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The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project released a letter to the University of Michigan Thursday morning calling on the administration to change its interim student sexual misconduct policy.
The investigative resolution pathway of the policy has students who file a sexual misconduct complaint undergo an in-person hearing and cross-examination. The interim policy was implemented on Jan. 9 due to a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.
Though the outcome of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling allows students to directly cross-examine their accuser, it does not ban the employment of personal advisers — like attorneys — to conduct the procedure. It was the University that decided students alone must complete their own cross-examinations.
According to Bonsitu Kitaba, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Michigan, the letter was written as a follow-up to the University after they rejected the ACLU’s request for a meeting. The meeting would have been for the purpose of further discussing the interim policy with administrators and students.
In the letter, the ACLU stressed how a policy that forces those accused of sexual assault or harassment to personally question their accuser could result in fewer sexual misconduct complaints, re-traumatization of those who made complaints and a hostile campus environment.
The letter also urged the University to establish a new policy that better complies with Title IX and due process rights by having cross-examinations conducted by those who have legal training.
Kitaba further emphasized the issue of students not having the option to employ a personal adviser for cross-examination.
“It’s especially concerning because it prohibits … the respondent’s or claimant’s adviser or representative from doing the cross-examination and actually requires that the students conduct it themselves,” Kitaba said. “It’s important to note that due process rights are vital to Title IX proceedings to ensure fairness for both parties, but the way the University has chosen to go about it completely undermines the Title IX process, as well as the safety and security of students on campus.”
In an email interview with The Daily, University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen explained the University does not let attorneys conduct cross-examination for accessibility reasons.
“It’s important to note, Doe v. Baum calls for a student or their advisor to conduct the cross-examination,” Broekhuizen wrote. “Questioning by personal advisors – often attorneys – is not allowed at U-M out of concern that not all students would be able to afford counsel.”
However, Kitaba said if the University noticed access to a personal adviser was an issue for students, then there should be more administrative efforts in place to help students obtain representation.
“If the school has identified that there is a need for students to have equal representation in these proceedings, then the school should offer appointed reps for students who are unable to hire their own attorney,” Kitaba said. “The alternative to then require that students do their own cross-examination because they can’t afford attorneys is just simply uncalled for and unnecessary.”
LSA sophomore Emma Sandberg is a founding member of former student group Jane Roe — the group was connected by a petition signer to the ACLU of Michigan in February regarding the University’s interim Title IX policy.
“I’m glad that the ACLU is stepping forward to make it very clear that the majority of people would feel that this is traumatizing and that this is a violation of civil rights and human rights,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg said she feels it was irresponsible for the University to pursue a policy that makes students conduct cross-examinations directly..
“That is something that I consider to be cruel,” Sandberg said. “That is not something that is done in court. It astonishes me that administrators at the University somehow decided to make the policy this way. It’s unimaginable to me that they feel that this is the best solution.”
Moving forward, Broekhuizen said the University will continue efforts to develop the policy further.
“We continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the interim policy through feedback from the student community,” Broekhuizen wrote. “U-M also is working to develop an umbrella policy for students, faculty and staff and separate procedures for students and employees, all of which will undergo vetting by our community.”
This article was updated to indicate the former student group Jane Roe was connected to the ACLU of Michigan by a petition signer.