Civil Rights

College violated rights of accused student in sex misconduct hearing, Department of Education says

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Department of Education

Wesley College didn’t interview a student it expelled for sexual misconduct, and that, among other things, violated his Title IX rights, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The student, accused of helping to livestream a male and female engaged in a sex act without the woman’s consent, was expelled in April 2015, shortly before he was scheduled to graduate, the Washington Post reports.

Wesley College notified the accused that he was charged with violating its sexual misconduct policy on April 1, 2015, and its judicial hearing board expelled the student six days later, according to an OCR letter (PDF) released Wednesday. The agency found that the school’s Title IX investigator prepared a report for the hearing without interviewing the accused, and he was not provided with a copy of the investigator’s report in advance of the hearing. Also, the school reportedly skipped a preliminary conference, where he would have been given an opportunity to tell his side of the story, Title IX Blog reports.

The subject of the Oct. 12 OCR letter was one of four male students at a fraternity party reportedly involved in the livestreaming, the Washington Post reports. All of them were expelled, although a female student told an administrator that the student in question was not involved in the incident.

He reportedly was prevented from hearing the testimony of others facing expulsion. They said that he was a livestream planning participant, and the other students’ testimony was the only evidence supporting the judicial board’s finding against him, Title IX Blog reports. The Title IX complaint was brought by the accused’s mother, according to OCR’s Oct. 12 letter.

Wesley College reached a voluntary settlement with the agency. Terms include the college agreeing to reinvestigate, in compliance with Title IX, the livestreaming incident, according to an OCR press release. The school also agreed to reinvestigate other sexual misconduct allegations made between 2013 and 2015, after OCR found that it failed to provide “procedural safeguards and equitable investigations” for other accused students.

“Wesley College appreciates the insights and recommendations provided by the Office for Civil Rights, and will incorporate them into our ongoing efforts of providing our students and community an educational environment that is second to none,” the school said in a written statement, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Last year, the OCR found that the University of Virginia’s informal resolution process for sexual misconduct accusations was not equitable to complainants or the accused (PDF) because the school imposed sanctions on the basis of an admission without an independent investigation. The Wesley College finding marks the first time that the OCR issued a press release focused on how a school treated a student accused of sexual misconduct, Buzzfeed reports.

Know Your IX, a student organization focused on ending sexual and dating violence, applauded the recent OCR finding.

“As we know all too well, a commitment to fair process benefits not only accused students but also survivors who are, too often, harmed by the same lack of procedural protections as the accused. What’s more, these procedural protections are critical to limiting discrimination, including on the basis of race and class, in campus investigations and adjudication,” Dana Bolger, a Yale Law School student and co-founder of the group, told the ABA Journal.

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