Mobilizing Your Family for Title IX
As parents we launch our newly-minted college students with both pride and hesitation into a world promising the best four years of their lives. But sometimes a student gets caught in an otherwise typical situation that spirals into a nightmare. How do we effectively re-engage as parents to protect and defend our child in what quickly becomes a tribunal circus lacking any fundamental fairness?
Your World Shatters
Sometimes the call comes out of the blue. Perhaps your student hears a rumor and begins to suspect an accusation is brewing. Maybe they face the Title IX initial inquiry alone, only to fall apart on a phone call home when they realize that they are severely outnumbered and outmatched by career inquisitors. But sometimes the call doesn’t come until they are packing up their dorm room after being suspended or expelled, without you ever having known there was a problem.
If you are reading this post, you may have received that call:
“Mom, Dad….help. I need help.”
Catch Your Breath
Nothing prepares a parent for this moment. Frozen in disbelief, you experience a heart-stopping punch in the gut. The parental reactions immediately kick in: How did this happen? Why is nobody believing you? We trusted these people. Surely this will get straightened out. Did you tell them what actually went on?
Your first thoughts turn to protecting your family’s physical, mental and emotional health. This is vital and there are no shortcuts. Your child has been targeted and your family pulled into a hostile environment where the rules can be a moving target and your child’s guilt is all but assumed.
The topic of sexual assault is a volatile political weapon and on a college campus, a mere accusation is the tool of choice for personal destruction. As such, the Title IX process can be deliberately adversarial and littered with basic unfairness from start to finish. Not everybody will understand what you are going through and many will be unsympathetic, if not openly hostile. For these reasons, circle the wagons and choose your trusted confidants carefully.
Seek Legal Help
After securing your family’s safety, consider consulting experienced legal counsel for guidance. Regardless of what any school administrator says, your child’s best chance of success is to partner with an experienced Title IX attorney. Since Title IX is a federal issue you are not constrained to local counsel. Also, if there is an accompanying criminal complaint, an experienced Title IX attorney will coordinate effectively with your local criminal attorney. Begin to research and interview multiple firms to find the best representation for your family, keeping two important points in mind: every school has a unique sexual misconduct policy and no two cases are ever the same.
So, what does experienced mean? Consider a firm’s overall volume and geographic reach for Title IX cases. Does the attorney have both depth and breadth of experience in Title IX matters? As you narrow your choices, take a more granular look at the attorney’s experience uniquely suited to your child’s institution: public versus private, research university versus liberal arts college, undergraduate versus graduate, etc. Finally, seek a true partnership in which your family is comfortable with the team of attorneys who will advise and defend your child.
Remember you are establishing a professional relationship so straightforward conversations will be the foundation of a successful defense. It is absolutely crucial to maintain honesty with your team of attorneys, regardless of how uncomfortable the conversations may become. Wherever you are in the disciplinary process, the addition of an experienced and trusted Title IX attorney can dramatically impact the positive outcome of your child’s case and protect your child’s rights.
Even under ideal circumstances family dynamics can be a challenge. Now you are called upon to blend personalities, styles, habits, and skill sets under extraordinary conditions. This is where some serious and honest self-reflection will help each family member find a role that works toward the common goal. For accused college students, independence, identity and personal boundaries are under assault from every direction. A way for them to reclaim a voice is by advocating for themselves under both the watchful eyes of a loving family and the skilled guidance of an experienced attorney.
As soon as possible, begin to document and preserve any texts, emails, photos, or other social media posts by all associated parties. Have your student prepare a detailed written timeline which includes all activities, witnesses, dates, times, and locations pertaining to the situation. These details are often very private moments that no child wants to share, especially not with a parent. While the private details may be too painful for a parent to hear, encourage your child to carefully chronicle their experience for the attorneys. This can be terribly invasive for a student already feeling stripped of his or her privacy; however, having a detailed accounting of the events is critical to your child’s defense in the campus disciplinary hearing.
Assume that the Title IX coordinator has a healthy head start with their investigation and that school policy does not favor due process or a presumption of innocence. Not only will you need to educate yourself about Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act, but also the school’s specific Sexual Misconduct Policy, generally found online or as part of the student handbook. Become familiar with terms such as Due Process, the Dear Colleague Letter, Preponderance of Evidence, and Single Investigator Model. Pay close attention to procedures, deadlines and terminology, keeping detailed notes on how the school adheres (or not) to their own policy. For example, does your child have equal access to investigative materials, the right to examine witnesses, or the benefit of unbiased hearing members?
The more educated you become, the better equipped you are to document any procedural violations or injustices. Moreover, an informed parent is much more effective both as an advocate for the student and a partner with the attorney. There are numerous online resources such as guides and databases to educate yourselves and identify what lies ahead so you can better navigate the world of Title IX.
Learn to Communicate
There is a steep and treacherous learning curve when dealing with Title IX and you need to allow yourself room for misunderstandings and even some mistakes. How you best communicate is a unique decision and comes down to what works best for your family. Honesty, sensitivity, flexibility, and patience are often rare commodities that become invaluable during this crisis. That said, effective partnerships often start with everybody being on the same page. As a family, crystallize your primary goals and expectations and relay that information to your attorney in a clear, consistent way. It may be helpful to consider a family spokesperson to streamline communications to avoid conflicting messages and reduce unnecessary or redundant exchanges. The goalpost tends to move throughout the process, so make adjustments when appropriate, but be steadfast and try to assume the best.
Our attorneys are Title IX defense specialists and we have helped hundreds of accused students across the country who have been treated unfairly by their schools. We are parents too. Call us at 212-736-4500 or contact us as soon as a complaint is filed and we will be there aggressively protecting your rights, ensuring a fundamentally fair process, or establishing the deficiencies that will lead a court to reverse the school’s adverse findings. There is no fee for a private consultation.
Because every student’s situation is different, this blog does not constitute the giving of legal advice.