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Letter to the Editor: Robust sexual misconduct response program offers support and options for students

Title IX back side of Nassau Hall
Students protesting the University’s Title IX policy in May 2019 form a circle around Nassau Hall.
Claire Silberman / The Daily Princetonian

To the Editor:

We write to share our thoughts regarding the Princeton Students for Title IX Reform (PIXR)’s recent critiques of the University’s sexual misconduct response program in The Daily Princetonian. Although we do not agree with many of those critiques, we share these students’ belief that sexual misconduct is unacceptable and that the entire Princeton community must remain focused on preventing and responding to it. 

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University systems are always a work in progress, and over time, the sexual misconduct response program has benefited from student interest, including that of Women in STEM, PIXR, and the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and Graduate Student Government (GSG). The Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Climate, Culture and Conduct, which is made up of students, faculty, staff, and postdocs, is scheduled to have an extended term of three additional years prior to becoming a permanent committee. The Committee has held meetings with USG, GSG, academic department inclusion committees, and student focus groups, and reports to the CPUC twice annually. The Office of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration responds to reported incidents of sexual misconduct by providing resources and processes to students and it is essential to do so in ways that are compassionate as well as fair to all parties. We want to stress that our doors are always open to answer questions and hear feedback and ideas. 

Out of respect for student privacy, we cannot share the many stories of those who have had helpful experiences with the sexual misconduct processes — including the new alternate resolution process — or seek support from the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) office. (We understand that all experiences related to sexual misconduct are distressing, and do not minimize the demands of participation.) However, we are concerned that ‘Prince’ readers could be confused by dire portrayals of these processes or deterred from seeking help. We encourage anyone who would find it helpful to talk about a problematic experience to reach out to SHARE, another confidential resource, or the Office of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration to seek support. 

In order to assist with awareness, below we offer some information about the sexual misconduct processes and encourage readers to visit Princeton’s Sexual Misconduct & Title IX website for more information. 

Students who report experiences of sexual misconduct have multiple options for seeking support and addressing their concerns. These include confidential counseling (through SHARE and other confidential resources); assistance in accessing No Communication Orders, No Contact Orders, academic accommodations, and housing changes; contact information for the Department of Public Safety to address questions/issues regarding security and reporting to law enforcement; and information regarding the formal grievance process and the alternate resolution process. Importantly, students can access these resources without choosing to enter into either the formal or alternate resolution process.  

If a student chooses to move forward with the formal grievance process (which includes an investigation and hearing), the University provides and pays for each party to have an attorney-adviser from the beginning of the process through appeal. The attorney-advisors act exclusively as independent advocates for each party and attend and participate in all meetings, interviews, and the hearing as well as advise the party regarding submitting information and responses to the Title IX office. Parties also have access to trauma-informed counselors through SHARE and Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS).

As this process requires the parties to discuss sensitive matters which we recognize can be stressful and difficult, all investigators and hearing panelists receive training regarding trauma-informed questioning and implicit bias (including how all aspects of an individual’s identity impact their experience). To ensure thoroughness and allow both parties an opportunity to fully present their experiences (and to comply with Title IX regulations), the process is lengthy, usually lasting six to nine months. All parties receive detailed information about all steps of the process in advance and reminders throughout, including reminders that retaliation can constitute a policy violation.

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If a complainant prefers a shorter process that does not involve the collection of evidence, they may choose to seek an alternate resolution — a voluntary process in which the parties mutually agree to terms in lieu of an investigation/adjudication. The goal of the alternate resolution process is to allow both parties to co-exist on campus and pursue their academic and non-academic interests in a safe, respectful, and productive educational environment. Determining which process best meets a student’s needs is a very personal choice, and there is no right or wrong decision, but many complainants have chosen the alternate resolution process since its introduction in 2020. The alternate resolution process typically takes a few weeks to complete, does not require the complainant to answer any questions regarding the allegations, and has successfully resulted in the parties reaching an agreement on terms in the overwhelming majority of matters. 

In 2023, the Biden administration is expected to release new Title IX regulations. Princeton will review those regulations carefully and seek to identify ways to further strengthen the University’s sexual misconduct response options. We look forward to community discussion and feedback during that review process.

​​Michele Minter is Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity. She can be reached at mminter@princeton.edu.

Randy Hubert is Director of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration. She can be reached at rhubert@princeton.edu.  

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