Students Allege Further Misconduct by Title IX Office

Drew Kaplan ’20, Editor-in-Chief

New concerns have been raised about Dickinson College procedures regarding preservation of evidence in Title IX cases. 

The concerns surround the provision in the agreement signed between students and Dickinson College to reform Title IX procedures at the college. According to a student who will remain anonymous due to their being a party in an active Title IX investigation, the provision of the agreement regarding the ability of students to request and receives copies of materials in their cases is contradicted by their experiences in making a request to the office for their records. [Editor’s Note: The anonymous student is referred to using a gender-neutral pronoun in order to preserve anonymity. The pronoun does not necessarily reflect the gender identity of the student.] According to Rose McAvoy ’20, students were not aware of these perceived issues during the student protests which occurred in early February.

According to Title IX coordinator Kat Matic, when the Title IX office receives a report requiring their attention, the offices review the available information and may impose interim measures, such as no-contact orders, while the investigation is ongoing. Once the case itself is opened, Matic explained that case investigators conduct interviews and collect information from involved parties in order to “type-write a Draft Investigation report” in which investigators “synthesize and analyze the information gathered as it relates to the scope of the allegations under review.” Investigators may also begin their draft report prior to completing all necessary interviews, and the decision to do so or wait “is based on personal choice and there is no right or wrong way to work on the draft report” said Matic. Once the draft report is completed, it is then sent to the Title IX office to be sent to relevant parties. Matic said that the draft investigation report may include “attachments, such as copies of type-written statements by parties provided, text messages provided between parties, any medical records released and provided to Investigators.”

The student explained that, in their draft report received from the Title IX office, “there were many inaccuracies. I was misquoted far too many times. […] I interviewed with [the college investigators] for two hours. It was traumatizing doing that. And when I got the report, there were so many things that were stated incorrectly. I was misquoted far too many times to count. Essentially it was so inaccurate that the document was almost worthless.”

These issues prompted the student to contact the Title IX office to request the audio tapes of their interviews, as well as the transcripts created as part of the investigation. “I said I want the recording because there were words in there I would never use in my life to describe something, so I knew at that point, I was confident that they had misquoted me,” the student said. The student then explained that their rationale for wanting the recordings of the interviews was so they she could compare the draft report with the perceived misquotes to the original tape to understand how the report had “missed certain stuff despite me giving [the Title IX office] a four-page single spaced description of my assault.” The student said that they explained to the Title IX office that, as per the student agreement, they were entitled to the recordings. However, the student was informed by Matic that the recordings had been deleted when the investigation draft itself was completed. According to the student, the draft was completed after the agreement was signed. However, the student explained that the office then communicated to them that the report had instead been completed prior to the signing of the agreement. “If my draft was completed so long ago, why did they wait months to send it to me, and also why would they be quoting me if they deleted these recordings. It doesn’t make sense to me to delete recordings if a case isn’t even closed.” The student added that requests for transcripts of their recordings were met with notification that no transcripts of the recordings were made before the tapes were deleted. 

McAvoy, who is not a party to the case of the other student, described her frustration with how the audio recordings and transcripts were handled. “It’s completely counterproductive to what they’re trying to do, which is to investigate, and what they’re doing is deleting evidence,” McAvoy said.

Matic noted in an email that while “transcripts and recordings were always considered evidence, […] prior to the Title IX Agreement, if recordings were made, summary information of the recordings were included in the Draft Investigation reports.” Matic said that prior to the agreement, “recordings were not typically provided to the Title IX and Sexual Respect Office as they were used for the purpose of the Investigators to write Draft Investigation reports” Matic explained that prior to the agreement, audio recordings and transcripts were considered, akin to notes taken by investigators, as “memory-aids for investigators to type-write their reports. Because the purpose was solely memory-aids, the audio recordings were not construed as records that are required to be maintained.” Matic said that “it was common practice for Investigators not to maintain recordings or notes as they were no longer needed.” Moreover, Matic added that in the Title IX office may also destroy tapes because “audio recordings of interviews may or may not have value as evidence and so may or may not rise to the level of needing to become part of the Investigation packet/record.”

“I was really really upset, I was really frustrated at this point” said the student, “they had failed me so many times I was not even surprised they had deleted all of that.” The student explained that they had asked Matic whether the deletion of the tapes violated the agreement, but that because the tapes had been destroyed prior to the agreement being signed, their deletion was permitted. 

Matic said that there is no clear federal or state level guidance regarding if and for how long tapes or transcripts must be maintained. She noted that practices vary between institutions as to whether interviews are recorded, and for how long they are maintained if created. Matic added that students are not permitted to record their interviews themselves, and that doing so would violate the “Failure to Comply” provision of the Dickinson College Community Standards.

However, McAvoy noted that there is a potential precedent in this respect. In 2016 the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education (DoE) reached a voluntary resolution with Wesley College to reform their Title IX procedure. According to a memorandum released by the OCR on Oct. 12, 2016, policy as Wesley College had been to delete recordings of Title IX hearings ten days after the conclusion of the hearing or appeal procedure. However, this procedure was found inadequate by the OCR, and in the agreement reached, the OCR notes that while there remains no requirement for audio recordings of any proceedings to be made, if those recordings are made, “it constitutes a record and must be kept in order to be available to enable OCR to ascertain whether the College is carrying out its legal obligations under the Title IX regulations.” 

“There is no requirement to audio recording interviews during the Investigation process,” Matic noted.

Matic explained however that this OCR decision does not apply to Dickinson College because the matter in question in that case concerned the recordings of hearings, rather than the recordings of interviews. “Their [Wesley College’s] policy further outlines that while parties can listen to the Hearing recording in a location determined by the Title IX Coordinator, they are not provided with copies of the recordings.” Matic said that “if you review Wesley College’s current policy, there is no reference as to whether or not they record interviews during a pending investigation.”

McAvoy explained her belief however that the case involving Wesley College may serve as precedent because “in the investigation report directly quote you, they’re literally building their case on quotes from these interviews…they’re essential to any investigation, appeal and any future cases.” 

Matic said that although “Dickinson College is not bound by the agreement, it is good practice to review agreements between the Department of Education and Colleges, as well as any changes to state and federal regulations.” Matic said that “Dickinson College is not bound by the 2016 Wesley College agreement, as “the agreement was not made between our College and the Department of Education.”

McAvoy said her belief that these issues regarding students receiving information regarding their cases from the Title IX offices conflicts with the agreement signed between the college and students on Feb. 6. “I feel like the school was completely dishonest with us while making this agreement with us, and while negotiating because they led us to believe that the school was operating in a different way than it is,” she said. McAvoy questioned “why Dickinson thinks that then they would not ever have any problem randomly deleting evidence even before an investigation is complete.” 

The student explained that they had asked Matic whether the deletion of the tapes violated the agreement, but that because the tapes had been destroyed prior to the agreement being signed, their deletion was permitted. “I think the Title IX office is so condescending, manipulative, and deceiving that they don’t want you to believe they’re doing anything wrong,” the student said. Regardless of whether the agreement was in place or not, “it’s still wrong to delete recordings” they said. 

“There was no way for us to know that that was a problem, because you were never allowed to have access to the audio recording, there was never any way of us to know they sometimes they didn’t exist” said McAvoy.