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Colleges face scrutiny over sex assaults

Improving the system for reporting incidents through better communication
University Business, July 2013
Harassment and sexual assaults were second only to athletics in Title IX allegations filed with the Office for Civil Rights from 2009 to 2011.

Sexual assault on campuses has been in the spotlight lately, leading to conversations among administrators and policymakers about improving Title IX and Clery Act compliance while better protecting students.

In May, a seven-year U.S. Department of Education investigation into Yale’s underreporting of sexual assault over a decade ago—a Clery Act violation—resulted in a $165,000 fine. And after a yearlong review, the University of Montana-Missoula, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached an agreement requiring UM to improve its policies to better respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment by students.

Harassment and sexual assaults were second only to athletics in Title IX allegations filed with the Office for Civil Rights from 2009 to 2011, notes OCR’s “Title IX Enforcement Highlights” report, released in June 2012.

Erin Prangley, associate director of government relations for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), says having an OCR point person for Title IX coordinators would help them in their jobs. “One of the biggest, legitimate gripes I’ve heard from colleges and universities is that although they’re required to have a Title IX coordinator, the federal government does not do enough to support Title IX networks and provide training for them.”

In March, the AAUW wrote Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, urging the DOE to fill the position of special assistant for gender equity. It is authorized under law but has not been filled since the Clinton administration.

Another area that could use improvement is communication, says Prangley. The DOE doesn’t maintain a list of contacts that would allow for quick and easy updates to campus Title IX coordinators. Also, the Women’s Educational Equity Act online resource center—where information could previously be found—hasn’t been updated in years. So, unless coordinators put in the effort to stay abreast of updated requirements, they aren’t kept in the loop.

Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, points out that sexual assault is a broad societal issue not limited to college campuses. She says institutions do a fairly good job at handling it, and additional involvement from the federal government wouldn’t necessarily be beneficial for preventing incidences.

“The issues of compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act are quite complicated, and when put into the context of the often quite large and diverse campus community, I doubt that perfection in compliance is feasible.”

See for more information on OCR Title IX enforcement.