Title IX Glossary
Student Survivor Toolkit: Download the PDF
Common phrases and what they mean in a Title IX context.
These definitions are for informative purposes, and do not constitute official legal definitions. If you need to cite an official legal definition of one of these terms, or challenge your school’s incorrect definition of a term in your case, please contact ERA for the full legal definition and citation, and/or help with your case.
- Title IX: Title IX is a law that is part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It makes it illegal for a school, university, or school district to discriminate against you based on your sex. Under this legal definition, “sex” includes a person’s actual or perceived gender assigned at birth, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Title IX protects your access to education by making it illegal for any student to be denied that access on the basis of sex. Title IX therefore can be used to protect survivors’ access to education due to gender-based violence (including sexual assault, sexual harassment, and intimate partner violence) and other gender-based discrimination.
- Adjudication: the process by which a formal complaint is made, investigated, and decided under Title IX.
- Advisor/Advocate: an individual who supports you through the Title IX process. This person may be, but does not have to be, an attorney. The advisor/advocate role differs from that of a support person in that they counsel you on your rights under Title IX and your school’s specific policy. They are there to provide a strategic lens into the process.
- Alternative Resolution (“AR”): the process by which a complaint is resolved “informally,” AR allows you and the other party to resolve a Title IX complaint without going through a formal investigation and hearing. AR options vary and depend on your school’s particular policies. See the Alternative Resolution section of this Toolkit on page 45.
- Appeal: the process of challenging a Title IX decision in an attempt to change the outcome. In the Title IX context, this usually arises after the school has made a final (or sometimes a preliminary) determination about whether the conduct occurred. A party that disagrees with the decision may start an appeal process to have the decision reviewed. See the Guide to Appeals section of this Toolkit on page 53.
- Complainant: the person who files a Title IX complaint. In most cases, this is you, the survivor.
- Complaint: the document that explains the conduct you are complaining about.
- Credibility: refers to how “believable” a person is. Throughout the process, each party’s and witness’s credibility will be assessed by the investigator and/or the hearing officer, typically based on things like consistent/inconsistent statements, evidence that shows they are being truthful/untruthful, or how the investigator/officer interprets their mannerisms.
- Cross-Examination: refers to the part of the hearing where you are asked questions from the other side. The questions are sometimes proposed ahead of time by the other party’s advisor/attorney. You might be questioned directly by the opposing advisor/attorney, or the hearing officer may ask you the opposing advisor/attorney’s questions.
- Finding: the outcome of a Title IX case/complaint process that finds the Respondent responsible or not responsible for the conduct alleged in your complaint. “Responsible” is the Title IX equivalent of “guilty.”
- Gag Order: an instruction not to speak about the incident(s) or behavior contained in your Title IX complaint. Breaking a gag order could result in disciplinary action from your school.
- Gender Discrimination (official Title IX definition): being treated differently and worse at school because of your actual or perceived gender or gender identity. This includes conduct based on your sexual orientation, as well as sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating violence, or stalking.
- Hearing: a proceeding before a hearing officer or panel in which evidence and argument are presented to determine whether or not a violation of school policy has occurred, and whether the Respondent is responsible (“guilty”). See the Hearing Preparation section and the Step-by-Step Guide section of this Toolkit.
- Hearing Officer: the person who presides over the Title IX hearing like a judge presides over a courtroom. The hearing officer, among other things, is responsible for deciding the format of the hearing, what evidence will be considered, what testimony is credible, and whether, based on the evidence presented, the Respondent violated the school policy and is responsible for the incident(s) in your complaint.
- Mediation: an attempt to resolve a case without a formal hearing. Often this includes discussions between the parties, facilitated by a qualified individual, the mediator.
- No-Contact Order (Mutual No-Contact Order and Unilateral No-Contact Order): a No-Contact Order prohibits contact (electronic or in-person) and communication between two people – usually the Complainant and the Respondent. A No-Contact Order can be Mutual, meaning neither party is allowed to contact the other, or it can be Unilateral, meaning only one party is prohibited from contacting the other. If someone violates the order, the school will likely take disciplinary action.
- Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”): the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights enforces Title IX, among other statutes. If you believe that your school has violated your rights during the Title IX process, you may file a complaint with OCR (See the “Your Rights & What to Do if They’re Violated” section of this Toolkit). OCR then evaluates, investigates, and resolves the complaint. OCR also provides guidance to educational institutions and agencies on how to comply with the law.
- Preponderance of the Evidence: the evidence standard used to resolve campus Title IX cases. Using this standard, the school decides the outcome of the case by determining whether it is more likely than not (more than 50% likely) that the Respondent is “responsible” (“guilty”) for the incident(s) in your complaint.
- Quid Pro Quo: In the Title IX context, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a person (usually one with authority, like a school employee or professor) tells another person (usually a student) that they can gain an advantage–such as a higher grade–by participating in or allowing unwanted sexual contact.
- Respondent: the person in a Title IX case who is accused of harming the Complainant. In most cases, this is the person who sexually assaulted or sexually harassed you.
- Retaliation: another word for punishment based on asserting your rights. Under Title IX, it is illegal for your school to retaliate against (punish) you for reporting sexual violence or gender discrimination, or participating the Title IX process or a related investigation or legal action. Examples of retaliation at school can include being disciplined, withholding your transcript, removing you from classes or sports teams, and/or restricting your ability to move around campus.
- Sanctions: the consequences against the Respondent if the case results in a finding of responsibility. Sanctions may include dismissal from campus, suspension, mandated learning on sexual violence, consent, or gender discrimination, a warning, or anything else the hearing officer deems relevant and appropriate.
- Sexual harassment: ranges from unwanted touching, gesturing, and inappropriate jokes, to someone promising you a good grade or a promotion in exchange for sexual favors or requiring sexual favors in order to give you something you deserve or want in a school or work setting. Sexual harassment does not always have to be “sexual.” It can also look or feel like teasing, intimidating or offensive comments based on stereotypes (e.g., about how certain people “are” or should act), or bullying someone based on their sex, gender identity (man, woman, trans, intersex, nonbinary, two-spirit, gender queer/fluid, etc.) or sexual orientation (queer, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, pansexual, etc.). There is no requirement that the sexually harassing person or persons derive any sexual pleasure from their acts or that they are sexually attracted to their victim.
- Sexual assault: a physical invasion of your body. It can sometimes result in bodily harm or injury, as well as psychological and emotional trauma. The definition of sexual assault varies by school but generally includes rape, as well as other acts that invade or hurt your body, such as inappropriate touching, groping, attempted rape, forcing you to perform a sexual act, or penetrating any part of your body with a part of their body, or with an object, if such touching/penetration was done without your consent or when you were unable to give consent (i.e. by intoxication or otherwise).
- Sexual misconduct: a broad term encompassing a range of offensive behavior including sexual assault, sexual harrassment, and other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.
- Substantiated: if your allegations were substantiated, that means the school found it is more likely than not that the conduct occurred (i.e. that there was a violation by the Respondent of the school’s Title IX policy).
- Support person: an individual who provides emotional support through the Title IX process. A support person differs from that of an advisor because their focus is on your emotional well-being and navigating the process through that lens. They often help you identify and request supportive measures from the school, and they can usually sit in on an interview or hearing to provide emotional support.
- Supportive measures: these are accommodations provided by the school to help you during the Title IX adjudication process (typically called “interim” measures) or after the investigation is over and a finding is made (typically called “supportive” measures). They can include things like changing a grade to pass/fail, transferring to a different class, moving dorms, etc.
- Title IX Coordinator: a person designated by the school (usually a school employee) whose job it is to make sure the school is complying with Title IX. These responsibilities include responding to complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other gender discrimination, coordinating the investigation process and hearing, and thoroughly understanding the school’s policies and procedures as they relate to Title IX.