College Judicial Consultants

Information on college, conduct, Greek life, advocacy, and fairness-published every Tuesday and Friday morning.

Archive for the tag “hearing”

Case Study: The Underage Party–Hidden Considerations in the Judicial Process

thinice

[NOTE: All names and identifying information has been changed to protect the privacy of the students involved. Any relation to a case you may know is purely coincidental.]

Steve was a senior at a competitive school living in a residence hall on campus. On Wednesday some underclassmen asked Steve if he would buy alcohol for a “suite” party they are having that weekend that would mostly be attended by other residents. Steve knew these students and has purchased alcohol for some of them before, so this request was not a big deal. Steve bought handles of different hard alcohols and a couple of cases of beer for them, but did not attend the party.

At 2:30AM one of the a freshman guests heading back to his dorm with a BAC more than three times the legal limit, was hit by a car, and was seriously injured. The situation made it to the campus newspaper, and there was a lot of upper-level administrative attention on that case—including the campus attorneys. Steve and the party hosts were eventually informed that there would be a judicial hearing for their actions with the charges being underage drinking, providing alcohol to minors, and reckless endangerment based on the party and the student’s injuries. At the hearing all the respondents argued that since Steve was not at the event he should not be responsible for how much the injured student drank, and that none of them should be responsible for the fact that the freshman was hurt on the way back to his residence since his being hit by a car was a fluke.

What Steve and the other students did not realize was that there were two simultaneous forces affecting their case. They knew about the one clearly written in the charge letter and presented in the evidence against them. They presented a decent (although not great) defense against that one, but they did not see or consider the political impact of the student’s injuries and how their case fit into the big picture. When it came to the case, the judicial board chair was aware that there were a lot of eyes on the outcome and that awareness was shared with the board prior to the hearing.

As the students presented their defenses, the board was listening for information to help address both the case itself and also the various implications of the student’s injuries. Since Steve and the other respondents did not consider that aspect they did not address it and the board was left with only their pre-case impressions and a belief that the respondents did not “get the seriousness” of what happened. Steve was found responsible for providing alcohol and reckless endangerment, and was suspended for the last semester of his college career and had to come back the following year in order to take the mandatory class he needed for his major.

It is important to realize that the board did NOT intentionally punish Steve more severely because of the political undercurrents. By the time the case got to the board, the impact of the politics and attention were already in place, and those factors directly affected the outcome:

  1. While this board almost never heard alcohol cases the fact that they were implied a seriousness they could not ignore.
  2. While the student injury was clearly why the case was treated so seriously, the board and the respondents were not looking at the same issue. The respondents focused on the “fluke” nature of that injury, but the board believed the idea that an extremely drunk freshman getting hurt was actually very foreseeable. All the respondents seemed to be doing was missing the point and not taking responsibility.
  3. The decision to hold Steve accountable even though he was not there was not what was normally done, but the decision to do so in this case was made prior to the hearing. When the board got the case the students assumed that Steve would be fine based on their experience, but the board decided the person most responsible was the older student that supplied the alcohol because he had the ultimate responsibility for how that alcohol was used.

Cases do not happen in a vacuum, and the political climate at the school, the “headline” news, previous cases, and recent history can all play a factor. The good news is that these are not factors in 95% of cases. The bad news is that when those external considerations are factors, it is highly unlikely that a student, fraternity, or sorority will be able to identify and address them properly. If you are in trouble, and you think the people working with your case are treating it like a bigger deal than you think it should be, there are probably more things going on that you know. Contact us for a free consultation to see what you may be missing and how we can help.

Have you had a disciplinary case against you, your fraternity, or your sorority go worse than you expected? Contact me at DaveK@Collegejudicialconsultants.com and share your story for a future piece or share your story in the comments.  Be safe, be good, and be ready.

Advertisements

Getting Better Advisors–Why Administrators Are Wrong About Us, And Why That Mistake May Hurt You

At College Judicial Consultants we have tremendous respect for judicial officers, Greek advisors, and other administrators, but believe they should be less mistrustful of outside help during the campus judicial process. When that help is an attorney for the non-legal judicial process, that help can indeed hurt a student and cost the student thousands of dollars. While we understand that mistrust, we believe that when you look at the support offered on campus, we are not truly outside.

Fact 1: Every student discipline system allows a student or organization (“respondent”) to have an advisor, with most limiting that advisor to a non-attorney from the campus community.

Fact 2: Only a handful of schools have an organized advisor program where they train a few faculty and staff in how the system works and make those people available for students going through the process. These advisors are well intended and may help a few students each year. However, their job is to make sure the student understands the process and is connected to campus resources; not to “help” the student minimize the consequence or negate false accusations. In other words, they are there for emotional and psychological support only. That support is REALLY important (in fact we encourage every client to take advantage of it) but that type of advising is less than a respondent needs when they are innocent or the stakes are high.

When a respondent goes through the disciplinary process there are two essential parts of that process the respondent needs to understand—the procedure and the content. Judicial officers often say that their system is “different” and thus requires someone with specific training to understand it. While this is technically correct, ask your judicial officer if he or she can understand other systems and I’ll bet you $5 they won’t have a problem doing so. Judicial systems have slight differences, but they are similar enough that there are best practices, model codes, community assessment models, and uniform standards. More importantly, any system they have must be explainable AND in writing in a way to make it understandable. When you meet with the judicial officer he or she will explain it to you and that explanation is essentially the same “training” the advisors from the school receive.

The much more important part is developing the content where the respondent gets the chance to tell their side of the story and present evidence to show how their version is correct and the accusations are inaccurate. It is during this part of the process where respondents make mistakes that can get them found responsible when they are not, and make their sanction worse than it needed to be. It is in this arena that our consultants are miles ahead of any other “advisor” you will get from the school for two very important reasons:

  1. The least experienced of our consultants has seen at least 10 times the number of cases as the most experienced advisor from your school (with that number closer to 50 times more.) This means that your consultant has seen literally hundreds more responses than anyone you will find on campus, and are much more likely to have seen a case with similar facts to yours.
  2. Our consultants’ only goal is to make sure you are not found responsible for something you did not do and have the smallest consequence possible for what you did. We are not faculty who have opinions about plagiarism at your school. We are not administrators who have had to deal with “problem” students. In other words, we do not have any reason to protect the school, the community, or the system.

In other words, we are like the best advisor you might find on campus but with vastly more experience, and without any agenda other than giving a respondent the best chance for the best result. Why would anyone on your campus not want you to take advantage of that?

 Contact us for a free and completely confidential consultation to go over your case and see what we can do for you.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind–Why Disciplinary Suspension is Not Educational

I do a lot of outreach to student life administrators at colleges and national organizations to let them know about our services for individuals and groups. Occasionally I’ll get a response from one that aggressively claims that our job is to “stop students from having any accountability” and thus “contrary to the “education” of a judicial system.” There are a lot of problems with this accusation, but the biggest one is that the severity of a sanction is not inherently related to the educational merit. If the purpose of a campus judicial system is primarily to educate the person or organization going through the process, then temporarily pulling that student out of the environment where the people most capable of educating him are located makes no sense.

Let’s say Tim Student plagiarizes a paper and gets caught. One of two things is true-either Tim is a completely dishonest person who cheats repeatedly or Tim demonstrated weakness and made a really bad decision. If Tim is a habitual cheater, sending him home for a semester or a year might make him reassess whether cheating is worth the risk, but it will not teach him that it is wrong. It may teach him that the price of getting caught is not worth the benefit of cheating which may be a deterrent, but it is not educational. It’s the judicial equivalent of shocking the mouse if he hits the wrong button. There will be some point where a situation has a benefit that is worth the cost, and Tim will absolutely cheat again. If, however, Tim is like most of us and makes occasional bad decisions, then suspending him teaches him nothing. It does not address the issues that lead to the decision to plagiarize and it separates him from the support resources he would need to develop the tools that will allow him to maintain his integrity in the future. Tim staying on campus allows the school, and specifically the student support professionals, to do actual development work with him.

I should point out that there is also value in sanctioning to protect the students who are doing the right thing. In other words, if someone cheats he should be sanctioned strongly enough that the majority that does not cheat feel justified in doing the “extra” work (i.e. they do not get outperformed by cheaters.) However, if Tim is and will remain a cheater, why allow him back into that community at all? Expelling him sends a stronger message, protects the community more, and makes the cost to Tim even higher. If Tim loses everything and associates that loss with “getting caught,” there will be even fewer things worth that cost and thus fewer times where Tim might cheat again in the future. Expel the cheaters and keep the students worth saving on campus. Of course nobody comes forth and says “I absolutely did this on purpose and will do it again,” so it is difficult to identify the habitual offenders.  A good system should therefore err on the side of helping a responsible student grow and develop into the type of person the school wants their graduates to be. Allowing him to stay on campus can still protect the community. There are many things you can do to someone while keeping them on campus (e.g. fail them for the class, put them on probation for the rest of their career, place a notation on their transcript, mandate self-improvement sessions, etc.) If Tim cheats again or he fails to meet the terms of the sanction, he will reveal himself as irredeemable and then expelling him will make sense.

These same ideas are true with a fraternity, sorority, or other student organization. If a chapter makes a mistake, suspending them for a year does not help them improve. Again, if an organization is dangerous enough to merit removing them from the community for a limited period of time (i.e. suspending them) then why allow them to return at all? If they are a hazing fraternity, suspending them for a year does not protect the students or the community. Expel habitual offenders that are a danger to the community because of their inability or unwillingness to change, and work with the rest to make them better. Suspension neither protects nor educates. We do everything we can to keep an organization on campus so that the very people who criticize us for doing so can help that chapter be what it should.

At College Judicial Consultants we believe that most students or student groups get in trouble, that action is a symptom of a personal or cultural problem, requiring the help and support that separating them from the school does not give. Those students who stray, those students that make serious mistakes, and even those students of flawed character need the support and encouragement of administrators and other authority figures even more than those who do not. Sending them home or suspending their existence as an organization does nothing more than make the lesson “don’t get caught.” Suspending an individual or group treats them the same as the worse offenders, puts them on the defensive, and obfuscates any lessons that are trying to be taught. The solution is a sanction that requires the student or organization to work on the deeper flaws in character or judgment, partner with campus and other officials to do so, and has measurable outcomes to ensure that they make positive change. This is much more difficult, but education is not supposed to be easy.

We Are the 5% Solution

We recently were featured in an article in The Dartmouth. The journalist, Ms. Amanda Young, discussed what we do and then spoke with their Director of Undergraduate Affairs, Mr. Nathan Miller, and Ms. Jessica Womack, a junior on Dartmouth’s “Committee on Standards (COS),” to get a sense of whether or not we are a resource that Dartmouth students should use.  It was a fair article with both Mr. Miller and Ms. Womack saying what you would expect from people in their positions.  Neither of them thinks that a student needs to use our services to get through the process; although they both seem to acknowledge that a student should use anything he or she can to maximize their readiness for the process.  While that position is inherently contradictory, since we essentially agree with them I thought I’d explain it.

To make the math easy, let’s say that, on average, 5% of college students get into some kind of trouble each year.  This trouble can be anything from the silly (violating copyright through “illegal” downloads) to the horrible (sexual assault.)  To make it even simpler, let’s pretend that Dartmouth has 2000 students so each year 100 of them get in some sort of trouble.  Ms. Womack and Mr. Miller both think that the process works well and that the support offered is sufficient for the students involved.  Let’s say they’re right, and give them an A on their process and the support offered.  That means that there is a 95% rate of what I call “sufficient fairness” where the resources and the process are enough to ensure that a student is prepared to obtain the best result possible. That would be an amazing system, and something that the people on the COS (like Ms. Womack) and the person responsible for the process (Mr. Miller) should be understandably proud.  In fact, at College Judicial Consultants we assume that every system is at or near 95% with the people involved in the process acting beyond reproach and really doing the best they can for students.

That still leaves 5% of the time where some additional help is needed or would help a student be more prepared.  Using the numbers above that means that at Dartmouth every year, 5 students could benefit from competent outside help.  In other words, it is completely consistent for the world to have judicial systems with an efficiency and customer satisfaction rate higher than almost anything offered anywhere by anyone, and also that the students subjected to that system could on occasion, use help and support beyond that system. We are here for that 1%, 3%, 5% or higher percent of the cases where the resources either are not sufficient or the student/student organization cannot use them fully so they are, in practice, not sufficient.  We are not trying to suggest that systems are out to get students or are happy when a student organization gets screwed over. We believe that systems of accountability are good things, managed by good people who work hard, and adjudicated by good people with the best intentions.  The problem is that sometimes that isn’t enough.

I can hear the defensiveness of some of our critics now “you’re just making up numbers!” Correct. I did. I have no way of knowing how many students that have gone through a process believe that they understood it all, did everything they should have, and would change nothing about how it went.   I do know, however, that if systems were perfect there would be no need for an appeal process.  If everything worked out as it should AND the students subjected to it were always satisfied with the result, they wouldn’t want to appeal because there would be no need. However, the appeals process is there for when a student believes that something very wrong has happened, and that the result is unfair. (I talk about appeals in an earlier blog so I won’t go into it more, but if you don’t see this point let me know and I’ll explain more.)

We love to assign blame in this country. If something isn’t working, or if there is a breakdown in something that does work, we love to point to someone and say “this is why it doesn’t work.”  If a student thinks the system is unfair, then it is that student or that fraternity that is “broken,” not the system. ($5 to the first person who can send me an article where the upper administration of a school, before any legal action began, said When we say that systems with underprepared participants are inherently unfair, we are not criticizing the people involved in that system (usually.)  We believe that most systems are inherently fair and that almost administrators and board members are trying to get the right result.  In fact, we count on it.  Our fundamental belief is that no matter how fair a system is the outcome will not be fair if the person subjected to it is not able to use it fully.  We are not challenging the fairness of a system when we say that.

Schools do have varying levels of support–some have advisors they train on the process, student advocates who help they prepare their responses, and other resources to help a student be prepared.  As I’ve said, in most cases they are probably fine and will be enough help.  However, when something is really serious, when a student or student group feels that they want someone who’s goal is to help them minimize the sanction against them or make sure they are not held accountable for something they didn’t do, when they want judgment free help, or when they just don’t trust the resources, we are here.  We have seen thousands of cases in different kinds of systems.  We have seen administrative hearings (run them in some cases,) all student boards (advised/created them in some cases,) boards made up of faculty, staff and students (trained them in some cases,) and “special” boards made up of more highly trained people to hear more serious cases (and served on them in some cases.)  We study the judicial system of every client’s school, and by the time the hearing happens understand it better than almost anyone. More than that, when we help a student or student group, our only obligation is to them.  We have no obligation to disclose and will never tell anyone what our client tells us, a promise that administrators simply cannot make. We also do not care about any political pressure on an office to deal with hazing, the anger of a faculty member about allegations of academic misconduct, the ego of a dean who believes that he should be able to control student behavior, or any of the other things that consciously or subconsciously shape a system. It is also worth noting that we encourage our clients to ALSO take advantage of the resources on campus.  Go to the counseling center, the academic resource center, your RA, and get yourself a hearing advisor so you don’t have to sit there alone!  Just don’t think that any of them have the combine expertise, experience, and knowledge that we do about Greek life, judicial systems, and case preparation.

If you have any questions about what we do and why we do it, email me.  We try to be as transparent as possible, so if we are doing something and you want to understand why, just ask. You can email me at DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com, or the office in general at Info@collegejudicialconsultants.com, or you can call us at (617) 287-8782.

Sexual assault and the judicial system–Advice for survivors (2 of 4)

When I was a judicial officer I was fortunate to work with an outstanding sexual assault advocacy team.  The team was me, a dedicated and highly-trained detective from Campus Police, and a Victim’s advocate from the Wellness office.  There were also several community resources available to survivors with BARCC (Boston Area Rape Crisis Center) and ATASK (Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence) being our most common partners. The resources for survivors* were extensive, we had tremendous Chairs of the disciplinary committee that heard these cases, and I was as much of an advocate as I could be.  We had more resources available for survivors than most schools and everyone involved was dedicated to helping a survivor through the most difficult time of her** young life.  MIT received 2 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grants, and did great work during the time I was there.

But the system still sucked for survivors.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault (mostly), but since what happened to a survivor is so terrible, the systems in place to deal with it are inherently terrible to the person going through it.  No matter how kind we were and how sympathetic the people were, it was still an adjudicatory system that heard details about the worst night(s) in a person’s life, allowed a response to those details, and asked questions about those details.  There is a revictimization that comes with these hearings, and most judicial officers try to minimize that to the best of their ability.

Every single program on sexual assault tells people who support survivors that they need to do three things—believe them, help them understand that its not their fault, and give them as many choices as you can.  A judicial system, however, can’t do any of those things.  If it did, there wouldn’t be hearings because the converse of those things is that the accused is lying and it is totally his fault.  You could just find him responsible, expel him, and call it a day.

Of course that’s not in the least bit fair (or legally defensible) so you have to have a hearing, and that hearing process is going to be even more rigidly followed than normal cases because of the potential for litigation.  So not only do you have a system that says “prove it” to a survivor, but they have to do it in a certain way and only that way.  If someone is brave enough to come forward and initiate a judicial process, everything that has been done to return some power is then taken away so that they can attempt to have something done about the person who committed this crime against them.  Additionally, even after someone accepts that she will need to participate in the process, there is no guarantee of the outcome they desire.  In fact (and this is completely anecdotally) it is probably not going to be the outcome the survivor wants, with many accused found not responsible, or given a “light” sanction despite being found responsible for something.

The problems here do not even incorporate social pressures, the impact on academics, the disruption of a survivor’s life, and the hundreds of other things that assail them.  Even if a school’s response is amazing and there are escorts provided, the accused is moved out of a shared living situation and classes, and accommodations are made for academics, this person’s life is forever changed.  The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights put forth a “dear colleague” letter that attempted to “recommend” numerous steps that should be taken to ensure that sexual assault gets addressed properly and that survivors are protected, but none of us administrators have to live the survivor’s life.  [In my opinion, the best thing to have come from that letter is that schools are essentially “required” to have the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard in these cases as opposed to the “clear and convincing standard” many had for these cases.  (I wrote a piece about that earlier so I won’t go into it, but check it out if you’re curious.)]

There are way too many things that need “fixing” if a campus is going have a victim-focused response to sexual assaults, and most of those are outside the scope of this piece.  Instead I’m going to focus on a helping a distinct subset of survivors.  This piece is for those people who, in addition to whatever else they may be doing, are going to be bringing a case against a fellow student (or a student at a different school) using that school’s campus judicial system.  I wanted to provide some help for those people by offering some suggestions to help them proceed and to minimize the potential revictimization that comes with brining these cases.  In order to do so I’m making numerous assumptions that you should keep in mind as you read this.

  1. You will not use this for legal advice.  If you think “do I need a lawyer” you should either get one or contact the Victim Rights Law Center to figure it out.  This is procedural advice and strategy starting points for a campus judicial process only.
  2. I’m assuming that your campus is doing everything the way it is supposed to.  Sadly, this is not always the case.
  3. I’m assuming that some type of sexual act is not in question and the case is mostly about consent since this is the most common scenario in college cases.
  4. There are a few campuses that have independent investigators hired to handle these cases (e.g. Harvard) but I’m assuming that you have a system where some sort of hearing body handles these cases.
  5. I’m assuming you are safe.  If you believe (even if you only sort of believe and can not prove it or even explain it) that you are in current danger contact the police.  I would much rather you be wrong about the risk and have help than be right about it and do nothing.

That being said, here are some information and questions to consider that I believe will help you as you participate in your campus judicial process.  These general concepts should help you get started in most cases, but if you would like specific assistance for your particular case please contact us.

  1. Get a good support team for yourself.  I cannot know the particular resources on your campus, but let’s start with your unofficial support.  Think about your family, your friends, your sorority, your advisor, your RA, an administrator you like, your boyfriend/girlfriend, your particular spiritual guide (e.g. priest, rabbi, etc.), your roommate, etc.  From that group see if you can think of one or more people that can simply be there for you to make sure you’re okay.  Someone you can talk to, someone you can vent to, someone with whom you don’t have to be “professional” when you talk to him or her.  If you’re lucky there will be a person you can count on who has nothing to do with the process, and if you’re really lucky there will be a lot of them.  Regardless, if you can have someone there who’s only agenda is being your friend it will make the whole thing a lot easier.
  2. Get a good advocacy team for yourself. Once you have your personal support in place, make sure you like and trust your campus and community support resources.  Check your counseling center and wellness offices to see if there is anyone dedicated to these issues.  Check your community resources for centers that deal with these issues.  Look to national resources like the Victim Rights Law Center for help finding them, and/or to see what else they can offer.  Ask your RA who someone would speak to.  Ask your judicial officer.  There are going to be a lot of little things you may need, and these advocates should be able to fight for you so that you can focus on yourself and the case.  There are, or should be, many campus resources available to you and whoever you chose as this advocate should help you make sure you are getting all of them. Note that these people can be the same as your support team, but I separated them because I think there are 2 distinct roles to play.
  3. Understand each person’s ability to keep things “confidential.” Confidentiality is a tricky thing on college campuses.  Most people you speak with cannot promise to keep things completely confidential (i.e. they do not have legal protection) and some must report certain incidents to a central body.  You should be aware of each person’s willingness and ability to reveal only that information you want revealed so that you can make an informed decision of whom you are going to talk to.
  4. There is no rush (or at least not as much of a rush as you might think.)  Even in those judicial systems with a “statute of limitations” limiting the time you have to file charges, most of them allow for additional time for sexual assault cases.  Check the time in the policy, and take as much of it as you need.  Once you begin a case a school might have a timeliness requirement to resolve it (i.e. it must be heard within a certain (and brief) period of time after getting the complaint) so do not bring the case until you are ready.  Your policies should state clearly what that time is or the campus advocate should know, but don’t hesitate to ask (or have someone ask) the judicial office anonymously.  [I’ve had people create Gmail accounts with “anon30482” as their name and never hesitate to answer.] NOTE:  In some cases the accused may try to use the delay against you by claiming that you would have acted quickly if it “really happened.”  No board with any training should buy this, but you can always address it in your complaint.
  5. Understand why you are bringing the case.  This is not as obvious as it may seem.  Something bad happened to you, and I commend you for bringing the case, but know what you want out of it.  I’ve had people bring cases so that their boyfriend believed them.  I’ve had people bring cases forward so that they could know they were “right.”  I’ve had people bring cases for a number of reasons that were all valid, but you should know that the more specific the outcome you desire, the harder it will be to guarantee that the system will “work” for you.  You should bring a case for any and every reason you want, but if you will only feel good with one particular result, you may not get that result.  For example, if you want the person expelled the school may suspend him.  If you want him suspended, he may be expelled.  If you want him “punished” he may be found not responsible.  I do not know any system that can promise you a particular result, but they should ALL be able to promise you that you will be heard.  It is completely fair to expect the system to see the truth of your situation, but be careful about needing it to give you some validity.  What happened to you was terrible and in no way your fault, but systems (and people) are flawed.  Regardless of what a board decides, what happened to you is very real.
  6. What happened to you is not your fault, so what happens to the person who did it to you is not your fault either.  In my time I had many survivors say to me “I don’t to get him expelled or anything.”  My biggest problem with that is that the survivor was making it clear that she believed that if she brought a case and he was expelled that it was somehow her responsibility.  That could not be farther from the truth.  When you bring a case against someone for something they did, your job is to present the facts.  Once you do that the hearing body takes that information and decides what, if anything, can be done.  If the perpetrator is expelled it is no more your fault that it is if nothing happens to him.  The only thing you can control is the information you present.  What the board does with it is outside of your control.  While I understand that many sexual assaults occur between people with a previous relationship (i.e. they know each other) the fault for what happens to him lies with the person who committed the sexual assault.
  7. Don’t be afraid of pissing off administration.  You probably have an amazing administration that wants to do what they can for you, but not everyone is that lucky.  Administrators (especially those who can make real decisions) often have many factors they have to consider when making decisions, so they often can’t (or won’t) do what you’d like them to do.  Challenge them.  Push.  The worst thing that can happen is they get annoyed, but who cares?  This is where your advocate can really be helpful. Don’t assume that they are going to tell you everything they can do for you so if there’s something you want, ask.  They can only say no, but no matter how annoyed they get it won’t hurt your case. Something to consider is what you would like in the hearing to make you feel comfortable and safe.  Providing a screen between you and the respondent should be doable, but you may have to ask for it and then insist on it if you get pushback. If they are being REALLY unhelpful do not hesitate to suggest that you will get a lawyer.  While I normally do not like this tactic, I have no patience with people who are not willing to do simple things to mitigate the impact of this process.
  8. Know that you can pull out at any time.  This is your case.  If you decide at any point that you don’t want to do it anymore, you can quit.  While some systems may continue without you, pull out when you’ve had enough.  They can’t force you to continue, and if it isn’t doing what you want it to do what’s the point?  You have nothing to prove to anyone.
  9. Trust yourself. Dr. David Lisak’s work points out that predators create situations where they can assault someone with that very situation giving them protection from prosecution.  They isolate and intoxicate their victim so that there is self-blame and the details are hazier for the survivor than they are for them.  I have worked with many survivors who did not even realize they were “sexually assaulted” until well after the event, but they all knew that what happened was not right. If you know something bad happened to you, that’s enough. It is a completely normal feeling and very common.  It happened, it was not your fault, and it is not okay.
  10. You are going to have to tell your story, so decide how you want to tell it.  Most systems will have a written portion and a hearing.  During that time, people will make decisions based on what information they get from you and the accused.  If you do not tell them something, you can’t assume they will figure it out.  You will need to find a balance between giving them enough information to work with, and sharing information that they don’t need to know.  I used to advise people that they needed to share the outline of what happened, but that graphic details are not necessary if they made the complainant uncomfortable.  I also believe it is easier to write it out because the hearing itself is more of an unknown.  While you might be very comfortable in front of the hearing body, they might also be terrible terrible people.  If you have everything written out then you can simply reference what you wrote, and don’t have to say it out loud.  That way the information is there is something unexpected (and unwanted) happens at the hearing.
  11. Do not worry about the fact that you drank, did drugs, or anything else.  Most schools will not hold you accountable for minor violations if you are bringing a case forward.  Even if they do, those “minor violations” are usually why you were assaulted in the first place.  Do not try to cover them up. If the school really gives you a hard time, even a mediocre lawyer will make hash out of them.  The same holds true with downplaying what you did.  If you do not make it clear that you were intoxicated because you’re embarrassed or worried about getting in trouble, then the accused student can say that you were not intoxicated and therefore consented. I know there are some of you who have family or friends that may be very anti-alcohol or drugs, but if they can’t put it in perspective in this case they aren’t part of your support team.
  12. Prepare and practice. The worst part of any hearing is the surprise.  The more you can anticipate questions (even unacceptable personal ones) the better you will handle it in a hearing.  This is a REALLY hard thing to do, but if you have people you trust that you know support you, having them do it is a lot better than that 72 year old professor do it in a hearing.  This will not stop the revictimization, but it will lessen the impact.
  13. Bring the discussion back to you.  I have noticed that a LOT of cases and deliberation involve discussion on what was reasonable for the accused student to know and expect.  “She said she was drunk, but he said he didn’t know and I believe him.”  Most people put themselves in the mind of the accused and judge his actions in relation to how they would have acted.  People have a hard time coming to terms with sexual assault because they think that a lot of the problems are “common situations.”  This makes sense if you only think of sexual assault as “accidentally going to far” or “misreading cues.” However, just because it might make sense doesn’t mean it isn’t stupid.  Sexual assault is a crime and they need to think about what happened in terms of what was reasonable for you to know and expect.  I want the hearing body thinking “He said he didn’t know she was drunk, but it was 2am at a fraternity party and she only stayed over because he said she would get in trouble if she went back to the dorm.  That is not giving consent.”

Each time I work with a survivor, whether it was for a judicial issue or as an advocate, I am amazed by the strength and courage that they have.  This is not an easy process, but hopefully these points will give you a place to start.

Next:  Advice for respondents

*Note that I use “survivors” to refer to the victims of sexual assault.  There is a move back to using “victims,” but I still prefer to think of them as survivors.

**I am also using the feminine pronoun when I refer to the survivor and masculine when I refer to the attacker.  While as many as 1 in 10 men are sexually assaulted, all of my experience is with female survivors with all but 1 respondent being male. In no way is this meant to minimize the plight of the male victim or the very real problem with same-sex sexual assault.

Witness classifications

This is the wrong page.  Sorry!  The post on the war on Greeks is located here.

 

Back when I was the chief judicial officer at MIT, students going through the judicial process would always ask me about witnesses and whether or not they should bring them to a hearing. My answer was always the same. “If they have first hand information about your case that you believe helps you, then yes. If you’re just going to call people to say you’re a good person, it won’t hurt you, but it probably won’t do anything for you.”

During my 4 years in the job I rarely had anyone ask a follow up question, which was good because I couldn’t really give them any more information that that without potentially jeopardizing the system itself. Since that’s not a problem I have now I thought I’d go into it a little more.

There are essentially 2 types of witnesses–material and character witnesses. Material witnesses are people who were either at the incident in question or present during some other point which is relevant to the event. Say you’re being accused of underage drinking at a fraternity party. A material witness would be someone who was at the party itself and can testify to whether or not you were drinking, or someone who saw you that night and whose interaction with you would support the idea that you were not drinking (e.g., your RA or roommate). These are people who have firsthand information about you or the event as it relates to the alleged charges. In addition, a material witness must also be relevant (i.e., have firsthand information that matters). So a person who was at the door and carded you who could testify that you did not have a fake ID would be a material witness, but they would not be relevant to the charge, as I’ve described it. Lastly, your material witness must not be redundant. That means that if there were 10 people at the party who saw you drinking Mountain Dew instead of beer, you will not likely be able to call all 10 to testify about the same thing.

Character witnesses are a completely different animal and are exactly what they sound like. These are people who know you well enough to testify (i.e., “bear witness”) to the quality of your character. Over the years I have seen this range from someone’s mom to the CEO of a fortune 500 company to religious icons. Many schools do not allow this type of witness, and frankly, they are not inherently useful when framing a case. If you think about it, anyone a person would call to be a character witness will almost certainly say good things about them. Since that’s the case, why should the opinion of someone you choose to talk about how great you are matter? Also, good people make mistakes or do dumb things, so your being a good person doesn’t really matter vis a vis the accusations. My rule of thumb is that if someone is going to simply talk about what a good person you are then a letter to that effect usually works as well as in-person testimony. However, there is one huge exception to this philosophy.

If there is an aspect of the accusations against you that become more or less likely to be true depending on a particular aspect of your character, then having someone testify to that aspect of your character may be useful. In other words, if you can make the aspect of your character that the witness will talk about connect directly to the case itself, then you move the character witness closer to the material witness category. In the above example, if the defense was that people saw that you did not drink, you did not act drunk with people who saw you after the party, and that you would have admitted it if you were drinking, then having someone who could attest to the fact that you consistently confess to things no matter the consequences would be relevant.

Witnesses can be an invaluable part of your case, or they can be an unnecessary distraction depending on how you use them. At College Judicial Consultants we can help you identify witnesses that support your case, make certain that those witnesses understand their role, and ensure that they are presented in a way that allows them to be heard by your campus judicial body. This service is part of our full respondent and complainant preparation consultation and can be the difference between being found responsible and/or the severity of your sanction. Check us out at http://www.collegejudicialconsultants.com and contact us to begin your consultation to ensure you have the best chance to achieve the best results.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: