Quote card by Opinion

Content warning; sexual assault and harassment

I am writing today in response to the Nov. 11 Op-Ed in The Michigan Daily that advocated for steering away from reporting misconduct to U-M Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office (ECRT). Its misguided conclusions were based on inaccurate information and did a disservice to our community.

Here’s what I want you to know about reporting to ECRT:

ECRT’s primary role with respect to sexual and gender-based misconduct is to serve the safety and equity of the U-M community.

Reporting to ECRT allows individuals to access accurate information about the wide range of support, resources and resolution options unique to the campus setting that are available to them to address the situation.

Not all faculty (or staff) are obligated to report allegations of sexual misconduct. That is a requirement only for individuals with reporting obligations (IROs) under University policy. Regardless, and more importantly, reporting to ECRT is a good thing. 

When individuals share information with ECRT (whether required to do so or not), the University can ensure that each person who reports sexual misconduct to an IRO gets the same information about resources and how to make a formal complaint if they wish to do so. Ensuring that students have accurate information and understand all the options available to them is as important as it is delicate; we cannot rely on each individual member of the University community to know how to respond to a person raising concerns in an accurate, appropriate, empathetic and equitable way. ECRT staff members have specific training to ensure each report receives an appropriate and supportive response in which individuals can make an informed decision based on accurate and complete information. The University also offers confidential resources such as the Sexual Assault Prevention & Awareness Center, staffed with trained, expert professionals who are also well-versed in options internal and external to the University.

As with many aspects of the University’s response to sexual and gender-based misconduct, the University complies with legal requirements related to reporting obligations. The University also exercises its discretion to go beyond what is required by law in order to best serve the U-M community. The University’s approach to required reporting aligns with many peer institutions and with proposed Title IX regulations that would require all faculty to report. A full list of IRO roles at the University is posted here.

While the Op-Ed suggested that anyone reporting to ECRT will lose control of the situation, reporting to ECRT does not mean that a case will be automatically opened or that the person impacted will be directed to a hearing. While it is always ECRT’s aim to take action to effectively address sexual or gender-based misconduct, ECRT works with the complainant — if identified — to explore all options available to them. The complainant is in control of whether and how to engage with ECRT and has a choice in their next steps. While some choose an investigatory path, the vast majority choose alternative options such as restorative justice processes, educational efforts or supportive measures, or request that no action by the University be taken. 

ECRT also works with those who report a complaint when a complainant may not wish to engage with ECRT to coordinate the least intrusive and most appropriate way to provide the complainant with information about other resources and options. ECRT does not compel those who may have experienced misconduct to share information about their experience or to participate in any resolution process.

In fact, this is the primary reason for the difference in the total number of reports and the disciplinary outcomes cited in the Op-Ed. ECRT publishes an annual sexual and gender-based misconduct report to provide the public with transparent, accurate information on how these matters are handled while maintaining the privacy of those involved. The reports, publicly available on ECRT’s website, consistently demonstrate that complainants retain options and a large degree of control after matters are reported to ECRT. The report also demonstrates ECRT’s commitment to addressing sexual and gender-based misconduct and outlines the fair, thorough process used when an investigative pathway is selected. This process includes the University providing parties with an advisor, at no cost to them, if they do not choose to use their own advisor. Finally, the report shows that when a University community member is found to have engaged in misconduct, action is taken. 

There also are options for reporting misconduct outside the University. Reporting to ECRT does not preclude anyone from pursuing any or all of these, and in some instances, having reported to the University is effectively a precursor to seeking external help. Ultimately, reporting to ECRT provides for the most immediate access to supportive measures, such as academic accommodations, housing or employment modifications, and the greatest opportunity for the complainant to make informed decisions regarding which, if any, processes they wish to participate in to seek the type of resolution outcome that best meets their needs.  

Elizabeth Seney is the University of Michigan’s Title IX Coordinator and Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Director.