Understanding Sexual Misconduct at San Diego State University

San Diego State University’s Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities says it quite plainly: “A student found guilty of violating the Student Conduct Code for sexual misconduct may be suspended or expelled from the University for the first offense.” Allegations of sexual misconduct are serious business. A guilty verdict can not only end a student's career at SDSU; it can make it difficult to get into any other college or university. In fact, even an accusation, if it should become public, can follow a student via the Internet for the rest of their lives.

San Diego State is right to take sexual misconduct so seriously. Like any institution of higher learning, they have a responsibility to ensure the safety of all their students. It is likewise true, however, that they have a responsibility to protect the rights of anyone accused of such a crime. Unfortunately, in their zeal to protect victims, many schools neglect these rights in judicial processes that are unbalanced in favor of the accuser. Here we examine where San Diego State stands on these issues and just how they deal with allegations of sexual misconduct.

A Brief History of Title IX

For a number of years, most U.S. schools prosecuted instances of sexual misconduct as Title IX violations. This law, passed in 1972, threatened the federal funding of any education program practicing any form of sexual harassment or discrimination. Over time, “sexual harassment” came to be used as an umbrella term for all types of sexual misconduct, including sexual, dating, and domestic violence. While the law helped to create a safe environment for women on college campuses by encouraging schools to prosecute virtually every complaint they received, it also worked to undermine the due process rights of those who were accused.

Then in March 2020, the Trump administration issued new guidelines for dealing with Title IX complaints. These rule changes were primarily aimed at narrowing the definition of “sexual misconduct” and revising how investigations and hearings should be conducted. In general, these changes were intended to level the playing field for defendants.

Instead of correcting a judicial imbalance, however, the new Title IX guidelines threw the system for handling sexual misconduct allegations into disarray. Many schools regarded the changes as a direct affront to their authority. More importantly, they felt the government had weakened protections for women. In response, they began crafting new approaches for dealing with sexual misconduct, processes that could be used when Title IX, in their opinion, didn't go far enough.

As a result of all these shifts in policy, schools have ultimately made it even more difficult to navigate their often complex judicial systems and only further chipped away at defendant rights.

How San Diego State University Handles Sexual Misconduct

Executive Order 1097 sets forth the California State University System's definition of sexual misconduct and outlines the procedures SDSU and other schools in the state may use to address alleged violations of the policy.

Again, the process is complex and can lead to many possible outcomes. To begin with, when a complaint is filed, it can wind up with either the Title IX coordinator or the Discrimination, Retaliation, and Harassment Administrator, depending on the nature of the complaint. From there, it may be dealt with in a variety of ways.

Informal Resolutions: Complainants may choose to initiate an informal resolution process to resolve the situation without an investigation. Resolutions can taken virtually any form.

Campus Investigation Process: If an informal resolution is not reached, the school begins an investigation process. Unless suspension or expulsion are potential sanctions, an appointed investigator collects evidence and witness statements, confers with both the complainant and the respondent, and ultimately determines both the outcome of the case and any potential sanctions. The investigator then issues a report issued to the Chancellor, who ultimately enacts the decision. Either side may appeal the decision to the Chancellor, who ultimately decides whether or not to overturn the investigator's decision.

Campus Hearing Process: If the complaint could potentially result in the defendant's suspension or expulsion, a school official conducts an investigation, this time according to a specific set of guidelines for gathering evidence. A “review of evidence” by both parties follows the investigation. Then the case is heard by a “Hearing Officer,” who decides the case and assigns any sanctions. Here again, the final decision may be appealed, in this case, to the President's Office.

Title IX Process: Finally, if the case rises to the new Title IX definitions of sexual misconduct, it is treated under the current federal guidelines.

Sexual Misconduct Outcomes at San Diego State University

It is important to remember that a campus judicial system is not the same as a court of law. For example, the school has the power to suspend an accused student while an investigation is ongoing, potentially disrupting that student's educational progress.

In addition, penalties for guilty verdicts are somewhat different than those in the state or federal justice systems, though they are no less serious. Lower level penalties at SDSU include disciplinary warnings, counseling referrals, and restitution or fines. More serious penalties can include:

  • Educational sanctions
  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

Expulsion not only ends a student's career at SDSU. It includes a transcript notation explaining the nature of the expulsion, which often guarantees no other school will accept the student.

Respondents should not be deluded by a school's claim that the sexual misconduct disciplinary process is an educational opportunity. It takes an incredibly dedicated efforts to ensure a fair process and a favorable outcome, and if a respondent is found responsible, the baseline that a school will generally use as a sanction is a suspension, which can last anywhere from a semester to a year or even significantly longer.

How Joseph D. Lento Can Help

An allegation of sexual misconduct can change a person's life forever. Colleges and universities take such allegations seriously; you should too. If you or your child are accused of sexual misconduct, contact a lawyer who understands both Title IX and the campus judicial system. Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience with such cases. He knows how to ensure you are afforded your due process rights, and he will work tirelessly to get you the very best possible outcome.

For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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