Colleges and universities across the nation rely on federal funding to remain operational—including schools in Connecticut. As a result, these schools face ongoing pressure to pursue allegations of sexual misconduct among students, faculty, or staff according to federal rules in order to keep their funding. New rules recently implemented by the U.S. Department of Education have caused additional confusion into an already high-pressure situation.
None of these developments bode especially well for students who are accused of sexual misconduct. The risk increases for them to be denied due process or unfairly punished—putting their professional futures in jeopardy.
If you are a Connecticut college student facing disciplinary action for sexual misconduct allegations, hiring an attorney-advisor could make a huge difference in the outcome. Here's what you need to know to make sure your rights are protected.
Changes in the Rules Surrounding Sexual Misconduct Investigations
Since the early 1970s, Title IX has protected students against all forms of discrimination based on sex. For many years, the government has interpreted these protections to cover incidents of sexual harassment or assault, as well. But beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the U.S. Department of Education has directed some critical changes in the rules regarding how schools enforce Title IX protections. Among the most notable changes:
- A single investigative process for students, faculty, and staff accused of sexual misconduct. Investigations must now include live hearings with cross-examination of witnesses, not unlike what happens in court. Any witness who declines to participate in the hearing and submit to questioning will not have their testimony included in the investigation.
- Clarification of off-campus authority. Colleges and universities are responsible for pursuing allegations of sexual misconduct occurring at any event or location (on or off campus) where the school exercises “substantial control.” This includes off-campus fraternity and sorority housing, but it does not include other forms of off-campus housing, even if the housing is primarily designated for students. The school also has no Title IX jurisdiction over students participating in studies abroad.
- Replacing “reasonably known” with “actual knowledge.” Where schools could previously be held responsible for incidents of sexual misconduct about which they should have “reasonably known,” the new DOE rules only make schools responsible for such incidents about which they have “actual knowledge.”
Changes in How Sexual Misconduct Is Defined
Under previous Title IX rules, schools defined sexual misconduct/harassment as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. That definition is now much narrower. Now, Title IX protections only extend to sexual misconduct falling under one of the following three categories:
- Actual instances of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking
- Instances of quid pro quo (e.g. trading favors for sex)
- Uninvited sexual conduct deemed “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
Regarding the third point, this terminology has the potential to narrow the scope of eligible sexual harassment significantly. It is certain to raise many questions regarding what forms of sexual misconduct deny “equal access” or are considered “objectively offensive,” adding even more confusion to the mix. What is deemed to be "severe" and "pervasive" can also be expected to be contested based on what is at stake in a Title IX case.
How Connecticut Schools Are Responding
The new rule changes have sent many schools (including some in Connecticut) scrambling to rewrite their procedures and policies. As a result, these changes, which were intended to provide additional protection for the accused, may actually make unfair treatment more likely. Here's why:
First—the new rules do not stop individual schools from creating their own sexual misconduct policies alongside Title IX. Thus, many individual schools are revising their own student conduct policies to restore some protections for accusers. Thus, accused students whose allegations no longer fall within the scope of Title IX may still face discipline under the school's own policies—and in some cases may even face parallel investigations for the same alleged offense.
Second—the new DOE rules themselves face an uncertain future, due in part to legal challenges from eighteen states as well as the possibility of a shift to a Democratic administration with the next election. There is a significant possibility that either situation could roll back these new rules.
When there is chaos and uncertainty with rules and policies regarding school discipline, it is typically the accused who pays the price. The risk of unfair treatment goes up because there are too many variables, and therefore too many opportunities for mistakes.
Why You Need an Attorney-Advisor
If you are facing a school disciplinary investigation for sexual misconduct allegations, your academic and professional future could be jeopardized if the hearing goes against you. Fortunately, accused students are allowed to hire an attorney to help them in an advisory role in these types of situations. Hiring an attorney-advisor. An experienced advisor will have the latest information on Title IX rules and individual school policies, giving you an advantage when it comes to preparing your defense and protecting your rights. Additionally, your advisor can help you prepare your defense by gathering evidence and procuring witnesses to speak for you. And even in an advisory capacity, an attorney's presence intuitively makes the school more accountable to abide by its own rules, so your due process rights are protected. The result: a fairer disciplinary process that gives you a much better shot at protecting your reputation and your professional future.
College Sexual Misconduct Advisor for Connecticut Students
If you're a college student in Connecticut facing sexual misconduct allegations, you should consult with a skilled attorney-advisor as soon as possible, especially before any meetings, interviews, or hearings take place. Attorney Joseph D. Lento's extensive experience with student misconduct cases makes him a pre-eminent authority on student disciplinary procedures and students' rights. The Lento Law Firm has successfully defended countless students nationwide against Title IX and sexual misconduct allegations. Take the first step today toward protecting your good name, your academic standing, and your professional future. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 to learn more.
Connecticut colleges and universities where Joseph D. Lento can help as your or your student's college sexual misconduct advisor during investigations, hearings, and appeals include, but are not limited to, the following schools:
- Eastern Connecticut State University
- Central Connecticut State University
- Southern Connecticut State University
- Western Connecticut State University
- University of Connecticut
- Asnuntuck Community College
- Capital Community College
- Charter Oak State College
- Gateway Community College
- Housatonic Community College
- Manchester Community College
- Middlesex Community College
- Naugatuck Valley Community College
- Northwestern Connecticut Community College
- Norwalk Community College
- Quinebaug Valley Community College
- Three Rivers Community College
- Tunxis Community College
Federal-Level Military Academy
- United States Coast Guard Academy – (exempt from Title IX and the Clery Act)
Private Colleges and Universities
- Albertus Magnus College
- Connecticut College
- Fairfield University
- Goodwin College
- Hartford Seminary
- Holy Apostles College and Seminary
- Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts
- Mitchell College
- New England Baptist College
- University of New Haven
- Paier College of Art
- Quinnipiac University
- Rensselaer at Hartford
- Sacred Heart University
- St. Vincent's College
- Trinity College
- University of Bridgeport
- University of Hartford
- University of Saint Joseph
- Wesleyan University
- Yale University
- Lincoln College of New England (formerly Briarwood College)
- Lincoln Technical Institute
- Post University
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your Connecticut school is handled properly and that the accused student's interests are protected from as early as possible during the sexual misconduct investigative process. One major reason is because even at colleges and universities where a finding of responsibility for sexual misconduct charges is made at a hearing, the investigation will set the stage for what the hearing panel is provided prior to a hearing (and what the hearing panel will in large part rely on at a hearing), and at schools where the finding of responsibility is made solely through the investigative process, what takes place during the investigation itself will determine whether the accused is found responsible or not responsible for college sexual misconduct charges.
Unfortunately, some students, families, and college employees make the mistake of not taking the necessary precautions as soon as possible when accused of sexual misconduct at college. Some people will mistakenly believe that if they "just explain what happened," their college or university will be fair and impartial and will arrive at the truth. In a perfect world this may be the case, but in a perfect world, sexual misconduct cases would not exist.
Fighting passionately for the future of his clients at universities and colleges throughout the nation for many years, Joseph D. Lento knows how important it is to mount the strongest defense because he understands that an accused's academic and professional future is on the line. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph Lento is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted as an attorney pro hac vice in state and federal court if needed when representing clients nationwide, and serves as a college sexual misconduct advisor to students and others in academia facing sexual misconduct investigations and Title IX disciplinary cases in Connecticut and throughout the nation. Make certain your or your student's interests are protected - Contact National College Sexual Misconduct Attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or by completing our online form.