Rebecca Veidlinger is a lawyer, independent Title IX investigator and consultant. She has worked as the Title IX investigator for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. and specializes in handling cases involving sexual assault on college campuses. In the spring, the Kenyon administration hired her to do a Title IX audit. Last week, she visited campus and spoke to approximately 20 students and 13 campus groups about how the College educates its students about Title IX and how it handles conduct cases. She will release her findings by the end of the semester.
It recently came to light that Kenyon is being audited by the Federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for how it handles Title IX cases, and I was wondering if you have worked with any schools that have been investigated in a similar way by the OCR? How does the federal government usually get involved in something like this?
Yes, I have, and Kenyon’s not alone. The number is growing every year, but I know there are well over 200 that are being looked into by the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education. It can be complaint-based. They can come in a compliance review. But the majority of what we’re seeing nowadays at institutions across the country is a complaint is filed with the OCR, and then the investigation begins.
Recently the University of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.) sued its independent student newspaper to keep documents concerning sexual assault on campus out of the public eye. In your opinion, how much information should the College release to its student about the process of its Title IX investigation?
It’s not Title IX that requires any issues regarding disclosure, it’s FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act]. That applies equally to your grades, to your housing assignment perhaps, as it does to a Title IX investigation report. And that would prevent institutions not just from releasing a victim’s name, but really a majority of the records generated with respect to a specific investigation. That’s what FERPA governs. It governs your privacy and your education record. I do think, however, that it’s in an institution’s and students’ best interest to provide tons of information about the school’s policy and procedures. So that’s kind of a different part about transparency going on in a particular case. I just don’t think under FERPA that’s going to be permitted, as frustrating as that can feel. I get that. But I think it’s very important for institutions to share, to make very clear how their policy works, where their resources are, how to make a report, so there’s no obstacle to individuals who might want to utilize support resources or confidential resources or make a report. And I think my impression is Kenyon is trying to do that with a number of Title IX trainings. I’ll look at the effectiveness of that and if there are enhancements that may need to be made. I think that’s really important.
In your experience working with other colleges, do you think that in some cases the college makes it too difficult to report a case or makes it too intimidating?
The colleges I have worked with certainly are not trying to make anything hard to report. In fact, the colleges I’m working with are doing everything they can to facilitate reporting, and a lot of them are putting in anonymous reporting, that would be a best practice and Kenyon has that. Does it sometimes feel like there are obstacles to reporting? Sure. Sometimes an institution’s policy might be written by lawyers like me, and a normal person looks at it and says, “Are you joking? I can’t figure this out.” So I’ve helped institutions sometimes get clarification. I think actually that Kenyon is clear on that point. I’m not just saying that — I think that’s the case. And, in my work, it seems to me the students I’ve talked to understand how to report matters. I think that it can feel hard to report for a number of reasons: if it’s not well-communicated, if the Title IX coordinator is not known across campus, anonymous reporting is not available. So, I think there can be perceived obstacles for sure.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.