When a student is accused of sexual assault, simply referencing a school's code of conduct will not provide him or her with enough information to even begin to guess what a school's processes entail. You will most likely need to make a visit to an administrator's office to obtain information, understand what's to come and stay updated on the progression of a case.
Here are a few tips that students should consider when communicating with university administrators:
Who Should Communicate with School Administrators?
Allegations of sexual assault not only deeply affect the accused and the accuser, they also affect their prospective families. For respondents, coming to their family with these incredibly stigmatized claims being brought against them is extremely embarrassing. And oftentimes, families are criticized and attacked for their family member's perceived inappropriate behavior before a hearing has even ensued. This immense pressure on all parties may cause parents to take their child's future in their hands and speak to administrators themselves. And out fear of saying the wrong thing or out of mere intimidation, a student accused of a sexual assault may feel comfortable letting their parents take the reigns and interact with school administrators on his or behalf. Some parents may be able to bring up better points and ask the appropriate questions to obtain information for a hearing.
However, the reality of these situations is that school administrators may converse with parents differently than they would interact with students. Some school officials may bully, ignore or disregard the needs of a student due to the authority they have over the student body. Parents are seen as equals to administrators and in turn, are treated better by these authorities.
But there is a good reason that you, as a student, should be very involved in conversing with authorities and obtaining information. This reason being that your family will not be at the hearing speaking for you, you will be alone. If you are excluded from the process, you won't be able to defend yourself to the best of your ability. Being actively involved in all communications from the beginning is the best way to ensure you have a complete and coherent understanding of the allegations being brought against you.
Just because you have decided to be the one to have primary contact with a school, it doesn't mean that your parents can't somehow be involved. Before a school gives a parent any information, they will most likely request a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver. This legal document grants the school permission to discuss educational information with a parent.
Understand What's at Stake
It may be hard to not go in with a negative perception of everyone involved in a case, especially of school administrators. However, it's important you remember that some of these administrators may want school processes to be fair and impartial just as badly as you do. Although it may seem as if college authorities are out to get you, you should try to think about what's at stake for an institution if they don't go about these processes correctly. The U.S. Department of Education upholds guidelines that they must abide by. If this government agency feels as if a university or college has failed to uphold these rules, these schools could lose all federal funding. Because of this mutual understanding, you should be able to work with them. Actually trusting them during this process, however, is a different story.
It's crucial that respondents put everything in writing when corresponding with school authorities, whether it be in person, through e-mail or on the phone. Restating points that they made to you in order to assure that you both understand what was said is pivotal in deterring instances of ‘he said, she said.'