More Federal Action on Campus Sexual Assault!

So last Saturday I posted about the Campus SAVE Act, which was introduced to the House of Reps last week and would mandate a number of important changes to campus procedures and programming regarding relationship and sexual violence. Last Wednesday the Center for Public Integrity reported on new federal action, but this time in the form of investigation by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), rather than legislation.

For two years, the OCR looked into possible Title IX violations at Notre Dame College and Eastern Michigan University. Both schools had been accused of trying to “sweep reports of campus sexual assault under the rug” after high-profile rape cases. EMU had previously been forced to pay a $357,500 fine for violating the Clery Act after claiming “no foul play” had occurred in the the rape and murder of a student.

But neither school is getting charged with violating Title IX. Instead they have reached agreements with OCR that will require both schools to improve their sexual assault policies and programs:

Russlyn Ali…who directs the civil rights office — said in an interview last week that the recent OCR settlements present a new paradigm for how colleges and universities nationwide will address campus sexual assaults. The pacts include measures that Ali describes as “far more robust” than what the OCR has sought in the past. Under the terms of the agreements, the schools must draft comprehensive procedures for adjudicating sexual assault cases. They must designate Title IX coordinators who will oversee the campus adjudicatory process, and train staff on how to investigate and resolve complaints.

But beyond these changes, Ali says, the agreements aim to change a culture on college campuses that often breeds student-on-student sexual violence. For instance, the agreements require the schools to conduct informational sessions with their students on their Title IX rights, and to establish campus committees charged with devising outreach and educational strategies to prevent the recurrence of sexual assaults. The OCR, which has laid out firm deadlines for the schools to implement these provisions, will monitor the progress over the next three years, in part through on-site visits.

As far as I know, this is a first for a Title IX investigation related to sexual assault, and it’s an intriguing and exciting development. I’m really curious about how the OCR will measure the schools’ progress, and also whether similar results will come from the four other campus compliance investigations that the OCR has coming up. Even if this doesn’t have the broad-based power that federal legislation has, it would send a really important message to schools that Title IX violations will have consequences. And I’m REALLY interested to see what will be included in the “regulatory guidance” that will be released by OCR in early 2011 “regarding how colleges and universities should handle campus sexual assaults.” I hope they’ve seen our list!

Cross-posted from Change Happens

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