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Coronavirus Adds Uncertainty to Title IX Investigations on College Campuses

A woman looking at the camera.

When the elation of graduating high school has simmered, and the tears of moms all over the country have been wiped away, college freshman inhale the realization that the next several years are going to be unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. They will have to navigate more difficult classes in the midst of more free time that may possibly lead to more distractions. Like universities all over, the biggest distraction—and often the one that students look forward to the most—is partying.

When Jasmin Hernandez was a freshman at Baylor university, she went to an off-campus party with a group of her friends. As is the norm with most college parties, the loud volume of the room was caused by a mixture of the roars of people dancing, discussing, and drinking. Tevin Elliott, a member of the Baylor football team, was actively making cocktails for Jasmin and a number of other students. When Jasmin realized that she had lost sight of her friends, Tevin insisted that they had gone outside. He pulled her by the wrist to lead her out the door. When they got outside, Jasmin realized that her friends were actually still inside of the party, so she told Tevin that she was going back inside. Before she could make her way back to her friends, the 6’ 5’’, 250-pound linebacker picked up Jasmin and took her behind a secluded shed. He overpowered her and raped her.

In 2014, Tevin was sentenced to 20 years for sexually assaulting Jasmin. Two years later, after Jasmin and her parents had discovered that Tevin had sexually assaulted at least two other women, Jasmin pursued a Title IX lawsuit against Baylor university for their failure to take appropriate action on behalf of victims of sexual assault. Jasmin settled the Title IX lawsuit in 2017.

Unfortunately, many other students have found themselves visiting the Title IX office at their school. Title IX mandates that colleges and universities who receive federal funding must have procedures in place to provide for prompt, equitable resolution when incidents of sexual assault or harassment occur on campus. Schools subject to Title IX have at least one, if not several, Title IX coordinator(s) who monitor the school’s compliance and investigate incidents of sexual harassment and violence. Schools are also responsible for implementing measures and providing accommodations, such as changing students’ class schedules to prevent contact with one another, to address the effects of sexual assault.

The coronavirus has caused a plethora of uncertainty world-wide, and that apprehension has pervaded colleges and universities all over. Between “shelter-in-place” orders and social distancing mandates, the maneuver from in-person communication to complete virtual interaction throws a rather complicated wrinkle into how schools navigate their Title IX investigations. For instance, Syracuse University has announced that all interviews and pending investigations are currently being conducted via teleconference or video chat. While some other institutions are committed to doing the same, the “equitable and prompt” resolution many colleges offer are nothing more than disguised hyperbole during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lexie, a student who is currently involved in a pending investigation, sincerely hoped that the end of March would bring official closure to her Title IX case. That wish came to an abrupt halt when students were asked to leave her campus and resume all coursework online. Because of the protective measures taken in response to the coronavirus, Lexie’s Title IX hearing has been postponed until the university resumes in-person classes—which, at the earliest, is this upcoming summer.

Discouragement will undeniably set in for many students who must harbor the pain of campus sexual assault for the next few months, and unfortunately, even a several month time frame is irresolute. The qualified attorneys at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz represent survivors of sexual assault. Please contact us to receive more information. Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the coronavirus during this time.

Sources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/09/sports/baylor-football-sexual-assault.html
https://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/legal-resources/know-your-rights-on-campus/campus-sexual-assault/
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/03/26/coronavirus-creates-title-ix-obstacles
https://inclusion.syr.edu/
https://www.chronicle.com/article/Sexual-Assault-Investigations/248305