Colleges, universities respond to sexual violence investigation
POSTED: Friday, May 2, 2014 - 12:08pm
UPDATED: Friday, May 2, 2014 - 12:12pm
(CNN) -- Many colleges and universities under review for their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints say they are cooperating with the federal investigation and take reports of sexual violence on their campuses seriously.
The schools span 27 states and the District of Columbia. CNN sought a response from the 55 colleges and universities on the list. Here are comments from schools that responded:
Amherst College (Massachusetts)
The college says that in November 2013, the media reported on the filing of an Office of Civil Rights complaint against Amherst College by two individuals. In the fall of 2012, students disclosed a range of problems in the College's previous efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual misconduct. The college statement added, "Since then, we have made important changes and will continue to do so. These efforts include an adjudication process that involves specially-trained, non-campus experts; new educational programs aimed at cultural change on campus; and the addition of new staff, including four new members of our Counseling Center, a Title IX Coordinator and a Sexual Respect Educator."
Arizona State University
"Arizona State University takes all Title IX sexual misconduct complaints very seriously, thoroughly investigates them and if violations are found, delivers swift and appropriate punishment. The underlying matter leading to the university's appearance on this list was handled consistent with these standards. .... When ASU was informed by OCR that it had received a complaint, the university promptly provided all relevant information to the agency. The OCR has approached ASU with the possibility of entering into a pre-investigation resolution. OCR visited ASU in September 2013 to gather information, and the university has been waiting for further word."
Bethany College (West Virginia)
The college said it "first learned of the complaint filed from the Department of Education this week, and it is based upon an alleged sexual assault that was reported to the College this fall. Upon the assault being reported to the college, law enforcement was immediately contacted by college personnel. At that time, law enforcement launched an investigation that ran concurrent to the internal student conduct investigation that the college initiated. The matter was investigated by local and State Police and taken to the Brooke County Grand Jury where they did not produce an indictment in the case. We feel strongly that we have fully complied with both the spirit and the letter of the law as it relates to both the Clery Act and The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act. The college always reserves the right to reopen any investigation if new evidence is provided. Because the safety of our students is our priority, we take any allegations of sexual assault very seriously."
Boston University (Massachusetts)
OCR is investigating a single complaint against the university that was filed in October 2013. "While we believe the university provided the student with a prompt and equitable resolution of the complaint in full accordance with the requirements of Title IX, we are cooperating fully with OCR in its investigation and are always open to improving the manner in which we respond to any complaint of sexual misconduct reported to us," Boston University said in a statement.
University of California, Berkeley
UC Berkeley says it will cooperate with the investigation and that its chancellor had sent out a letter to campus saying sexual assault would not be tolerated. "Much has been done to strengthen the campus' handling of these issues, but we understand that there is always room for improvement," the statement says.
Carnegie Mellon University (Pennsylvania)
The university said "it takes very seriously its obligations under Title IX and its commitment to provide a safe and secure environment for our students and other members of the university community. For many years, we have had policies and practices in place to deal with complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and we have adjusted them over time to make them more effective and assure that they comport with applicable laws, regulations and agency guidance. In light of the important new guidance issued earlier this week by the White House Task Force and Department of Education, we are again reviewing our policies, procedures, and education/training initiatives to make certain that they are consistent with the new guidance."
Catholic University of America (Washington, DC)
The university said it was "informed by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights on January 8, 2014, that a Catholic University student had filed a Title IX complaint. The complaint concerned the investigation and adjudication of a report of sexual assault that occurred in December 2012. The University has cooperated fully with the Department of Education to provide all of the information that the department has requested in a timely manner. It will continue to do so and is confident that there will be a just resolution of this matter."
University of Chicago
The university says it had "made every effort to comply with the spirit and letter of this inquiry" and is committed to ensuring that its programs and work environment are discrimination free.
University of Colorado Boulder
The school says it wasn't surprised by its inclusion as it knew of the probe in July, and it has since hired a law firm to conduct an external review of its policies. It also expects to a name a specially designated Title IX director by the end of the summer.
University of Colorado Denver
The school said it had not been notified of an open Title IX investigation before receiving the press release today from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR.) "After receiving the release, the university contacted OCR and learned that the investigation notification was mailed on April 29, 2014. This is not an investigation of a specific incident but is instead a general review of our Title IX compliance. CU Denver supports the mission of OCR to "ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence nationwide through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights" and plans to cooperate fully with the forthcoming investigation. CU Denver is committed to providing a safe and secure campus environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors," a statement said.
University of Connecticut
The Title IX investigation involving UConn has been a public matter for several months. "We welcome the publication of the list of schools as part of the White House recommendation for increased transparency in the OCR process. The listing shows clearly that the issue of sexual assault on campus is a national one. We are collaborating with students, employees and law enforcement to bolster our prevention and response initiatives, and are committed to keeping our campuses safe," the university said in a statement.
Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
Dartmouth says it "is committed to promoting the safety and well-being of our community. We are cooperating with the U.S. Department of Education's compliance review and are optimistic that at the end of the process, we will have strengthened internal policies and practices that will enhance student safety and well-being," according to a statement.
Denison University (Ohio)
"We have a long-standing commitment to protecting our students and providing them a harassment-free campus and we welcome this discourse," Laurel Kennedy, vice president for student development said in a statement. "We have not been informed of the specific circumstances that led to the complaint but we respect and support OCR's practice of maintaining the confidentiality of the complainant. We hope that the OCR investigation will conclude that we adhere to the highest standards in addressing sexual misconduct. If this process yields guidance on how we can improve our practices, we will welcome the opportunity to make positive adjustments."
University of Denver (Colorado)
In a statement, the university said: "Because there has been one claim filed from an individual at the University of Denver, we are on the list of 55 institutions. The university is cooperating fully with the OCR, responding to the agency regarding this matter three months ago. No determination has been made by them as of this date. The University of Denver takes all matters of this manner seriously. University officials handle any and all claims involving Title IX or similar laws fairly, judicially and expeditiously. Such cases remain open until the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education makes a final determination on the outcome. The university has zero tolerance when it comes to discrimination and harassment on and off campus."
Emerson College (Massachusetts)
The college said in a statement: "We support our students who have come forward to advocate for change in this important national issue. To protect the privacy of our students, however, we cannot comment on specific cases. During this academic year, our actions have included hiring a Director of Violence Prevention and Sexual Assault Response Advocate and the retention of an experienced consulting firm to conduct an external and independent review of Emerson's Title IX and Clery Act policies, procedures, and practices related to sexual assault.
"We have also strengthened our educational and training programs; revised our survivors rights and options resource materials on our website and in printed brochures; and written, distributed, and implemented a new Campus SaVE (Sexual Violence Elimination Act) Policy. In addition, the search for a new Title IX coordinator position, recently approved by Emerson's Board of Trustees, will commence shortly."
Emory says it has been cooperating fully with the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR), in a compliance review of the Atlanta university's Title IX policies and processes. This compliance review, which has been pending since December 2013, was not initiated in response to any complaint, but rather, is part of the agency's Title IX compliance and enforcement function.
The review involves an examination of the university's processes and procedures on the handling of complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual violence and assault, to determine whether the university responds immediately and appropriately. It also involves a review of other university efforts, including sexual assault prevention, outreach, support, and education programs, that are in place to address and reduce the incidents of sexual assault.
Florida State University
FSU says state and federal student privacy laws prohibit the university from being able to comment about any individual case. Generally speaking, however, when the White House Task Force released its recommendations on college sexual assault on Tuesday, we were gratified to see that the report focused on the importance of having a victim-centered model and a confidential Victim Advocate Program, which FSU has had in place for many years. While the recommendations mirror our policies, we welcome the opportunity to enhance support for, and services to, our students.
Franklin & Marshall College (Pennsylvania)
In a statement, the college said: "Our appearing on the Department of Education's list is in response to a complaint filed with the Department of Education by an individual in March of this year. As the DOE announcement notes, the Office of Civil Rights evaluates all complaints, so there is no indication of any finding of any fault. Naturally, we are cooperating fully with this neutral fact-finding process. Franklin & Marshall has been very active in focusing resources to confront what really is a national issue. We have a Title IX policy that is fully compliant with federal law. We have even had three independent experts come in and review our sexual misconduct policy since 2008, and they found it fully compliant with the federal law. F&M for many years has had in place many of the programs and initiatives to confront sexual assault described by the White House task force. We have a Committee on Sexual Misconduct that will review the new guidance and see how we might do even more."
Guilford College (North Carolina)
OCR's activity at Guilford follows a complaint filed by a former female student who was dissatisfied with the sanctions levied against a male student in response to her complaint. Guilford College says it takes allegations about sexual misconduct between students very seriously and actively educates its students on the prevention of sexual misconduct on campus. Recent efforts include a yearlong program in the 2013-14 academic year entitled, "Keep it Consensual."
Harvard University (Massachusetts)
The university says that last spring it appointed the first-ever University Title IX officer, who has since identified and trained Title IX coordinators at every Harvard School. In May 2013, Harvard's newly appointed University Title IX Officer convened a working group from across Harvard's schools to review existing policies and procedures. Over the course of last summer and fall, that group worked to develop a new Title IX policy that would apply to all students, staff, and faculty at every School or other unit at Harvard.
"In addition, President Faust recently announced the creation of a University-wide task force -- composed of faculty, students and staff -- that will recommend how we can better prevent sexual misconduct at Harvard," the university said in statement.
University of Hawaii at Manoa
The university said the "list does not differentiate between the schools that---like UH Manoa---have been selected for proactive compliance reviews, versus those schools that are under audit based on a complaint. OCR investigators have been on the UH Manoa campus this week meeting with a variety of groups and individuals, including students, faculty, staff, administrators and regents. Investigative team members stated to UH Mānoa executives toward the end of their visit that it was important to keep in mind that this audit was not triggered by a complaint, and that it was not based on an individual incident.
"University of Hawaii Interim President David Lassner added, "All of our campuses are working to comply with the new requirements, and more importantly, to ensure safe environments for all our students, faculty and staff. Our chancellors have been briefed on the new requirements and we have a new system-wide Steering Committee to share and collaborate on strategies, approaches, practices and procedures. This audit of UH Mānoa will help inform all our campuses of the additional steps we need to take, and our new budget process directs our chancellors to identify the additional resource investments needed to ensure safety on their campuses."
Hobart and William Smith Colleges (New York)
In a statement, Hobart and William Smith Colleges say the schools "take seriously all allegations of sexual misconduct, respond promptly to complaints, provide access to myriad services for complainants, thoroughly investigate and adjudicate such complaints, and take necessary protective measures before, during, and after the investigation and hearing process. The colleges are committed to creating and maintaining an academic environment that complies with the law, is free from sexual harassment and misconduct, and respects the different voices and experiences of the members of its community. The colleges are confident that they approached this complaint with care and concern, addressed the complaint promptly, offered all available services, and investigated and adjudicated the complaint in accordance with Colleges' policy and the law. As always, we will continue to proactively consider ways to ensure that our campus is free from sexual misconduct and provides opportunities for all students to participate in and benefit from the rich educational experience offered by the colleges."
Hunter College (New York)
Hunter College said it "is on this list because, 15 months ago, a student filed a complaint, then six months later withdrew it. As is OCR's frequent practice, they used the occasion as an opportunity for a general review of how Hunter handles complaints related to alleged sexual misconduct. We have used our interactions with OCR to improve and update the information and services we provide to students. For example, on March 24, administrators and representatives of OCR held a town hall meeting with students to make sure they were informed about the available resources, should they ever need assistance with instances of sexual harassment or assault. More broadly, Hunter has always been committed to maintaining a campus environment free from discrimination, intimidation or violence of any sort. It is a core value of the College and a goal we vigorously pursue by broadly disseminating our policies and rigorously enforcing them."
Indiana University Bloomington
This type of compliance review is distinct and separate from investigations that arise from complaints to OCR, and the office has confirmed that it has received no complaints against IU Bloomington that would have triggered an investigation. As OCR explained to campus officials, it is in the process of conducting compliance reviews on numerous campuses throughout the country, and individual institutions have been chosen randomly based on size, geographic location, type of campus community (commuter vs. residential) and other factors.
Knox College (Illinois)
This past January, Knox College received notification from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (Region V) that it had opened an investigation into a complaint alleging that Knox College had discriminated on the basis of sex in its response to a complaint of sexual misconduct. In a statement, the college said: "As part of its investigation, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) requested a number of College records, including information on College policies and procedures. Since January, the College has worked diligently to comply with the OCR's initial and subsequent requests for information and has made available the requested materials. As is typical of its fact-finding in these types of matters on college campuses, the OCR will conduct a site visit the week of May 19th to interview College officials with regard to the allegations and to meet with selected groups of students to discuss their campus experience.
"Starting this past summer, Knox College undertook a significant review of its policies addressing discrimination under Title IX and, in particular, identified ways that we could strengthen our response to acts of sexual misconduct. To that end, we have trained a number of individuals to join the College's Title IX team and charged them with working to keep our campus free from discrimination and harassment. The College also formed a Task Force on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response that meets weekly under the leadership of Title IX Coordinator and Associate Dean of the College Lori Schroeder. The Task Force, in conjunction with the Title IX team, has developed a number of new initiatives: new print and web materials, campus-wide educational events, bystander intervention training, a confidential support group for survivors, and a new position for a counselor for violence prevention and educational outreach."
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
The university is not the subject of a Title IX complaint. Under Title IX, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education regularly conducts proactive compliance reviews of schools that receive federal funds. A review of UMass Amherst was conducted starting June 30, 2011, and no conclusions have been reached.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
"At U-M, we have been cooperating with OCR since the investigation was announced in February. To help raise awareness we posted the OCR letter online when we received it and shared information about the investigation with our students, faculty and staff. At the University of Michigan we are proud to be a leader in the area of sexual assault prevention and awareness and yet we are confident that we will learn even more through this process," a statement said.
Michigan State University
The university says the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), as part of an investigation into MSU's response to allegations of a sexual assault involving students on campus and overall compliance with Title IX, is conducting focus groups on campus and holding open office hours to obtain feedback on the campus climate on the important issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence. "While federal law and privacy concerns prevent MSU from fully discussing specifics, we have a comprehensive record of the actions we took that supports the university's position that we acted appropriately. We look forward to continue working with the OCR on this matter," it said in a statement.
Minot State University (North Dakota)
The school said it is cooperating in the review of a complaint registered with the Department of Education.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"The University applauds the efforts of the White House Task Force. We have been working with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights since they contacted us early last year. We appreciate the transparency about enforcement efforts that the publication demonstrates."
Occidental College (California)
Occidental said it "has cooperated fully with the Department of Education since its investigation was publicly announced in April 2013. The college has already taken a number of steps to ensure the safety of its students and is committed to spending more time, energy and resources to fight sexual misconduct, report it accurately, and support survivors."
Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma State University said it is gathering information requested by the U.S. Department of Education. The university will work with DOE as the department conducts this compliance review. "Oklahoma State University is committed to providing the safest campus possible for students and others. In the last year, OSU conducted an exhaustive, system-wide review of our policies related to sexual abuse on campus. As a result of that review, OSU has further strengthened its policies," a statement said.
Penn State University
"To further the purposes of Title IX, strengthen Penn State as an institution, and promote and protect the safety of the University community, Penn State continues to work diligently with the Office for Civil Rights to respond to requests for information in the ongoing review," said Lisa M. Powers, director of the Office of Strategic Communications.
Princeton University (New Jersey)
The University said it is aware of the investigation, which began in 2010, and will continue to cooperate with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). OCR has stated that "a college or university's appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law."
Regis University (Colorado)
Regis University said it has one complaint pending before the Office of Civil Rights which stems from a 2011 alleged incident. "Regis University takes the complaint seriously and has responded appropriately. At Regis University, the safety and well-being of our students and staff are a top priority," a university statement said.
Sarah Lawrence College (New York)
Sarah Lawrence College said it "does not tolerate sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or sexual assault. We have a very fair and robust policy in place today, which we continually review and improve in order to best serve our community and to be in compliance with regulations.
"The College is cooperating fully with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in its current investigation, and we look forward to seeing any recommendations to further improve our sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault policy. Since the incident under investigation, the College has put several new measures in place to improve prevention, reporting, and student support, including: A thorough review of SLC's sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault policy and procedures by the Health & Wellness Subcommittee of the Committee on Student Life (followed by a set of recommendations submitted to the Dean of Studies); the implementation of a Consent & Respect Online Course, which will be required for all new incoming students starting in Summer 2014; the creation of an extensive, ongoing poster communications series on campus, advising students on "What to Do if You Have Been Sexually Assaulted"; a presentation for students by the Date Safe Project."
Southern Methodist University (Texas)
SMU said it "applauds the U.S. Department of Education's efforts to eradicate sexual violence on college campuses and to provide universities with additional tools to combat sexual assault. Our goals are the same. The matters under review by the Education Department have been investigated by SMU and predate our University task force review of sexual misconduct policies and procedures. The University has been aggressive in putting into practice wide-ranging new procedures to inform and protect our students, to provide prompt and effective resolution of complaints, and to hold violators accountable while treating all students fairly. SMU continually reviews and updates its programs in comparison with national benchmarks, and we are pleased that the White House also has made these matters a priority for all American universities. No issue is more important than the health and safety of our students."
State University of New York, Binghamton
"We are working with the OCR and have fully complied with the investigation. Due to the sensitive nature of this case we can not disclose any specific facts about the case under investigation. We are unable to provide any further details at this time," the university said in a statement.
Temple University (Pennsylvania)
Temple says its has fully cooperated with the Office of Civil Rights and looks forward to a resolution of the matter.
The University of Texas-Pan American
The university said it received a complaint notice from the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, this week alleging that the University discriminated against a student on the basis of sex by failing to promptly and equitably respond to her complaint that she was sexually assaulted.
A statement said: "The University of Texas-Pan American takes its responsibilities under Title IX seriously and condemns sexual violence, harassment and misconduct by or against any member of our University community. We endeavor to treat all claimants with respect and dignity, and achieve a result that is fair and just to all parties involved in a timely manner. Since the issuance of the Department of Education's 'Dear Colleague' letter in April of 2011, UTPA has reviewed---and continues to review---its processes, procedures and personnel with this goal in mind."
Vanderbilt University (Tennessee)
Vanderbilt said it "is fully cooperating with a Title IX regulatory compliance review being conducted by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Vanderbilt is committed to complying with Title IX and protecting the safety and well-being of our students."
Vincennes University (Indiana)
"VU is always interested in learning how to improve the campus environment and safety measures for our students, including best practices to combat sexual assault and harassment," said Lynn White, assistant provost of student affairs. "Vincennes University supports the government's increased emphasis on sexual assault prevention on college campuses and takes an active role in providing informational programming, support services, and processes that effectively address needs and issues."
University of Virginia
The university said it "has been working with the OCR since summer of 2011 on its review of our policies and systems in the area of Title IX/sexual misconduct. The University has worked to provide OCR any information needed, and will continue to do so.
"Sexual misconduct is an issue that the University of Virginia takes very seriously. In February, U.Va. hosted a conference intended to launch a national discussion among higher education communities on the complexities surrounding sexual misconduct among college students. The conference included candid discussion among college and university presidents, students, survivors of sexual misconduct, student affairs professionals, legal and sexual violence experts."
Washington State University
The university says it was notified in January 2013 that a federal complaint had been filed and volunteered to work with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to improve its policies. In February, the university said, federal representatives visited Pullman and engaged in student focus groups as well as student and employee interviews.
"There has been no finding of any wrongdoing on the part of WSU. We are still waiting to hear from OCR regarding participation in the voluntary resolution process," a university statement says, adding that there's no tolerance for sexual harassment, assault or misconduct on its campus.
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
In Fall 2012, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) received a student's report of alleged sexual misconduct which had occurred off-campus, the school said in a statement. "WVSOM conducted an internal investigation at that time. WVSOM is committed to addressing the issue of sexual misconduct on our campus through its institutional policies, education and training programs, as well as through collaboration with local, state and federal resources. We will fully cooperate with the Department of Education. We believe a review of our policies, programs and investigations will reveal that WVSOM is fully in compliance with Title IX regulations."
College of William & Mary (Virginia)
The college said in a statement, "We have received notification about a complaint made to the Office of Civil Rights and we are working with them to provide all the information they requested. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prohibits the university from discussing the details of the specific case that led to this but, in general, we can affirm that sexual violence response and education is an area we are very focused on. We continually look at our own practices to determine if they can be improved or enhanced. Since this is a broad review of our policies and practices by OCR, the result may well provide us valuable information as we continue to look at new ways to address an issue that confronts every university in the country."
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
The university says it could not comment on specifics because of the ongoing investigation, but added that it takes sexual violence seriously and provides all victims with resources and assistance.
Wittenberg University (Ohio)
Wittenberg said it "is deeply committed to fostering a learning environment that is safe, healthy, and inclusive and that supports the development of every student's potential. We are confident that the investigation will conclude that Wittenberg's policies and procedures are in full compliance with Title IX, and that we have fully cooperated with OCR. As a matter of university policy, we do not comment on pending investigations."
CNN's Ray Sanchez, Elizabeth Landers, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Suzanne Presto, Carma Hassan, Amanda Watts, Christy Lenz, Mayra Cuevas and Kevin Conlon contributed to this report.
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