Chapman updates sexual misconduct policy to comply with state law

Chapman’s sexual misconduct policy was altered to reflect the California Court of Appeals ruling in favor of giving students accused of assault more rights. After a Jan. 4 hearing in Los Angeles County, Chapman’s Title IX office amended the misconduct policy to remain in compliance with the court’s ruling. Graphic by Emma Reith

After a Jan. 4 California appellate court decision found that the University of Southern California (USC) failed to give a student accused of sexual assault a fair hearing, Chapman has adjusted its sexual misconduct policies in compliance with state law.

The decision held that, as part of due process, “the ability to confront adverse witnesses, which may include the complainant, respondent, and other witnesses is an essential part for the hearing,” wrote Colleen Wood, director of student conduct, and DeAnn Yocum Gaffney, associate dean of students and lead Title IX coordinator, in an email to The Panther.  

While the accused and accusers will not be required to be in the same room during the hearing, they can view the proceedings remotely when hearing officers deem it’s appropriate, according to a March 28 email sent out by Chapman’s Dean of Students Office.

“After getting that decision and reading through it, we had to understand what the holdings from that case meant in comparison with our current policy and what we needed to do to make sure we were complying,” Yocum Gaffney said.

The email from Wood and Yocum Gaffney said that the update gives those in the process the ability to confront witnesses, which can include the accused and accuser.

“If a respondent does not wish to participate with a hearing, one will proceed as long as the complainant is participating,” the email said, clarifying that the neutral factfinders who would be present during witness confrontation would be employees from Student Affairs.

The January precedent-setting case challenged how USC addressed sexual assault cases and resulted in changes to the statewide hearing policy.

“This (decision) came out Jan. 4 and we needed to be in compliance,” Wood said.

Students at Chapman in the process of sexual misconduct hearings were notified as soon as the policy changes were made.

Another major change in Chapman’s sexual misconduct policy requires that investigators gather information about the case, prepare it and share it with both parties, Yocum Gaffney said.

“We were doing (that) already, but it has moved from the investigators to a separate hearing panel before any determinations about policy violations are made,” Yocum Gaffney said.

In compliance with the new policy, both the accused and the accuser will be present in the same hearing. The students will not have to see each other during the hearing itself and can watch the testimony of their opponent in a separate room if either chooses to, according to Wood and Yocum Gaffney.

“We have never had an occasion where we have had a complainant or respondent run into each other during a hearing,,” Wood said. “People are shocked about that, but we haven’t had that happen. We usually have a staff member sitting outside trying to coordinate.” 

The policy change comes as USC faces lawsuits filed by more than 100 women claiming that longtime campus gynecologist George Tyndall sexually assaulted them during their time as undergraduate students.

“This should never happen to anyone, least of all to one of our students. I am horrified by it and disgusted that it occurred at USC,” wrote USC Provost Michael Quick in an open letter to students and faculty in May 2018.

Wood told The Panther that she thinks a “big unknown” on campus is that Chapman has to comply with the Department of Education – meaning that changes to the university’s sexual misconduct policy aren’t always up to administrators.

“We don’t know when (changes) are coming,” she said. “Even though we are a private institution, there are still things we have to comply with and apply.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last names of two sources. It is Colleen Wood, not Woods, and DeAnn Yocum Gaffney, not DeAnn Gaffney.