A Nightmare That Never Ends: My Title IX Experience

In less than 10 weeks, I am going to walk across a stage and receive my diploma, marking an end to four years of Caltech. Many of us are leaving with mixed feelings — we have plenty of good memories through random fun enjoyed with our friends, but also a good amount of burnout from the classic Caltech rigor, as well as the sadness of having done our first year online. However, on top of that, I am also leaving with the trauma of having to deal with a Title IX case that has dragged on for nearly two years of my time here.

In the early hours of October 1, 2022, I texted Hima Vatti, then-Title IX Coordinator, emergency. I was in the midst of a verbal altercation with my ex-boyfriend, and I needed assistance. I texted three people (alongside Hima), desperate to get some help, though I had no intention of filing a Title IX complaint. Hima and I had been in contact since I had broken off the relationship on August 1, 2022. Having expressed my strong desire to not pursue any Title IX actions against my ex, I trusted her enough to be able to help me out.

Hima responded at 9:50am, saying that Felicia Hunt (Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs) sent a Residential Life Coordinator to check on me. They did, though I was asleep at the time. I woke up to an additional series of aggressive messages from my ex-boyfriend. Following the advice of a Ricketts Title IX advocate, I sent these messages to Hima. She and I got on a Zoom call, and after detailing the events of the night, she initiated an instant mutual no-contact order. Additionally, Hima told me she would pursue an emergency removal of him from campus. While I did not want for this to happen initially, she said that there was enough risk and danger posed which made this action necessary.

At this point, the case was assigned to Ofelia Vasquez-Perez, the former Title IX Deputy Coordinator, now Interim Title IX Coordinator. I did not want to escalate the issue further. The no-contact order was sufficient for me. Since Title IX was involved, I had to take action, or the school would do it for me.

I was presented with the options of Remedy-based Resolution, Administrative Resolution, and Investigation. I instantly chose the Remedy-based Resolution (RBR), whereby there would be no investigation, no action, simply a mutual non-disciplinary agreement.

However, Ofelia later told me that I could not take this option. She informed me that the issue was too grave to pursue RBR. I tried my luck at the Administrative Resolution, whereby the respondent would have to accept responsibility.

As expected, my ex declined, and my only option was the very thing I did not want — an investigation. I could not withdraw my complaint, as the institute would have filed it for me and continued the process without my involvement. I did not want to risk having my story being misrepresented. There were several parts of the story that only I could provide the appropriate context for. So, I continued with the investigation.

Based on the 2023 procedures, “Complaints will be investigated and resolved within a reasonably prompt time frame after the complaint is made, generally 120 calendar days”. I thought I was only signing away 4 months of my life to Title IX onslaught and reliving all of my trauma.

In reality, I had to endure fourteen months of miscommunication, misunderstandings, sub-cases, a million interviews, and so on. The Notice of Investigation went out on November 14, 2022, and the final investigative report was released on October 4, 2023. The hearing occurred on November 16, 2023, and the Hearing Decision was released on January 23, 2024.

First, I was assigned an investigator from an external law firm titled Grand River Solutions, Jenn Corey Meehan. She conducted six interviews with me, with one in January, two in March, and three in May of 2023. She only interviewed my witnesses in April and May. Sometime during this timeframe, Valerie Newcomb took over my case from Ofelia. In June, Valerie informed me that Meehan was no longer on the case due to an unforeseen absence (after having led all the interviews) and was replaced by Kellie J. Moan. The draft investigative report was released in July, and it was finalized in October. My interactions with both investigators from Grand River, particularly Meehan, were incredibly negative. Every interview felt like a badgering of my experience, with little to no sympathy for the experience I was detailing.

Meanwhile, my ex filed a counter complaint against me through the Title IX office in January 2023. I was only informed of this in February 2023. Another investigator, Ashley Vigil, also from Grand River, was assigned to this case. She began conducting interviews with my two witnesses and with me, but I did not hear from her about this case after a certain amount of time. Then, in November 2023, Valerie informed me that Ashley had experienced a medical crisis and was to be replaced by Kara Hughes. In my first call with Kara, she informed me that the entire investigation for the case against me was being redone from the beginning — an investigation that was already 11 months underway.

Then, amidst all of this, I had a negative interaction with my ex in July 2023 while I was in New York. I felt that he violated our no contact order and told my friend who, already being frustrated with the Title IX process between my case and another case, wrote an email to Valerie demanding action. It seems the Title IX department responds well to anger and frustration, as I immediately received correspondence. I was told that this would be a short case, no longer than a few weeks. Yet, once again it took much longer than expected, lasting over two months. I only received closure on this small case towards the end of September 2023, where they deemed him guilty of violating the no contact order.

Finally, right after the hearing for my original case, at Avery Interhouse, I received word from my friends that my ex had been seen on campus. I was so confused — how could he be back? Was this allowed? I frantically checked my emails and my texts to see if I had received any information, but I found nothing. Some individuals checked with him, and apparently he had been approved to return to campus with no restrictions. I immediately texted both Hima and Valerie, who got on a call with me the next morning. Valerie claims she sent me an email on this matter, which Hima forwarded to me, but it never appeared in my inbox. The email outlined the evaluation that allowed him to be back and requested a meeting with me to discuss the topic, but Valerie never followed up with me. So, I found out he was back by visually seeing him and from frantic texts from my friends. This made me feel extremely unsafe on campus.

The hearing decision, which would contain the outcome of my original case and appropriate sanctions, was stated on policy to be released by late December 2023. I would understand a small delay given the holiday season and that the hearing officer’s (Lexi Zuidema from an investigative law firm titled Van Derymyden Makus) decision had to be approved by the Title IX office. However, weeks went by and I had no decision. In every followup I sent, Valerie Newcomb outlined a new reason for why the decision was delayed — someone was out of office, more offices needed to approve, etc.

Finally, I received notice of the hearing decision on January 23, 2024. The wording of the decision was quite insensitive and traumatizing, and I felt that my story had not been represented well due to how long the investigative process was — naturally, I did not perfectly remember every relevant detail from over a year ago.

Soon after the decision was released, I received an email from Valerie Newcomb, offering my ex and I an option for mediation. Mediation would suspend both of our cases, and we would come to an agreement where sanctions may be imposed, but there would be no further investigation. This option was never available to me when the cases began, but it is mentioned in the 2023 procedures. While I truly wanted to appeal the decision and keep fighting for justice, I realized Caltech’s Title IX office was not an appropriate medium to find this justice in a fair and efficient manner, and perhaps my ex did too. Both of us agreed to mediation within a week. Ironically, this type of a resolution is exactly what I wanted back in October 2022.

We were assigned a mediation officer on February 26, 2024, over a month after the hearing decision. She asked me for my availability and I immediately responded. She never met with us. On April 3, Valerie reached out and realized that the mediation officer had done absolutely nothing, and on April 4, I was assigned a new mediation officer.

I am set to graduate in just over two months. I do not know what the mediation will entail or what the point of it will be. I am coming out of this entire process (which has not truly ended) extremely disillusioned with Title IX, and hopeless for a future where justice will be served for incidents like the one I went through. I will never recommend the Title IX Office to anyone — rather than helping me find justice, it has only added to my trauma. I hope students know better than to trust that their complaints will find justice at this institution.