The U.S. Department of Education implemented Title IX 1972, which prohibited sexually-based discrimination in all educational institutions. All schools must implement and maintain internal guidelines for compliance or risk losing eligibility for federal education funding. The federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) provides enforcement and ongoing guidance to college and university leaders. Much of their effort involves adopting provisions in response to emerging technology, which includes how Title IX relates to social media and other platforms that now represent a viable and mainstream medium for daily communication among those in campus communities.
Understanding Title IX
Title IX prohibits acts of sexual violence such as rape or battery committed against unwilling victims. These physical actions involve victims that have either not given consent or are legally incapable of granting consent. Those who may be deemed as incapable include minors, individuals that are intoxicated from drugs or alcohol, and those with a mental impairment.
Acts of verbal or nonverbal sexual harassment are also prohibited, such as where victims are subjected to a hostile educational environment as a result of slurs or stereotypes. Some of the most commonly harassed student groups include those who self-identify as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or another nontraditional orientation. Acts of harassment may involve inappropriate sexual advances or unwelcome appeals for sexual favors. Discrimination may occur when anyone is treated differently; for example; in the admissions process, collegiate athletics, access to scholarships, or other benefits.
Upon receiving a complaint, the administration must investigate promptly and equitably. After all the evidence is considered, the allegations are evaluated using a preponderance of the evidence or clear and convincing standard. Those who violate Title IX may face sanctions that include suspension or expulsion from the institution. Parties in these actions can choose an advisor that will assist and support them through the process and it is strongly suggested that an experienced attorney be chosen to function in this capacity.
Social Media in College and University Settings
Nearly 100% of college students access the internet daily and nearly 90% have a social media account. Many such forums now exist, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The vast majority of schools now have a presence in social media for various purposes including as a tool for rapid dissemination of alerts, learning languages, development of writing skills, forums of discussion, marketing the institution to potential students, and more.
There are a host of benefits associated with social media; however, these platforms may also be a tool capable of harassing or abusing others and thus potentially violating Title IX guidelines. One newer form of sexual harassment is cyber abuse, which may involve bullying, types of sexual extortion, stalking, and “revenge porn.” Cyber abuse has caused victims to stop coming to classes, avoid social activities, suffer from depression, and more.
School's Obligation in Responding to Misconduct on Social Media
Are schools obligated to take action under Title IX for acts of harassment, discrimination, or abuse that occur on social media sites? In Davis V. Monroe County Board of Education, a court explained that an institution has a responsibility when they have “substantial control over the harasser and the context in which the harassment occurs.” Some of the factors that determine an obligation may include:
- When a responsible party within the institution is made aware of acts such as peer-to-peer cyber abuse
- The acts are serious enough to compromise a student's education or willingness to engage in school activities
- The victim's environment has become hostile and the acts are undermining their educational experience
- The abuse is believed to be impeding the victim's access to educational opportunities or benefits or disturbing school activity
An educational institution may be in a position to take disciplinary action when they have some degree of control over the perpetrator, such as with a current student, employee, etc. Because today's digital environment is a reality, a Title IX Coordinator may consider engaging those responsible for the school's IT technology to discuss these concerns. The discussions may involve measures such as preserving information from the school's network that may be critical evidence in potential disciplinary actions.
Retaining Experienced Advisory Representation in Title IX Actions
Allegations of sexual violence, gender discrimination, harassment, and other misconduct that may constitute a violation of federal Title IX provisions are taken very seriously by educational institutions. If allegations against a respondent are proven, students may be dismissed from the institution and face long-term consequences. Evidence of misconduct that remains in transcripts may pose challenges in being admitted to another school or eligibility for selective advanced degree programs.
Having a seasoned attorney-adviser can have a very positive impact on the outcome of Title IX actions. He or she may assist you through an accurate interpretation of the institution's unique guidelines, in preparing to respond to questions, delivering effective statements, and more. The Lento Law Firm provides strategic representation for those facing such allegations at colleges and universities nationwide. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686.