CRTC now offering 'alternative resolution' option for student sexual harassment complaints

Seen as a second option outside the formal complaint process

Students who file sexual harassment complaints against other students through the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance (CRTC) now have the option to participate in a process at Western called “alternative resolutions.”

Advocates and survivors have sought alternatives to the formal complaint process for a long time. In the 2020 amendments to Title IX the federal government included language that allows for that in some cases. Western Washington University took the opportunity to re-evaluate its approach to handling complaints of sexual harassment.

The Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance office in collaboration with the Counseling and Wellness Center developed and introduced the Alternative Resolution Agreement (ARA) process to provide a student-centered approach to informally resolving matters involving sexual misconduct and relationship violence. The ARA process is voluntary, adaptable, and emphasizes mutual agreement between parties and can get to a resolution much more quickly than the formal investigation and Title IX hearing processes.

To help understand the ARA and how it differs from an official complaint, we spoke with Western staff involved in the creation and implementation of the new pathway.

Providing Options for Survivors

Jane Merriman, Case Intake & Resolution Assistant, is a WWU alum. They graduated from Fairhaven College with an interdisciplinary degree in Law, Diversity, and Justice and has a background in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy. Jane is often the initial person people interact with when they visit the CRTC office. They connect with those who have submitted reports, hold intake meetings to share information about the office, coordinate support measures, and help students explore resolution options.

JANE: For folks who may have never interacted with our office, there can be uncertainties about meeting with CRTC, the reporting process, and what support options are available. Reaching out for support can be intimidating! I want to emphasize that when a student meets with our office, there is no pressure to move forward with any process - informal or formal. We want students to be empowered to make the decisions that are best for them and their wellbeing.

Our office receives reports in a variety of ways – online, over the phone, through email, and in person. After we receive a report, our first step is to try to connect with the affected person and see if they're interested in speaking with us. It's everyone’s choice whether they want to interact with our office and just because a report is made doesn’t mean they have to meet with us.

If someone is interested in exploring support and resolution options through CRTC, we’ll find time to complete an intake meeting, which is an opportunity to get a sense of what kind of support students are seeking. Some of the information I share during intake meetings includes general points about the CRTC’s role on campus, different support measures we can provide, and formal resolution processes, including the Alternative Resolution Agreement.

Every intake is unique – it is each person’s choice how much information they share about their experience. Meeting with us does not mean students have to make a report or move forward with CRTC support measures. It is most important that we center the person coming to our office and what they need and want out of the situation.

Centering the needs and the choice of the person who was harmed

Deidre Evans, Survivor Advocacy Services Coordinator with the WWU Counseling and Wellness Center, is a confidential resource on campus. As a survivor advocate, Deidre supports students impacted by sexual violence, intimate partner violence, or stalking by providing emotional support, survivor support groups and by guiding them through available options, linking them with additional support resources both on and off campus, and assisting them in navigating academic, legal/reporting, medical, and other systems. As a member of the collaborative team that developed the ARA process, she sees the ARA as a new pathway that provides students with agency and options.

Deidre Evans

DEIDRE: Throughout my 10+ year advocate career, I have seen survivors engage in legal and reporting processes most frequently because they think that they're supposed to or other people in their lives have told them that’s the process, or they are very unsafe and are looking for a way to stop the violence they are experiencing. The ARA gives survivors more choices than the traditional criminal legal reporting options where the survivor only has control over deciding to make a police report or to file a protection order, with limited control over the outcome. With traditional legal and reporting options you see more of a punitive response and some survivors are not necessarily looking for that which might not be an accessible or safe option. They're not looking for a suspension or an expulsion of the person that has hurt or harmed them. They may be looking for an opportunity for that individual to hear about the impact of their actions and then hopefully take steps to change that. But I think the biggest part of why I've seen the ARA be beneficial is that the survivor is the one to initiate it and then they get choices throughout the process. You can get as creative as folks want or need. It’s important to remember that all survivors deserve safety, support and care that meets their unique needs, and that the ARA is now an available option but by no means a requirement.

With the support measures that are available and the ARA as an option, I am seeing more people saying I want to have an initial meeting with the CRTC. I want to hear how the university can actually support me. Survivors, survivor advocates, activists and prevention folks have advocated for this for years because people were saying “we need and want something different.” The message was clear-- we know what is best for us. We know what is safe for us, so let us have those options. The ARA is a response to that request.

Individualized solutions to promote behavior change and empathy

Liz Stuart, assistant director of Outreach and Health Promotions, spearheads health and wellness initiatives at the Counseling and Wellness Center. Liz has more than twenty years of experience in survivor advocacy and prevention fields. She oversees a team of student Wellness Advocates, develops, and disseminates curricula and educational resources for students, faculty, and staff, and organizes events and campaigns throughout campus. Liz was part of the group that developed the Alternative Resolution Agreement process, and she says it’s been a long time coming.

Liz Stuart

LIZ: It's been an interesting journey to be a part of prevention, education and sexual assault awareness and watch how those strategies have shifted from harm reduction by protecting yourself to really looking at building a culture of consent. A place where we're really putting the onus on folks who might be conditioned to harm other people, and to interrupt those behaviors.

I think anytime we are centering the needs and the choice of the person who was harmed and really continuing to call back the person who did the harm to confront their actions and build empathy, our whole community wins. Truly, one of the biggest indicators of a person harming another person through sexual assault or violence is low sense of empathy for the other person. Empathy is absolutely a valid tool to interrupt and prevent future harm. This approach is really in line with a much more restorative philosophy, and a key element of the Alternative Resolution Agreement is often the Consent Education Sessions.

Consent education sessions: fostering healthy relationships

Consent education sessions provide a confidential space where individuals can explore their beliefs, behaviors, and goals regarding sex and relationships without fear of judgment or stigma. Held one-on-one with a consent and healthy relationships professional, typically within the Counseling and Wellness Center, these sessions prioritize accountability, behavior change, and skill building around healthy relationships, shared power, and sexual communication.

While not therapy, consent education sessions are designed based on research on behavior change, particularly in cases of sexual misconduct and engage a variety of learning activities. Participants engage in introspection, skill-building, and goal-setting to address and transform harmful or problematic behaviors.

Sessions are individually tailored to meet the unique needs of each participant, the context of the situation, and the impact of the person who was harmed. While typically spanning 4-6 sessions, the number can be adjusted based on the participant's needs and preferences. The interventions are delivered by experienced professionals with backgrounds in sexual violence prevention and survivor support.

From understanding consent and social cues to exploring healthy and harmful behaviors, participants delve into gender dynamics, substance abuse, communication skills, and the intricacies of building healthy relationships. By addressing ingrained beliefs and behaviors, these sessions pave the way for meaningful change, fostering a culture of respect, empathy, and consent.

Considerations for Title IX Alternative Resolution

For those considering consent education sessions as part of their Title IX Alternative Resolution, several factors come into play. Both parties must voluntarily agree to participate, with outcomes hinging on the participant's willingness to learn and change. While input from both parties influences session content, the educator ultimately determines the focus, ensuring a balanced and effective learning experience.

LIZ: What I know from working with hundreds of survivors over many years is that many want healing or justice centered outcomes. One outcome is often for the person to understand the impact their actions had on the survivor. Another is for them to learn skills and tools, so they don’t harm another person. Now, not all survivors have these goals, and not all survivors want to talk to me about it. Sometimes they just want the educational intervention to happen, but I provide an opportunity for them to-- if they want—share with me, what would their ideal outcomes be? What would their goals be for this person in their learning? And so, I consider that when I am designing the response with the survivor, I also offer them an opportunity to participate in that.

They never meet face to face in this process; however, if they would like to write a statement of how it impacted them and have me read it or give it to the responding party, those are options.

As far as what kind of impact the process is having…It's really powerful to witness the light bulbs go off and the awareness and the recognition of harm. I just really, truly believe that it's one of the most powerful things I've ever done in my career. And one of the most hopeful things that I have ever done.

Support for students

Pending changes to Title IX complaint processes have created some uncertainty for students, particularly regarding formal investigation process. Jane recognizes that the Alternative Resolution and Agreement (ARA) process can offer students more control. However, regardless of whether a student opts for a formal or alternative complaint process, Jane says the office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance (CRTC) prioritizes providing the support that survivors want.

JANE: There are several factors of the Alternative Resolution process that increase student’s autonomy and control. Because the ARA process is voluntary, reporting students can end the process or switch to a formal investigation, at any time prior to the ARA being signed. Additionally, the ability to request terms and actions that provide specific outcomes allows folks to explore what may be most beneficial to their healing process.

Generally, the Alternative Resolution Agreements are completed within 30 days, typically sooner; formal investigative processes can take longer, closer to 90 days, so the shorter timeline for resolution can be appealing.

There are lots of ways that students can find support through our office, whether they are interested in formal complaint processes or not. We’re always more than happy to meet with students just to provide information about what support and safety measures are available and there’s never a rush for decisions to be made.

Support measures are unique to each situation and person, but some of the most common forms of support are academic advocacy, safety planning, resource referrals, changes to on-campus housing and access to emergency housing, and informal requests for no contact.

Contact the CRTC

If you would like to find out more about the Alternative Resolution Agreement, file a formal Title IX Complaint, or request Title IX-related support services call Jane at the CRT office at 360-650-3307, email, or come by our office at Old Main 126 for an informal conversation.

Resources: Survivor support at WWU

Support measures are unique to each situation and person, but some of the most common forms of support are academic advocacy, safety planning, resource referrals, changes to on-campus housing and access to emergency housing, and informal requests for no contact.

Academic Support

It is common for experiences of sexual assault to disrupt students’ academics, so our office frequently consults with faculty and instructors to arrange for flexibility, leniency, and other forms of classroom support for individual students. We can also provide course schedule consultations if students have safety concerns about sharing courses with another individual.

Safety planning

A safety plan is unique to each person and includes brainstorming various ways to improve safety and reduce future harm; this can include planning for physical and/or emotional safety and on/off campus options for no contact.

Referrals to confidential resources

We also frequently make direct referrals to confidential campus resources, like Survivor Advocacy Services and the Counseling & Wellness Center. Because CRTC works with these offices frequently, we can connect students directly to those services; this can be helpful for folks who may be feeling overwhelmed about reaching out for support.

Informal requests for no contact

Our office can make informal requests for no-contact for students who may be experiencing ongoing unwanted contact or harassment. When CRTC completes informal requests for no contact, the office reaches out to the responding student to inform them that the reporting student no longer wishes to have contact with them. This is an informal option and is not like a court-mandated no-contact order; if a student is interested in exploring options for no contact, we can chat about the different forms of no-contact requests to determine what the best course of action is for that individual.

Campus Housing & Emergency Housing

For students living on campus, CRTC helps coordinate changes to housing assignments. We also support students who are experiencing housing insecurity related to intimate-partner violence by coordinating access to short-term, emergency on-campus housing.