The Office of Equity and Inclusion relies greatly on witnesses participation to carry out our work in support of the University’s commitment to inclusive excellence, equity, and diversity. The following information is provided to increase awareness and knowledge of the Title IX and Discrimination complaint and resolution process for witnesses and to address some common questions and concerns regarding witness participation.
What are terms used in the complaint resolution process?
Complainant/ Respondent: Those bringing forward allegations are referred to as Complainants. Those responding to allegations are referred to as Respondents. There can be more than one Complainant, or more than one Respondent.
Parties: Sometimes Complainants and Respondents are referred to individually as “a party” or jointly as “the parties.”
Witnesses: Are Individuals who have direct experience with or knowledge of events, issues, or circumstances related to the investigation, and/or who the parties identify and want the investigator to speak to.
I received an email, call, or text from an investigator requesting an interview.
Do I have to meet with them?
Your name was likely shared by someone involved in an ongoing investigation that feels you have relevant and important information about the alleged incident(s) to share with investigators. Although it is our hope that you’ll agree to be interviewed, you are not obligated to meet with anyone or participate in the process.
However, it’s important to understand that answering questions in the investigation and participating in a review meeting or hearing (if applicable) is almost always a crucial component of our ability to gather necessary information to resolve a complaint.
How will my participation impact me?
We recognize the difficulty of participating in an investigation and the concerns witnesses have regarding how the impact participation may have on their personal and professional relationships and academic pursuits.
Individuals who need additional support are strongly encouraged to contact us to discuss ways we can work with witnesses to provide solutions that may help the witness feel comfortable participating in an investigation.
What will meeting with an investigator be like?
The investigator is in a neutral role, and is seeking to gather as much relevant information as possible. The investigator must act impartially and avoid prejudgment of the facts and bias.
The investigator will:
- Contact you by phone or email to set up a meeting in person or via video call
- Explain the purpose of the interview and confidentiality of the meeting
- Take notes as you talk with them
- Ask you how you know the party or parties involved
- Ask what you observed or heard and allow you the opportunity to share what you know
- Ask follow-up questions to better understand what you’ve shared
- Ask for any information or documentation that you might have such as texts, screenshots, emails, photos, etc. that could help them better understand the situation
- End the meeting with you by asking you if there is anything you would like to share, such as information the investigator didn’t ask about but that you feel is important for them to know
- Remind you that witnesses are protected from retaliation, and the OEI resources and support are available to you at any time
Do I need to bring anything with me for the interview?
You do not need to bring anything with you to meet with the investigator unless there is specific information that you would like to share with them, such as screenshots, text messages, photos, or other digital or physical documentation.
This process makes me nervous or anxious. Is there anyone I can talk with before my interview?
What if I’m a student and I was engaged in behavior that may violate UMBC’s Student Conduct Policy at the time of the incident? Will I (or my friends) get in trouble?
In order to encourage reporting, UMBC has an Amnesty Policy. Under that policy, anyone who makes a report to the University or law enforcement, or participates as a witness in good faith in a Title IX matter, will not be subject to disciplinary action for their own personal consumption of alcohol or drugs taken/used at or near the time of the incident of Prohibited Conduct, provided that any such violation was not an act that was reasonably likely to place the health or safety of any other person at risk.
For more information, contact UMBC’s Title IX Coordinator.
Can I ask the investigator questions about the complaint or what others have shared?
While the investigator may ask a witness questions witnesses are not able to ask questions of the investigator. The investigator will only share with a witness information about the investigation, including the specifics related to an allegation, if the investigator determines it is necessary to do so in order to provide context for the questions being asked or to seek clarification of information already gathered.
In order to protect the privacy of all those involved, as well as the integrity of the investigation, the investigator will not share any other information related to the investigation.
Will I be interviewed more than once?
In some cases, the investigator may ask to interview a witness more than once if additional information becomes available after the initial interview and/or in order to follow up with a witness to clarify information or previous statements.
If I provide information to the investigator, can I remain anonymous?
We are careful to protect the privacy of all individuals who participate in the investigation process, including witnesses, but in some situations, effective investigation practices and the law require sharing witness information with others who need to know. This means that information about witnesses, including their identity and what information they share with the investigator, is shared only with the Complainant and Respondent and those directly involved in the investigation or resolution who have a need to know.
As part of an initial inquiry into a report made to our office, we keep all information about the report confidential and do not share it with others within or outside the University unless it is necessary for us to respond to the report, or there is a concern for someone’s immediate health or safety. We do this in order to encourage individuals who report or act as witnesses to feel comfortable reporting or participating in the process, to allow our team to provide support, and to gather information to assist in determining whether an investigation is appropriate or required.
However, when or if a formal complaint is filed and an investigation is conducted, we will need to provide both the Complainant and the Respondent with your name and the information you shared with us in order to ensure fairness.
The process provides a number of rights to both Complainants and Respondents, including the right: (1) at the outset of the investigation to receive written notice of the allegations, including the date and time if known, and names of those involved; and (2) at the conclusion of the investigation, to receive a copy of the report and all information gathered during the investigation and have an opportunity to respond.
As a result, if a formal investigation is conducted, both the Complainant and Respondent will have knowledge of the allegations and at the conclusion of the investigation will be provided with a report that includes the names of any witnesses interviewed and the information they shared.
As mentioned above, there may also be limited situations where, in order to conduct a thorough investigation, the investigator may need to share specific information provided by one witness with other witnesses in order to facilitate the fact-gathering portion of the investigation.
In summary, we will keep information provided to us and to an investigator as confidential as possible, but will have to disclose it to the Complainant and Respondent if there is a formal investigation, and may need to disclose some limited information to other witnesses, so we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality or anonymity.
What will investigators do with the information – will I get to see a copy of the findings?
Investigators will use your information along with all other information collected to compile a report when their investigation is complete. This report will be provided to the Complainant and Respondent who will have the opportunity to review and respond to it before it is finalized.
In order to preserve the privacy of the Complainant and Respondent, the University does not share the report, the outcome of the investigation, sanctions or conditions, or other University action that may result from the investigative process with witnesses.
However, if you have any questions about the process in general, you may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: The Title IX and Discrimination Policy and Procedures also provide with respect to Confidentiality that the Complainant, Respondent, and their support person, advisor, advocate or attorney may also be required to agree not to further disseminate or disclose evidence, reports or documents shared as part of the investigation process.
Can I talk about the complaint and investigation with others?
In order to protect the privacy of all who are involved, including Complainants, Respondents, and witnesses, and to protect the integrity of the investigation, witnesses are asked to keep information as private as possible and should avoid sharing information with others.
These confidentiality restrictions do not apply to a Complainant’s or Respondent’s right to (i) discuss the allegations under investigation, for example with a parent, friend, or other source of emotional support, or with an advocacy organization; or to (ii) gather and present evidence.
In addition, the University may not take action against you for discussing the complaint or investigation, unless you are the subject of a written no contact instruction or your comments or actions result in perceived or actual retaliation against others participating in the process.
I feel like I’m being treated differently now that I’ve made a report or participated in the investigation or resolution process, and it seems like retaliation. What can I do?
Our policies prohibit retaliation against anyone who makes a report, participates or refuses to participate in an investigation, proceeding, meeting or hearing, including Complainants, Respondents, and witnesses.
Retaliation can take many forms, including sharing information in a manner intended to pressure or shame parties or witnesses in connection with the investigation or resolution of a complaint or words or actions designed to discourage parties or witnesses from making a report or participating in the process. If you or someone you know is experiencing retaliation, we strongly encourage you to contact us or make a report immediately so the matter can be addressed appropriately.
I received an email, call, or text asking me to participate in a hearing – what does this mean and what should I expect?
Witnesses may be asked by one of the parties or by our office to attend and participate in a formal live hearing after completion of an investigation in a Title IX matter. Parties and witnesses are not required to participate in Title IX Hearing.
However, if a hearing is held to resolve a Complaint of Sexual Harassment I, Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, or Stalking, and you choose not to participate or decline to answer questions in a formal hearing, the decision-maker will not be permitted to rely on any information you provided during the investigation.
For this reason, we strongly urge you to participate. Your participation will assist the decision-maker(s); the presence and participation of witnesses is crucial to evaluating the information reported by the investigators and making a decision regarding the complaint.
If a hearing is scheduled, you will receive notice of the time in advance. The hearing will be conducted in person or using Webex or other technology that enables participants to simultaneously see and hear each other in real time. If it is conducted by video, you must have your camera on during the portion of the hearing where you are being asked to speak.
The Complainant will testify first, followed by any witnesses the Complainant wants to call. Then the Respondent will testify, followed by witnesses the Respondent wants to call.
Witnesses will be held in a private waiting room (or virtual one) until it is time for their testimony; so you will not see or hear the testimony of the Complainant or Respondent or any other witnesses.
When it is time for you to speak you will be invited into the hearing room or digital hearing room and given the opportunity to answer questions from the decision-maker(s), Investigator or the advisor for each of the parties. Both parties will be able to see and hear you, and you will be able to see both parties. Once you have provided your testimony, you will exit the hearing room and leave the hearing.
NOTE: Matters being handled under the Discrimination Policy and Procedure, as well as Title IX matters that were reported to OEI before August 14, 2020, and matters reported after August 14, 2020 that involve Gender Discrimination, Sexual Exploitation, Sexual Harassment II or Retaliation are decided using a Review Meeting, and not a Live Hearing. At a review meeting only the Complainant, Respondent and Investigator are present.
How long is a hearing and what time do I need to log on?
Unfortunately, there really is no exact way of knowing how long a hearing will take.
Witnesses are asked to be present and available for a sound and technology check at the start of the hearing, but will remain in the digital waiting room until it is time for them to testify.
The witness phase of the hearing will begin after the Complainant and Respondent have each had a chance to share information regarding their experiences and ask questions of one another. Sometimes this portion of the hearing is very brief, allowing the witness phase to begin fairly quickly, but other times the parties may testify for an extended period, which means you could be waiting less than 30 minutes, or for an hour or more. You are welcome to mute your sound and video and work on other tasks while in the digital waiting room, as long as you are available as soon as the participants are ready for you to testify.
In the event that you are unable to be available soon after the start of the hearing or have a scheduling conflict for portions of it, be sure to inform our office and the party who asked you to testify as soon as possible so that we can attempt to coordinate your participation around your availability. After you answer questions during the witness phase of the hearing, you won’t have any additional involvement in the hearing and will be asked to leave the digital hearing room.
Who should I contact if I need a disability related accommodation during an investigation and/or hearing process?