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A College Student’s Guide: Know Your Legal Rights on Campus

College students are protected by federal laws from mistreatment while on campus. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bans sexual discrimination at schools receiving federal funds. In addition, minority students, transgender students, and students with disabilities have legal rights and protections under federal law. If they are accused of sexual assault or violence, college students also have the legal protections of due process in student hearings and court proceedings.

Sexual Discrimination and Violence/Title IX

Sexual discrimination is the disenfranchisement of an individual based on their gender. Discrimination can include restricting individuals’ involvement in student activities, classes, and academic opportunities based on their gender. More broadly, discrimination can include policies, behaviors, and tendencies that unfairly favor one group over another. Sexual violence includes actions taken toward an individual based on their gender that cause physical, emotional, or mental harm. Federal law prohibits sexual discrimination and sexual violence in all educational institutions that receive federal funding.

If You Are Sexually Assaulted at School

Sexual assault is a serious offense that involves the physical, mental, or emotional mistreatment of an individual based on their gender. If you have been a victim of sexual assault, immediately remove yourself from the abuser; this could include skipping a class, spending the night with a friend, or missing a school activity. Then, seek help from your campus Title IX coordinator and/or the police. Students who are accused of sexual assault should seek legal aid to ensure that their rights are also protected.

If You Experience Sexual or Gender-Based Harassment or Discrimination

Sexual harassment and discrimination are illegal at educational institutions that receive federal support. If you feel threatened, remove yourself from the situation and contact your campus Title IX coordinator to report the incident. Record information about the incident, including the date, the time, the location, the people who were present, what actions were taken, and what was said during the incident. Providing this information to campus authorities or legal professionals can aid them in resolving the situation and protecting your rights.

Transgender Student Rights

LGBTQ students are protected from discrimination under federal law. The law also limits schools from freely disseminating the birth genders of transgender students. College students in transition have a right to update the gender identifiers displayed on their academic documents, and students have a right to participate in classes and activities based on the gender with which they identify.

Disability Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires educational institutions to provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. College students can request accessible housing, services such as screen readers and note-taking assistance, and extra time on homework and tests. In addition, students with disabilities have a right to equal educational opportunities.

What to Do if Your Rights Are Violated as a Student With a Disability

Students who are experiencing discrimination because of their disability should file a complaint with their campus Title IX coordinator. In addition, students can contact their campus disability services coordinators to request assistance. Recording specific details about the incident such as the day, the time, the location of the violation, the specific people involved, the specific actions taken or words spoken, and the names of witnesses who were present can assist campus authorities or legal professionals in resolving the situation.

Right to Privacy in College

Federal law limits the dissemination of a student’s private information or academic records without the consent of the student. Under federal law, students have a right to privacy when on campus and when living in college housing.

College Students and Contractual Rights

When a student enrolls in an educational institution, they enter a legally binding relationship with the institution. Students are required to follow campus rules and procedures as well as pay their tuition. Colleges are required to provide students with access to educational resources and the ability to earn credit for completing academic requirements. Students should carefully read their enrollment agreements to ensure that their contractual rights are protected while on campus.

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