2 WMass colleges investigated in sex abuse review

WASHINGTON (WWLP-AP) — The Education Department on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities currently facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual abuse complaints. That list includes two colleges right here in western Massachusetts.

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.

Locally, the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College were on the list. The University of Connecticut, Boston University, Emerson College, Harvard College, and Harvard University Law School were also among those included. Click here to read the complete list.

The agency previously would confirm such an investigation 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.

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Below is a Statement from Caroline Hanna, the Associate Director of Public Affairs for Amherst College:

In November 2013, the media reported on the filing of an Office of Civil Rights complaint against Amherst College by two individuals. The Education Department today has provided a single online listing that includes Amherst as well as the other institutions against which complaints have apparently been filed.

At Amherst, we continue to confront one of the most serious challenges facing colleges and universities across the country—sexual misconduct. In the fall of 2012, a group of articulate and courageous students disclosed a range of problems in the College’s previous efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual misconduct.Since then, we have made important changes and will continue to do so.

We are deeply committed to meeting all the requirements of federal law and, more than that, holding ourselves to the highest-possible standards in meeting the needs of our students. The range of changes we have made so far in our policies, practices and personnel are highlighted on our Sexual Respect website.

These efforts includean 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.

The difficult work of addressing sexual assault and misconduct is ongoing and we are committed to working as a community to address what is, sadly, a nationwide challenge.

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Below is a Statement from Ed Blaguszewski, the Executive Director of News and Media Relations at University of Massachusetts Amherst:

The inclusion of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in a list released today by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is related to a standard compliance review. The university is not the subject of a Title IX complaint.

The Task Force has done outstanding work in providing strategies to prevent sexual assault, respond compassionately to victims and hold perpetrators accountable,² said Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life. ³We fully support their work, and we have already been actively engaged in implementing many of the best practices recommended by the Task Force. Much more must be done to safeguard our students and we are committed to that effort.

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.

In two broadcast e-mail communications to the campus community, the university explained the purpose of the review and encouraged participation.

A message from the Chancellor¹s Office noted, ³Compliance reviews are designed to address systemic issues and ensure that violations are readily identified and promptly eliminated. We applaud the work of the OCR and are confident that any information that results from this compliance review will have a direct and positive impact throughout the University.

Gelaye observed that prevention of sexual assault is a major concern of the university as reflected by the launch this year of the
Umatter at UMass campaign, which includes extensive bystander intervention training for students and employees. The outreach effort was featured in a New York Times¹ Education Life story on Feb. 7, 2014.

Gelaye also noted that UMass Amherst has conducted campus climate surveys for the past three years, collaborates with campus stakeholders through a Title IX Committee process, revised its Code of Student Conduct to strengthen its sexual misconduct policy and is launching a Men and Masculinity Center to engage men on this issue.

Community partnerships and confidential, trauma informed support resources were also identified by the Task Force as an important element in support and prevention. The Center for Women & Community has been housed at UMass Amherst for 40 years. It has supported thousands of survivors of sexual assault, and offered countless hours of sexual assault prevention
education to the campus and broader community.

The CWC recently received a $270,000 federal grant to strengthen its efforts. Last year, the CWC sexual assault hotline responded to more than 500 hotline calls from area college students and provided crisis intervention and support to 227 victims of violence affiliated with the Five Colleges, said Becky Lockwood, associate director of Counseling and Rape Crisis Services at the Center for Women & Community.

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