As Title IX lawyers, we get calls every day from scared parents telling us that their child has been accused of misconduct while away at school or in need of filing a charge against another student at college for a serious policy violation. Often, it’s: My son was accused of a Title IX violation. What should I do? But whether accused of or involved in a Title IX sexual assault case, a hazing allegation or academic misconduct matter, parents tell us how scared they are for their student’s future.
We know that parents always assume the worst: my child will not graduate from college, their reputation is forever marred and the worst: Could my student get charged with a crime? Please know that we address these fears every day, and that when you call us, you are not the first to cry to us or even to let your fears run wild to assume the worst possible ending. It’s normal; there is nothing more important to a parent than the health, safety and future of their child.
We have written many articles on how students should respond to allegations of college misconduct. These posts address the nuts and bolts of handling a charge or preparing a defense to allegations. This letter is different. We are writing to parents on a topic that has long been overdue and overlooked. This letter addresses how to handle the first 24 hours after your student calls you and tells you that they need to file a Title IX complaint or have been accused of some sort of misconduct allegation.
Here are five immediate concerns and words for advice for parents of students facing Title IX accusations:
1. Should you go to your student or have your student come home?
Your child will be terrified. As scared as parents might be, it pales in comparison to how the student feels during this time. Many students, no matter how confident, smart and resilient, fall apart during a disciplinary process. Your first decision must include just being physically present if possible- at least in the beginning of the case. While cases can last several months, we find that students do best if there is immediate parental contact right after the charge.
2. Does your child now need therapy after a Title IX allegation?
If your child sees a therapist, contact that counselor immediately and arrange for a counselling session. Likewise, put on your own oxygen mask, and talk to your own therapist for support. You need to be in a good place to be of value during this time.
3. How soon should you contact a Title IX attorney?
Start looking for a student advisor to step into the process as quickly as possible. If you have a family or business attorney, ask for a professional referral for an attorney who represents students involved with misconduct allegations. We don’t recommend asking friends for a referral because it is unwise to disclose any details about the matter with those who have no attorney client privilege. You want to keep this matter close to the vest, as the less talk in a community the better it will be in the end for you student. Feel free to search on the computer for an attorney, but read the website’s content and make sure that the attorneys have experience in student defense.
4. Be careful in questioning your student.
If a matter has the potential for criminal charges, remember that there is no parent-child privilege. While we don’t often see parents called as witnesses, err on the side of caution. For those cases that are purely under the jurisdiction of the university, like cheating matters, we understand that you will want to ask your student what happened. As parents paying tuition, you are entitled to some explanation and we find that most students want to talk to their parents for support. Just remember that your student is fragile and might fall apart if overwhelmed or barraged with too many questions too soon after an event. We tell parents that they know their child best but that sometimes, students need to conserve their energy to speak with their student advisor or lawyer. Also, don’t question your student if he or she has not slept, eaten a meal or has a lot of coursework to complete. We find that student fall apart when trying to juggle academic demands with the pressure of a conduct matter.
5. Know when to step back.
Once a lawyer or advisor is selected, know when to step back and allow the professional to handle the case. Be supportive. Be involved. But, know when to allow those who are trained to handle these matters drive strategy. We want parents to be loving parents and leave the legal work to the engaged professional.
You are your student’s best ally. Take a deep breath. Be as strong as possible, and know that we have seen the before, middle and happily ever after of too many cases already to count. You will get through these challenging times.
With Support and Best Wishes,
Susan and Kristina