Westminster College updated its Title IX policy ahead of the Fall semester — along with other colleges across the country — to align with the newly updated regulations from the federal government.
Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, announced the updates in May — which officially took effect Aug. 14. Part of the updated language includes an official definition of sexual harassment, requires certain supportive measures for survivors on campus and establishes due process for both accusers and the accused.
“I think the biggest change that’s taking place is that students and faculty and staff who encounter Title IX issues now have the option to either do an informal resolution process or go through a formal grievance process,” said Mary Royal, the Title IX coordinator and director of equal opportunity at Westminster College.
An informal resolution is a more flexible option, according to Royal, typically resulting in mediation. A grievance process, on the other hand, is now “strictly outlined” in DeVos’ regulations allowing for live hearings with cross-examinations.
“The advisers actually cross-examine both sides and then a determination is made and then the parties have the opportunity to appeal afterwards,” Royal said. “That’s a big change.”
Westminster’s updated Title IX process
The formal grievance process at Westminster follows a specific timeline that is outlined in “Interim Title IX Procedures for Complaints (Title IX Policy Appendix A).”
Part of the process includes a “Fact Finding” period, which allows for the appointed coordinator to determine the relevancy of the presented information. Both parties will have an equal opportunity to present their side.
The investigator will call to see all information or evidence deemed relevant to the case. However, the Title IX coordinator may step in to deem something as irrelevant and exclude it from the process.
Part of this evidence will include “information related to the allegations, including names of witnesses and documentation related to the incident, which may include but is not limited to, documented communications between parties, receipts, photos, video or other information relevant to the allegations,” according to the school’s policy.
However, the college notes “the sexual history” of both parties will not be considered unless deemed necessary for the case.
After the fact finding portion is concluded, the parties will be scheduled for an official hearing which will present the relevant information found during the previous period. Either party may join in-person or virtually.
During the hearings, advisers will conduct cross-examinations of both parties “in real time.” A decision will be made and presented to both parties within 14 days after the conclusion of the hearing.
Both parties are subject to appeal the decision — which can be made on the grounds of a procedural error, the presentation of new evidence or suspicion of bias.
Mary Royal explains how this will affect the campus community
Westminster updated its Title IX policy Aug. 15, one day after the federal regulations took effect. Royal started working at Westminster Aug. 10, spending her first week at Westminster College updating the policy before the deadline.
Royal sat down with Forum reporter Grace French to talk more about how the new regulations will affect the Westminster community. You can listen to the full interview here, or listen on our Spotify, SoundCloud or Apple Podcasts.