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Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a foundational civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment at schools, educational institutions, programs, and activities that receive federal financial assistance. When a school receives even a penny of federal funding, it is regulated by Title IX. For many different reasons, resident assistants (RAs) are on the front lines of Title IX compliance.
In the modern world, RAs have a challenging, complicated job. If you are serving as a resident assistant, it is crucial that you understand your responsibilities and rights under Title IX. In this article, our highly experienced Title IX lawyers provide an overview of the most important things that RAs need to know about federal law.
What is a Resident Assistant (RA)?
Common across colleges and universities throughout the United States, a resident assistant (RA) is a trained peer leader who helps to coordinate and organize activities among students within a shared residential facility. While RAs are referred to by a wide range of different names, resident advisor, community assistant, peer mentor, their responsibilities are broadly similar.
Beyond the specific duties assigned by their school, RAs are covered by Title IX. Over the last few years, RAs have become important players in the enforcement of Title IX regulations. For a young person who already has to balance many other priorities, this can be quite a burden. It is one that you need to be prepared to take on.
You are Entitled to Proper Title IX Training
All educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance have a basic duty to provide their resident assistants with the proper training. Handling Title IX-related complaints, including but not limited to sexual harassment, stalking, sexual assault, and dating or domestic violence is immensely complicated. If you are currently serving as an RA and you believe that you did not receive adequate training, you should consider reaching out to the Title IX office at your school.
RAs are Mandatory Reporters Under Title IX
During your RA training, an instructor should advise you of your duties as a mandatory reporter (also known as ‘Responsible Employee’) under Title IX. As explained by the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA), a mandatory reporter is required to take action whenever a violation arises.
By law, mandatory reporters are individuals who have a duty to disclose their knowledge of sex discrimination or sexual harassment/dating violence as soon as they become aware of it. Virtually all university personnel are mandatory reporters, including administrators, coaches, professors, and teaching assistants. Exceptions are made for mental health counselors, lawyers, and other professionals bound by oaths of confidentiality.
Note: As a mandatory reporter, you must report all Title IX violations to the college or university immediately. In doing so, please use the appropriate protocols established by your institution. To be clear, you are required to submit reports for violations that you personally witnessed, for conduct that was reported to you by another party or for any conduct which may be a possible violation of Title IX of which you may become aware.
RAs Cannot Guarantee Confidentiality to the Victim
Fundamentally, an RA is a peer to the other young people in their dorm or facility. Many students put a great deal of trust in their RA. For understandable reasons they feel more comfortable talking with an authority figure that they can better relate to and rely on.
It may be your natural impulse to want to give your peers the opportunity to share sensitive information with you. Title IX puts some major limits on the information you can hold in confidence. Please know you are legally required to report all Title IX obligations even if the victims would rather the information not be reported. In fact, this is one of the most important things that RAs need to know about Title IX: You cannot guarantee confidentiality to the victim. Never promise or imply confidentiality. It is important to make this clear before the victim shares any information with you.
Mandatory Reporters Can Still Be Discreet
Reporting an issue to officials is not the same thing as broadcasting information to other students or community members. While RAs are legally required to report all Title IX violations to the college or university, they can still help to keep information relatively private.
An RA should certainly avoid loudly or recklessly sharing the sensitive information disclosed by sexual harassment or sexual assault survivor. That would be an enormous error in judgment and a breach of trust. RAs can take proactive measures to handle complaints as discreetly as possible. Still, there can be no promises of full confidentiality because RAs are mandatory reporters under Title IX.
You Have the Right to Seek Professional Guidance
Navigating the Title IX complaint process can be complicated, especially for RAs who may be put in a difficult position. Indeed, in some cases, RAs find themselves feeling caught in the middle of a serious sexual harassment or dating violence complaint that they themselves did not actually witness.
Professional legal guidance is available. If you are an RA and you have questions about your duties or your rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, or if you need guidance with a specific case, do not hesitate to consult with an experienced attorney. A lawyer will be able to evaluate your case and help you understand your options.
Consult with Our National Title IX Lawyers Today
At Duffy Law, our highly knowledgeable Title IX and Conduct Code attorneys have experience advising and representing students, faculty, and schools across a wide range of matters. If you have any questions or concerns about your rights or obligations under federal law, we are here to help. For your confidential, no-commitment initial consultation, please do not hesitate to contact our legal team today. With an office location in New Haven, we handle Title IX cases in Connecticut and nationwide