respectfully and professionally throughout the process.

Nugent said the College will not involve law enforcement or contact the parents of the student unless she specifically requests it.

“One of the most important things for someone who has been sexually assaulted is to give them back the ability to make decisions,” Nugent said. “The only exception to that is possibly in that case where we hear the same name multiple times.”

Johnson said the College has reached the compliant level of the Title IX process and is working on exceeding that level.

“We’ve been growing and growing, and we’re not done growing,” she said. “We have a long way to go, and we have a lot of things to do. … We’ve been doing this for 10 years, but we can do it for 50 years, and we’ll still miss some things.”

Nugent said the College is not content with where they are on the process, and it will continue to improve. He said the students’ well-being and access to resources is his top priority.

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

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