U. of Chicago among schools facing sex assault inquiry, government says

Written By ASSOCIATED PRESS Posted: 05/01/2014, 05:58am

The Education Department on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities — including the University of Chicago — currently facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual abuse complaints.

The release came two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education. Going forward, the department said, it will keep an updated list of schools facing such an investigation and make it available upon request.

The schools range from big public universities like Ohio State University, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Arizona State University to private schools like Knox College in Downstate Galesburg, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Catholic University of America in the District of Columbia. Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth are also on the list.

University of Chicago spokesman Jeremy Manier said Thursday that the complaint was originally made public in February by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), a branch of the Education Department, and that “building on a history of productive collaboration with the OCR, the university has made every effort to comply with the spirit and letter of this inquiry, and will incorporate any OCR findings into its ongoing efforts to provide for the best possible campus climate.

“The university is committed to ensuring that its educational programs and work environment are free from unlawful discrimination under Title IX,” Manier said in the statement.

The University of Chicago has already created several student programs to deal with the issue, such as the Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call, the Bias Response Team, and RSVP (Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention); the growth of confidential resources offered by the Student Counseling Service; and special training for University police officers in responding to acts of sexual violence,” Manier said in the statement.

The university’s commitment also demands regular re-evaluations of student disciplinary processes and policy updates, as the university did in 2006, 2010 and 2011, and again this academic year, he said.

The University of Chicago’s student newspaper, The Maroon, reported on Feb. 11 that the investigation started with a student’s complaint from March 2013 alleging the university mishandled disciplinary procedures after she was sexually assaulted by her then-partner during the 2011-2012 academic year.

The Education Department previously would confirm such investigations when asked, but students and others were often unaware of them.

“We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue,” Catherine E. Lhamon, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.

Lhamon said a school’s appearance on the list does not mean that it has violated the law but that an investigation is ongoing.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It is the same law that guarantees girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions’ handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.

Citing research, the White House has said that 1 in 5 female students is assaulted. President Barack Obama appointed a task force comprised of his Cabinet members to review the issue after hearing complaints about the poor treatment of campus rape victims and the hidden nature of such crimes.

The task force announced the creation of a website, notalone.gov, offering resources for victims and information about past enforcement actions on campuses. The task force also made a wide range of recommendations to schools, such as identifying confidential victims’ advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses.

The department publicized guidance on Title IX’s sexual assault provisions in 2011, and complaints by students have since increased. Complaints, however, don’t always lead to an investigation.

The department can withhold federal funding from a school that doesn’t comply with the law, but it so far has not used that power and instead has negotiated voluntary resolutions for violators.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have said non-compliance under the law is “far too common.” They say a lack of federal resources is partly to blame for that, and they’ve sought more money to ensure timely and proper investigations.

Another law that campus sexual assault cases fall under is the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to report crime statistics on or near their campuses. It also requires schools to develop prevention policies and ensure victims their basic rights. Investigations under this law are not included in the list that was released.

— Contributing: Reporter Sandra Guy

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