Choosing the Right Space for a Live, In-Person Title IX Hearing

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An Excerpt from the 2021 ATIXA Hearing Decision-maker Training Manual

When designing or reserving a hearing space for resolving a sex-based harassment, discrimination, or violence complaint there are many considerations that are particularly important to enhance the sensitivity and comfort of what can feel like an adversarial proceeding. Hearings are typically held in campus conference rooms, but large offices or small classrooms could be appropriate if they are sufficiently private. Be sure that you pick a room that is large enough to hold all Decision-makers, parties, and Advisors comfortably, as well as any other individuals who will be present for all or part of the hearing, such as the Title IX Coordinator or witnesses. This will help you to keep the “sides” a reasonable and humane distance from each other. A room that is too large, however, will run the risk of seeming needlessly cold and sterile, or may create audio/auditory/recording issues. Consider the comfort of the furniture in the space, especially if any hearing participants may need larger, sturdier, or armless seats to support their personal needs. Ensuring there is a working clock visible to Decision-makers and participants will also help limit the need to check cell phones during the proceeding.

If the parties are comfortable being in the same room together, consider how to organize the room to minimize the proximity and contact among parties (separate entrances can be helpful). If no-contact orders (including a court-issued protection order/injunction) are in place, typically those terms must still be respected in the hearing. Consider some of the space considerations surrounding your location choice, too. Is it in a relatively private place on campus or will it be readily apparent to other individuals who pass by what is going on inside? Consider, too, whether there any institutional events coinciding nearby that will provide inappropriate distractions during the hearing that might merit consideration in your site selection (e.g., marching band practice, weekly step show on the quad, etc.). Consider any accessibility concerns for parties, Decision-makers, or other individuals. Can you work the flow so that during breaks or room switches, the parties do not pass each other closely when coming or going? Have you made the same considerations for their separate entry and exit from the building, and those of parents/guardians? Even timing the use of restrooms and traversing hallways can be sequenced to avoid contact.

You’ll need to consider more than just the hearing room itself. Are there nearby private rooms for parties to meet with their Advisors during break periods? What about places for non-Advisor individuals who wish to be nearby, such as a party’s parent or guardian? And there should be rooms for each witness to be able to wait until it is their turn to participate. Considering the layout of the rooms in advance helps to ensure that the parties have the ability to confer privately with their Advisors during the hearing, helps to ensure comfort for all participants, and anticipates the need to minimize the potential for antagonistic confrontations. Will you need to have food delivered or available, and if so, is there an adjacent area for managing food delivery and set-up? If not, during the pre-hearing meeting the Chair can encourage the parties to plan to bring their own snacks and beverages, if they will want them. Sometimes, hearings can run for many hours, and it will be vital for all participants to have access to refreshments, tissues, personal items, etc.

Your space should have restrooms nearby, in sufficient number and privacy, including ideally a restroom designated as all-gender. Over time, you will get a feeling for which administrative buildings at your institution are good choices for hearings. No space is perfect, but room/venue choice can greatly impact the success of your hearings.

Anticipate that regardless of what space you use, you will want to build a “checklist” of standard items to have available at each hearing. Be sure to have water (at least for your panel) and tissues available for the parties. Have a white/noise sound machine, too, if you need to ensure that no individuals outside of the hearing room can hear what is occurring inside. This is especially important if adjoining rooms are being used for non-Advisor or witness waiting areas. Consider what access you might need to administrative services/equipment during the course of the hearing. Do you have ready access to a printer and copier? Telephones if needed? What about any technology needs within the hearing, such as needing to play or show any video or audio media? If you’re the Decision-maker or Chair, how will you contact legal counsel during the hearing, if needed?

Thinking through these types of logistical questions before the hearing begins will often help to make the entire hearing run more smoothly and will give the hearing participants greater confidence in the institution’s ability to manage a well-run process.

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