Learning that someone has accused you of sexual misconduct can feel like finding yourself at a cliff edge. Many colleges respond to allegations with swift, drastic action. You can very quickly find yourself out of your student housing, navigating a tangled disciplinary process. All the while, the threat of suspension or expulsion and other consequences hangs over you.
If you are under investigation for sexual misconduct at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, you should secure an experienced attorney-advisor and familiarize yourself with your school's policies. With the stakes so high, you mustn't bury your head in the sand but take decisive action to defend your future.
North Carolina Colleges and Title IX or Sexual Misconduct Cases
In the past, the majority of sexual misconduct allegations fell under the federal law Title IX. Applicable in schools across the country, Title IX prohibits sexual harassment in educational institutions.
In August 2020, schools reached the deadline for implementing controversial changes to Title IX regulations. The compulsory new guidance narrowed the definition of sexual harassment prohibited. It also introduced provisions protecting due process for those accused. The new guidance stipulates that there must be a live hearing where both sides' advisors have the opportunity to cross-examine the other directly.
Many universities pushed back hard against these changes and, having been obliged to adopt them, revised their own student codes of conduct to maintain their severity in handling sexual misconduct on campus.
UNC-Chapel Hill and other North Carolina colleges and universities amended their Title IX policies in August to comply with the federal guidance as it came into effect.
However, individual school policies are now more significant than ever, and it particularly important that you familiarize yourself with all the relevant policies and protocols.
UNC-Chapel Hill: Your School's Title IX Policy
The University updated its Title IX policy in August to align with federal guidelines. Title IX prohibits “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to a University education program or activity; or sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking.”
The Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office handles reports of sexual misconduct at UNC. Whether an alleged violation of Title IX or school policy, the school must respond when they learn about potential sexual misconduct.
The school will make an initial assessment to judge whether or not the misconduct comes under Title IX. If it does, the school is bound to adhere to the specific protocol provided in federal guidance. This process includes a live hearing where your advisor can cross-examine witnesses on your behalf.
Typically a student will make a formal complaint, and that will trigger a formal investigation. The person who made allegations against you might decline to lodge a formal complaint and might request an informal resolution. In rare cases, your accuser might decline to make a formal complaint, but the school may still proceed by lodging a formal administrative complaint of their own.
The school will handle allegations of sexual misconduct which do not come under Title IX under the UNC Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct.
UNC-Chapel Hill: Your School's Sexual Misconduct Policy
The school's sexual misconduct policy notes that it intentionally covers a wide range of behaviors, including sexual or gender-based harassment, sexual assault, or sexual violence, as well as the broad category of sexual exploitation.
The latter category covers more indirect kinds of sexual misconduct. Examples given include threatening to ‘out' someone's sexuality and “distributing” naked photos of someone or watching them naked without their consent.
At the point that the University has actual knowledge of sexual misconduct that may have occurred, they will implement appropriate supportive measures. A formal complaint will prompt either a formal or informal process, as the accuser requests.
UNC-Chapel Hill: Formal Grievance Process
A formal grievance process includes an investigation and a hearing. The investigation will involve a series of interviews and a fact-finding exercise and culminate in a written report. In the hearing, both you and your accuser have the right to participate and put forward witnesses and evidence. Title IX regulations protect your right to have an advisor and for them to directly cross-examine the other side in the hearing.
While this process is ongoing, you will not be presumed guilty until you have reached a final determination at the close of the process. However, the school may still put interim measures in place, removing you or restricting your movement on campus. The standard of evidence used will be the preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not that you violated the policy. You also have the right to appeal.
The person who brought forward allegations against you may elect to pursue an informal resolution instead. An informal process does not involve the investigation and adjudication of guilt but focuses instead on identifying supportive measures and reaching a resolution by agreement between parties. However, while this process is ongoing, your accuser might still change their mind and instigate a formal investigation.
The Consequences of Sexual Misconduct at UNC-Chapel Hill
If the school find that you violated sexual misconduct policy, there is a broad range of sanctions they might use, including:
- permanent suspension
- suspension for a definite or indefinite period
The school may also implement interim measures during the investigation. You must follow any restrictions placed on you or else face even graver penalties. These sanctions can have severe repercussions for your reputation and prospects.
Joseph D. Lento: Experienced College Sexual Misconduct Advisor
When it comes to sexual misconduct allegations, the stakes couldn't be higher. However, there is no reason to navigate the disciplinary process at UNC-Chapel Hill alone. With an experienced attorney-advisor at your side, guiding you through the process, you can feel more confident in reclaiming your future. Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended students from all over the country in Title IX and sexual misconduct cases. For more information about how we can help you, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.