How to Deal with University Administrators if You Are Accused of Sexual Assault on Campus
Your school’s code of student conduct will not tell you everything you need to know. And even when the code is relatively clear, the school often doesn’t give you all the information you need. As a result, you will inevitably need to follow up with the administrators at the school who are in charge of the process.
1. Who Should Do The Talking?
Often, a student’s parents may be more comfortable talking to administrators than the student himself is. Or the parents may be more equipped to delve into the details of the school’s code and frame their questions in the best way.
Also, school administrators sometimes talk to parents differently than they talk to students. Many administrators see the accused as kids who can be bullied or ignored. Parents often get better treatment and are better able to stand up to any bullying.
Also, at the vast majority of schools, the student is the one who will have to sit at the hearing and advocate for himself. Being actively engaged in the process from the start can be the best way to make sure that happens.
Generally, then, we think the best approach for people who aren’t in a position to hire lawyers is for the accused to be the primary point of contact with the school and to copy his parents on e-mails or include them in conversations when necessary. But there are exceptions to that: if the charges are causing the accused depression or other mental health issues, it just may not be possible for him to take on that burden. In those situations, there is a real role for parents to step in and advocate.
2. FERPA Waivers
Often, before a school will talk to a parent about what’s going on, the school will ask for a FERPA waiver. This is a document that a student executes to give the school permission to talk about educational matters with a parent.
In general, these are a nuisance and should be routinely executed. So, if a school asks for a FERPA waiver, sign it quickly so you can get on with the business of resolving the charge.
3. General Ground Rules
Here are a few guidelines for communicating with school administrators.
First, until you have a reason not to, assume that school administrators are good and fair people. Talk to them like they want to do the right thing. Most people are, in fact, basically good. This includes school administrators too.
Schools are under tremendous pressure. School administrators often feel that pressure. Some are genuinely good people who care about fairness but are operating in an environment that they don’t understand, like, or feel comfortable in. If you work with them to find a solution to a problem that is affecting how the case will proceed, you may get further than if you assume they are your enemy.
That said, some of them are truly biased, ideological people who see every accused student as a guilty symptom of a larger societal problem. So work with them to the extent that you can, but make sure you’re careful about protecting your rights. Under no circumstances should you actually trust them.
Write Down Everything
Put everything in writing. If you have a quick question, write it down and e-mail it. If you have a long meeting, take notes then summarize those notes in a follow-up e-mail. Ask the school administrator to confirm that what you understand came out of your meeting is, in fact, what you agreed on.
This prevents you from misunderstanding them, and it prevents them from denying that they told you something. Any time you have a conversation of any substance—or learn anything of any consequence—make sure there is a written record of it. We understand that this may sound paranoid, but you know what they say: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.