Thursday, February 22, 2024

What to expect if you file a report with MSU's office of institutional equity

February 1, 2024
Betsy Riley of Reclaim MSU passes out teal ribbons at the Kellogg Conference Center on Oct. 11, 2018. Teal ribbons are the symbol of support for sexual assault survivors.
Betsy Riley of Reclaim MSU passes out teal ribbons at the Kellogg Conference Center on Oct. 11, 2018. Teal ribbons are the symbol of support for sexual assault survivors. —
Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

Michigan State University encourages students, faculty, staff and guests that have experienced relationship violence, sexual misconduct, or sexual harassment to report it to the university.

But where can they go to do so, and what happens afterwards? Title IX Communications Manager Christian Chapman laid out the process that MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, takes to respond to Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct, or RVSM, and Title IX cases.

What the policy covers

MSU’s RVSM and Title IX policy broadly covers domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and stalking. That includes, but isn’t limited to, unwelcome sexual advances and comments, rape, and retaliation for participating in the OIE process, according to the policy.

Discrimination that doesn’t involve harassment based on sex or gender — such as racial discrimination and harassment — is covered under the university’s Anti-Discrimination Policy, or ADP.

Where to report

Reports that fall under the RVSM and Title IX policy or ADP policy can all be filed through MSU’s public incident report form, by calling OIE at (517) 353-3922 during office hours, or by emailing the office at oie@msu.edu.

Supportive measures

After OIE receives the report, a member of its Support and Intake team reaches out via email or phone to the individual — known as the claimant — that filed it.

“If there are not a lot of details or information, they may ask them for additional information to fill in the blanks,” Chapman said.

The team then offers supportive measures to the claimant, like moving classes or no-contact directives. These measures are offered whether or not the claimant decides to begin an investigation and are available at any point in the process, Chapman said.

The team member also gives information to the claimant about the RVSM and Title IX process, and asks how they would like to move forward.

At this point it’s in the claimant’s hands whether to begin an investigation, or to continue being involved in the process.

“They can make that decision whenever they're ready to make that decision,” Chapman said. “A lot of times that decision is personal to the person, depending on the harm that has happened to them. They may not be in a place to go forward with this process.”

OIE checks in a few times with the claimant as they decide whether they’ll pursue an investigation. If the answer is no, or they get no response, OIE closes the case. But the claimant can ask for it to be reopened later.

There are circumstances in which the Title IX Coordinator needs to review the report to decide if an investigation must move forward without the claimant. Reports may also be referred to other campus units to be considered under different university policies. 

The investigation

If the claimant decides to go forward with an investigation, the report is referred to an investigator. The investigator then reaches out to the claimant to piece together what happened, and provides the claimant with a formal complaint form to complete. 

Once the claimant signs the formal complaint, the investigation officially begins. 

The claimant and respondent are presented with the formal complaint and notice of investigation, and the respondent then has “an opportunity to share their account with the investigator,” Chapman said.

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Once investigators interview all the parties involved  — the claimant, the respondent and any witnesses — and gather evidence, the investigator provides the claimant and respondent with copies of the evidence packet and draft investigation report to review. The parties may then provide feedback.

The investigator submits a final investigation report to the parties and a Resolution Officer, or RO, who then conducts a hearing. 

In limited circumstances that don't require a hearing, the investigator's final report will include a decision on whether policy was violated. 

Claimants and respondents can bring a support-person of their choosing to accompany them throughout the investigation process. The Center for Survivors also offers free university-appointed advocates to guide claimants through contact with OIE.

“These folks are trained in the process, have full knowledge of it, and can just be that supportive person that’s talking them through every step,” Chapman said. “They can be that person that they can ask questions to … and confide in.”

The hearing

The claimant and respondent are both allowed a support person and an advisor during the hearing. The support person is not allowed to participate in the hearing. The advisor, who can be an attorney, conducts questioning on behalf of their party. The RO moderates this cross-examination.

Within 20 days of the hearing’s conclusion, the RO releases a written decision on whether the respondent violated the RVSM or Title IX policy.

This is only final if no one appeals the decision. Both parties have ten days to submit an appeal to the Equity Review Officer, or ERO, and the RO and other party then has another ten days to respond to the appeal.

Within 18 days of receiving the response to the appeal, the ERO makes the final decision.

If the respondent is found responsible for violating MSU’s policies, the appropriate group decides what measures and sanctions to place on the individual — the university’s Student Conduct department for students, and Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs for MSU employees.

Timing

An outside audit of MSU OIE from last year found that on average, MSU takes about one calendar year to take a case from a report to a final resolution due to understaffing and inadequate software.

Officially, “the RVSM and Title IX Policy provides 90 days to complete the investigation, 60 days to complete the hearing, and 38 days to resolve the appeal process,” according to OIE’s website. However, each time frame can be extended “for good cause.”

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