Summary of Changes to Pepperdine's Sexual Misconduct Policy
SaVE Team Policy and Protocol Committee
In 2015, Pepperdine formed a SaVE (Sexual Violence Elimination) Team to create a coordinated, University-wide response to sexual misconduct in its various forms (including sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking). The SaVE Team includes four committees: a Response Team, Education Committee, Student Disciplinary Committee, and a Policy and Protocol Committee.
The Policy and Protocol Committee is chaired by the University's Dean of Students, Mark Davis, and includes representatives from the following areas: General Counsel, Public Safety, Community Standards, Human Resources, Student Affairs, and a representative from each of the graduate schools. Pepperdine's Title IX Coordinators also serve on the committee.
Each year the committee conducts a thorough review of Pepperdine's Sexual Misconduct Policy to ensure that it reflects best practices and conforms to all legal mandates. Focus groups and feedback from employees and students who utilized the Policy during the previous year are also used to make improvements.
Background on Title IX
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces, among other laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX). Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX states that: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
Because Pepperdine receives federal funds, the University is required to abide by Title IX and all applicable regulations implementing Title IX, including those published in May 2020. The Title IX regulations published in 2020 clarify the definition of "sexual harassment" prohibited under Title IX and require specific procedures to be followed when addressing such conduct. Title IX "sexual harassment" includes Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment (Quid Pro Quo), Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, and Stalking (all terms defined the Sexual Misconduct Policy).
Title IX Coordinators
The Title IX regulations require the University to authorize at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with the regulations. Pepperdine has designated two Title IX coordinators. The University Title IX coordinator, Lauren Cosentino, is responsible for the University's overall compliance with Title IX and coordinates the University's response to formal complaints by students against employee Respondents, as well as complaints by employees against other employees, and reports from Third Parties. The Title IX coordinator for students, La Shonda Coleman, coordinates the University's response to formal complaints by students against student Respondents, and is also the University's contact for Complainants in both student Respondent and employee Respondent cases. Upon receiving reports of Sexual Misconduct, the University Title IX coordinator or the Title IX coordinator for students meets with the Complainant to ensure that supportive measures are in place and that appropriate procedures are followed to address the complaint in a manner that is fair to both the Complainant and the Respondent. The Title IX coordinators also ensure that proper training is provided to the officials involved in the process and coordinate educational programs for the entire University community.
The updated Title IX regulations provide more autonomy and control to the complainant to decide if they want the University to move forward with a formal investigation and hearing. Consequently, the complainant must file a formal complaint before the University proceeds with its grievance procedures. In rare circumstances, the Title IX coordinator may determine that an investigation is necessary over the wishes of a complainant out of concerns for the welfare and safety of the complainant and the community (for example, to pursue a grievance process against a potential serial sexual perpetrator). If so, the Title IX coordinator will sign a formal complaint. Regardless of whether the complainant files a formal complaint, the University will provide supportive measures designed to restore access to Pepperdine's educational program or activity.
Jurisdiction of Title IX
Title IX regulations require the University to dismiss a formal complaint of allegations of conduct that do not meet the regulation's definition of "sexual harassment," did not occur in the University's education programs or activities, and/or where the individual was located outside the United States when the conduct allegedly occurred, and/or where a complainant is not participating in or attempting to participate in a Pepperdine education program or activity. However, Pepperdine may still take action on allegations that fall outside the jurisdiction of Title IX. Such action may include using the informal resolution process and/or formal grievance process described in the Sexual Misconduct Policy or using any other University policy the University deems applicable (e.g., Employee Grievance Procedure in Section 31 of the University Policy Manual, University Tenure Policy, Non-Academic Student Grievance Procedure in each school's catalog, or the Student Code of Conduct).
The jurisdiction of the Sexual Misconduct Policy is broader than the jurisdiction of Title IX, and applies to the education programs and activities of Pepperdine, to conduct that takes place on the campus or on property owned or controlled by Pepperdine, at University-sponsored events, or in buildings owned or controlled by Pepperdine's recognized student organizations. This Policy can also be applicable to the effects of off-campus misconduct that effectively deprive someone of access to Pepperdine's educational programs or activities. The University may also extend jurisdiction to International Programs and/or to off-campus or online conduct. Regardless of whether Title IX is applicable or which procedures are followed, Pepperdine is committed to a fair, accurate, consistent, transparent, and prompt response to allegations of Sexual Misconduct.
The updated Title IX regulations provide more opportunities for both parties to review the evidence collected in the investigation. After a formal complaint is filed, both the complainant and respondent will receive a written notice of the allegations of Sexual Misconduct before the investigation begins. Before the investigation is concluded, both parties will be sent all the evidence related to the allegations of Sexual Misconduct, and will have ten days to review and respond. Both parties will receive a copy of any response, and the investigator(s) will take into account any feedback received. Then the investigator(s) will create a final investigation report that summarizes all the relevant evidence. Both parties will have another ten days to review and respond to the final report, and both parties will receive a copy of any response.
Before a determination of responsibility is made, both parties meet via video conference with a neutral Hearing Officer, who receives a copy of the final investigation report and any response by the complainant or respondent. When the allegations involve a student respondent, the Hearing Officer is the associate dean of students for community standards, Sharon Beard, or her designee. For employee respondents, the Hearing Officer is appointed by Human Resources. The Hearing Officer may choose to add two additional decision makers to create a hearing panel.
A major change to Pepperdine's procedures based on the new Title IX regulations involves the role of advisors during the video conference hearing. The updated Title IX regulations require that Pepperdine: "Provide the parties with the same opportunities to have others present during any grievance proceeding, including the opportunity to be accompanied to any related meeting or proceeding by the advisor of their choice, who may be, but is not required to be, an attorney, and not limit the choice or presence of advisor for either the complainant or respondent in any meeting or grievance proceeding; however, the recipient may establish restrictions regarding the extent to which the advisor may participate in the proceedings, as long as the restrictions apply equally to both parties." The main role of the advisor is to relay cross examination questions at the video conference hearing: "At the live hearing, the decision-maker(s) must permit each party's advisor to ask the other party and any witnesses all relevant questions and follow-up questions, including those challenging credibility. Such cross-examination at the live hearing must be conducted directly, orally, and in real time by the party's advisor of choice and never by a party personally, notwithstanding the discretion of the [University] ... to otherwise restrict the extent to which advisors may participate in the proceedings." Pepperdine will prohibit advisors from questioning in an abusive, badgering, intimidating, or disrespectful manner. All cross examination questions are first shared with the Hearing Officer to determine relevance; if appropriate, the question is then asked directly by the advisor to the other party or witness. Advisors are not allowed to make any opening or closing statements.
Informal resolution is a voluntary process that a student complainant and a student respondent can mutually agree to participate in as an alternative to the formal grievance process (which includes an investigation, hearing, and opportunity to appeal). Before initiating an informal resolution process, a complainant first needs to submit a formal complaint. Both parties must agree to participate and may return to the formal investigation and hearing process at any time before agreeing to an informal resolution. Disciplinary sanctions may be included in the informal resolution agreement. Informal resolution is not an option when the respondent is an employee.
The informal resolution agreement is not subject to appeal once all parties indicate their written agreement to all terms of the informal resolution. After the written agreement is signed by both parties, the formal grievance process is no longer available concerning the allegations raised in the formal complaint. When an informal resolution is accomplished, the appropriate responsive actions and/or mutually agreed upon sanctions are promptly implemented in order to effectively stop the harassment or discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and remedy the effects of the misconduct, both on the complainant and the community.