Preparing for Your Title IX Hearing
Student Survivor Toolkit: Download the PDF
What is a Title IX Hearing? A hearing is a proceeding, led by a hearing officer, in which evidence and argument is presented to help decide the outcome of your Title IX case. At the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer determines whether or not the Respondent is “responsible” (the Title IX word for guilty) for violating school policy based on the incident(s) in your Title IX complaint.
Hearings look different at every school, but in general, the hearing will consist of (1) optional opening statements by the Complainant (you) and/or the Respondent; (2) questioning of witnesses by the hearing officer (the Complainant and Respondent will submit questions for the hearing officer to ask the witnesses, but the questions themselves will come from the hearing officer); (3) questioning of the Complainant and Respondent by the hearing officer; and (4) closing statements (by the Complainant and Respondent). Both the Complainant and Respondent are entitled to an advisor and a support person at the hearing.
10 Tips for Hearing Testimony Preparation
Before the hearing
1. Plan. Come up with a plan to support yourself during the hearing. You may have to recount difficult details of the sexual assault or harassment that happened to you, and you may be asked questions that feel victim-blaming. Consider where you will do the hearing (if it is virtual), who will be with you, and what you might need to stay calm and focused (snacks, tissues, fidget items, etc.). Make sure you are in a comfortable place where you feel safe, and if you don’t want others in your household to hear, make sure you are in a relatively sound-proof location. Whether in person or on zoom, dress like you are going to a job interview.
2. Review. Read through your prior statements to the investigator and the investigation report to refresh your memory. It is important to be consistent, as long as everything is truthful. If your memory has changed or you now cannot recall details of the event (which is completely normal), be prepared to explain that at the hearing. For example, you might say something like “I’m sorry, it’s been several months since this happened, so my memory of the incident(s) is not as clear now as it was when I first reported to the Title IX office.”
“This is your hearing, and you are entitled to understand what is going on 100% of the time.”
3. Discuss. Attend your school’s pre-hearing conference where the hearing officer will explain the procedure to you. Talk through your concerns about the hearing with your advisor and/or support person beforehand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what the hearing will be like, how to best prepare, and what you should do if you’re feeling uncomfortable, need a break, or need to ask your advisor a question during the hearing. Discuss with your advisor whether or not you want to submit to cross-examination.
During the hearing
4. Pause. Attend your school’s pre-hearing conference where the hearing officer will explain the procedure to you. Talk through your concerns about the hearing with your advisor and/or support person beforehand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what the hearing will be like, how to best prepare, and what you should do if you’re feeling uncomfortable, need a break, or need to ask your advisor a question during the hearing. Discuss with your advisor whether or not you want to submit to cross-examination.
5. Focus. Answer each question honestly and completely, but stick to what is being asked. If the hearing officer needs more information, they will ask for it. You do not need to offer any additional information or details unless it is asked of you. Stick to direct and succinct answers whenever possible. Remember that your advisor or attorney has the right to suggest follow-up questions, so if they think it’s important for you to elaborate on something, you can do so when it’s their turn to speak. Or, if you are proceeding without a lawyer or advisor, you can always explain or elaborate on certain responses at the end of your testimony if you feel it’s necessary. But generally speaking, you should stick to the questions being asked.
“If you find yourself overwhelmed during the hearing, feel free to ask for a break. It is your right to pause for any reason.”
6. Confer. When in doubt about something that’s going on in the hearing, ask to speak privately with your advisor and/or support person. This is your hearing, and you are entitled to understand what is going on 100% of the time. If you do not understand a question that is asked of you, tell the attorney or hearing officer you do not understand the question. Do not answer any questions you do not understand.
7. Ask. It is your right to submit additional questions you want witnesses to answer during the hearing. Before the hearing, make sure you are clear on the process for submitting these questions. During the hearing, speak up if you feel the hearing officer missed something, something needs to be clarified, or you want a witness to explain an answer. However, make sure to not speak over the hearing officer or anyone who is testifying.
8. Recall. If you do not remember the answer to a question, you can respond by saying “I do not know” or “I do not remember.” Try not to guess. If you guess because you’re trying to be helpful, and later it turns out your guess was wrong, that will reflect badly on your credibility. Remember that the most important thing is to tell the truth, and if you don’t remember something, then the truth is “I don’t remember.” If you need to take a moment to collect yourself, ask for it.
After the hearing
9. Decompress. Take time for yourself after the hearing. Do something to decompress — take a walk, read a book, take a bath, journal… hearings are exhausting and can be retraumatizing, so recharging and exercising self-care is just as important as getting through the hearing itself. See the Self-Care for Survivors section of this Toolkit for more advice.
10. Reflect. Lots of survivors find it useful to journal or discuss their experiences with trusted confidants. Doing this may not feel right until months, or even years later, which is completely understandable.