By Susan Stone, Kristina Supler & Melissa Yasinow
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the country, colleges and universities are shutting down campuses and moving to online classes, possibly for the rest of the academic year. Given these events, students may mistakenly believe that they are no longer subject to Title IX, which requires schools to investigate and adjudicate claims of alleged sexual harassment and misconduct.
Unfortunately, with both Title IX and the coronavirus, no one is immune. First, many colleges and universities expressly have the right to consider conduct that occurs off-campus. Second, in our interconnected world, Title IX policies universally cover conduct that occurs on the phone, online and over social media. Finally, further complicating the issue, people are dealing with increased fear and anxiety right now, with some wanting to be left alone and others craving connection in a time of social distancing.
To avoid Title IX problems, students should take all necessary precautions. As a general rule, do not reach out to someone unless they want to hear from you. Do not physically show up and visit someone without their express permission. Also, if someone says they do not want to leave their house, believe them. Although you may be trying to be friendly, dropping by unannounced to “say hi” or repeatedly inviting someone to “just” hang out can be perceived as threatening, stalking, or harassment. This warning is even more important when considering whether to visit a romantic interest or a former significant other. Don’t make yourself a target for a Title IX violation by “just checking in” on someone.
It is also important to be aware of and respect people’s online boundaries. We understand that it can be very isolating to lose the social connection of college almost overnight. However, we must still be sensitive to other’s social and emotional states. Do not repeatedly email, call, text or Snap someone. Once or twice is fine, but if they aren’t responding, there’s a reason. Also, do not request or send sexually explicit messages, photos or videos that are unsolicited or without consent. What may be intended as a joke or a way to blow off steam can easily be perceived as sexual harassment. And remember, screenshots happen.
During this uncertain time, we must take care of ourselves and protect our health. However, college students still must be careful about Title IX, even if they are off campus and taking only online classes. For more information on how to avoid and, if need be, handle Title IX claims during this difficult time, please contact Student & Athlete Defense/Title IX attorneys Susan Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (email@example.com or 216.736.7217).
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