Dept. of Education is investigating two Amherst colleges

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – For the first time, the federal Department of Education identified colleges being investigated  for their handling of sexual assault complaints.

A list of 55 schools. Six are in Massachusetts. Two of those in Hampshire County. The Department of Education released the names of schools the agency is investigating for possible Title 9 violation.

Amherst College is on the list because two people filed complaints back in November 2013. Also in Amherst, UMass Amherst is on the list because it began a voluntary compliance check in 2011.

Title 9 requires equal access to education and extracurricular activities. According to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, sexual violence interferes with that equal access, so schools need to work to stop sexual violence on campus.

Lynn Peterfreund of Florence said “An institution should make it as easy as possible to report incidents and feel like they are going to protected and listened to.”

Katerina Von Campe of Amherst said “Talking about it and making people understand that that’s not their fault and have the dialogue going on.”

Schools not complying with Title 9 can be fined and potentially lose federal funding. Both UMass Amherst and Amherst College have ongoing sexual violence prevention programs.

Bekcy Lockwood is the Associate Director of Counseling and Rape Crisis at the Center of Women and Community. She told 22News, “I hope that the message is to folks that have experienced sexual violence that they can help and that there are lots of resources available, and it’s not their fault. That’s the most important message.”

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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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