The Honor Committee decided Sunday on an official policy that dictates how the Committee will handle Honor violations — cases of lying, cheating and stealing — that arise out of Title IX investigations of sexual and gender-based harassment. Under the new policy, the Honor Committee will dismiss any report of an alleged Honor offense if the University’s Title IX Coordinator determines the conduct alleged in the Honor report was previously adjudicated, requiring Honor to consult with Title IX prior to investigating.
However, Honor can also override the coordinator’s decision through a unanimous executive board vote if it believes the coordinator misapplied the definition of “previous adjudication.”
The vote results included 16 members in support, six opposed and one abstention. The decision comes several weeks after the policy was first proposed Jan. 19 by Honor Committee chair Lillie Lyon, a fourth-year College student.
Lyon hesitated to pass the policy until she deemed it to include acceptable language that balances Honor’s competing interests of protecting students while maintaining respect for other University institutions such as Title IX.
“I think this is a really good way to do it,” Lyon said. “I feel really comfortable with it. I think we find to a degree that the language is very, very good. I think ‘perfect’ is a difficult thing, of course, to achieve, but very, very good is something I’m comfortable with.”
Lyon voiced confidence in the amount of faith the policy puts on Title IX, since the coordinator ultimately has the initial decision as to whether Honor can pursue an Honor offense.
“We know [Title IX] can make a good decision,” Lyon said. “They know how their process works and how these things are taken into consideration.”
Prior to the acceptance of this bylaw, Honor had no formal guidelines or accompanying language to partner with Title IX’s policy that invokes the Honor code to make students tell the truth during an investigation.
However, according to Title IX’s Policy on sexual and gender-based harassment and other forms of interpersonal violence, “Submitting or providing false or misleading information in bad faith or with a view to personal gain or intentional harm to another in connection with an incident of Prohibited Conduct is prohibited and subject to disciplinary sanctions under the University’s honor code.”
Stephen Paul, a second-year Law student and Honor representative, voted against the bylaw because he thought the new policy fails to protect students from offenses involving lying that occur during Title IX investigations, since some cases will not be heard by Honor if the Title IX Coordinator determines the conduct alleged in the Honor report was previously adjudicated.
“In my view, the effect of this policy, as it's written, is to basically give students who are providing evidence to Title IX a free pass, as far as Honor’s concerned, to lie or misrepresent facts for their benefit, or for the benefit of the parties in the investigation or proceeding,” Paul said. “In my view, that's a problem.”
Paul’s fear with Honor’s decision comes from his belief that the adopted policy will, in practice, drop all Honor violation cases that arise out of Title IX. He added that because Title IX policy invokes the Honor code to essentially make students participating in an investigation tell the truth, he believes Honor has a responsibility to enforce the Honor code when any offense arises from an investigation.
“Unless the administration makes the policy decision that Honor cannot take any case from Title IX, Honor has a responsibility to take the cases that do not directly involve disputes over Title IX prohibited conduct,” Paul said. “By implementing this policy, the Committee has essentially completely abdicated its responsibility to take these sorts of cases. I think the Committee owes better to the community and to survivors, especially who are reporting to Title IX.”
Emily Babb, assistant vice president for Title IX Compliance and Title IX coordinator, told The Cavalier Daily that Title IX and the Office for Equal Opportunities and Civil Rights worked closely with Honor in developing the new policy and admires the University’s interest in the discussion.
“EOCR/Title IX welcomes feedback from all community members on what changes they think could improve the Title IX process,” Babb said. “We also eagerly await the new Title IX regulations from the Department of Education, which likely will contain legal requirements with which modifications to our policy and procedures will have to comply.”
Some of the proposed regulations Babb mentions include modifying the understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment, what triggers a school’s obligation to respond and how a school must respond to reports of sexual harassment.
Third-year College student Mackenzie Williams, who was present at the meeting, wrote in December about a sexual assault survivor who sought justice through Title IX and then Honor. Katherine, a student at the University, stood before the Committee during their Jan. 23 meeting and voiced her dissatisfaction with Honor’s decision to drop her case last semester.
Williams said that Honor’s new policy fails sexual assault survivors because Honor appears to abandon its responsibility to protect the community of trust.
“There are lots of ancillary lies that can go on, and if Honor’s not going to touch them, and if it's not the point of Title IX to touch them, then they're just going to disappear,” Williams said. “And there will be no one who figures out what the consequences of them were.”
Williams continued to discuss that the significance of the lies are too important to slip away from an Honor investigation. She ultimately believes that Honor fails to uphold the Honor code with this new policy.
“Because [the Honor code] is not just talking about a lie, that's talking about a lie that has consequences,” Williams said. “And when we talk about Title IX, the consequences don't get much greater.”
Alex Spratley, Honor’s vice chair for hearings and a fourth-year College student, understands the concerns of people who believe Honor could do more to address sexual assault cases. However, she feels Honor does not have the adequate resources.
“Sexual assault is something that is incredibly hard to adjudicate in a Title IX office in a university or in the American legal justice system,” Spratley said. “And that's something I think that we, as a community, have to reckon with. But I do not see that burden falling solely on Honor.”
Despite Spratley’s comment, Williams believes Honor has violated their duty to protect the community with the new policy.
Williams said she felt that by adopting a policy that limits its ability to hear cases relating to Title IX, the Committee is turning its back on many members of the University population who may have otherwise turned to Honor for justice — citing the statistic that one in four female undergraduates experience sexual assault in college.
“How can you have a community where a significant portion of its people –– one in four women –– are being told by their peers that they don't count?” Williams said.