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Education Dept. opens Title IX investigation of Brown

Decision puts U.’s sexual assault policies under federal spotlight

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation of the University’s handling of sexual assault cases July 10, adding Brown to a list of 68 colleges and universities currently under federal investigation for Title IX violations regarding sexual assault.

The department announced the move last week and notified the University on Friday.

Brown is one of 13 schools added to the list since the OCR began publishing it publicly May 1, the Huffington Post reported.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint filed May 14 by Legal Momentum, a nonprofit advocating for women’s and girls’ legal rights, which claimed that the University violated Title IX in handling the alleged rape of Lena Sclove ’15.5. The complaint said the University had failed to impose an appropriate sanction and effectively respond to Sclove’s report when she was allegedly raped by another Brown student last summer, The Herald previously reported.

The complaint is the only one related to sexual assault that has been filed against the University since the OCR began keeping records in 2009, NPR reported.

The OCR investigation will examine whether the University has “responded promptly and effectively” to complaints and reports of sexual harassment “with particular emphasis on complaints of sexual assault,” said Christina Brandt-Young, senior staff attorney at Legal Momentum and Sclove’s legal counsel.

Under Title IX, which was created to ban gender-based discrimination in education, colleges and universities must “take immediate action” to eliminate, prevent recurrence of and address the effects of harassment, according to the Obama administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the OCR.

“Brown will fully cooperate with the Department of Education during the review,” wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald.

The investigation follows President Christina Paxson’s May 2 campus-wide email, which stated the goal of moving Brown to the forefront of national efforts to combat campus sexual assault. Paxson also announced the creation of a sexual assault task force and a search to hire a full-time Title IX coordinator.

Senior administrators are consulting with peer institutions to study the Title IX coordinator position this summer and will continue with the hiring process in the fall, wrote Mark Nickel, acting director of news and communications, in an email to The Herald.

“The OCR will take into account what Brown thinks it could do to improve,” Brandt-Young said, adding that most Title IX investigations end in “voluntary resolution agreements,” in which the school agrees to make changes to its policy regarding harassment, including sexual violence.

The OCR’s goal is “to resolve all complaints within 180 days of their receipt,” wrote Jim Bradshaw, Education Department spokesman, in an email to The Herald. But “some resolutions take longer in light of the complexity of the issues involved.”

The investigation and negotiation processes for other Title IX complaints have taken “anywhere from months to years,” Brandt-Young said.

But in an April report, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault imposed a 90-day limit on negotiations for institutions under investigation for the handling of sexual assault complaints. “The investigation is likely to go faster in 2014 than it might have in previous years,” Brandt-Young said.

If the University is unable to reach a voluntary resolution agreement after 90 days of negotiation, enforcement efforts will begin, Brandt-Young said, adding that the primary sanction for noncompliance with Title IX is revocation of a school’s federal funding.

“That’s not what we’re seeking,” Brandt-Young said, adding that Sclove’s goal is to prompt Brown to change its policies to “keep students safe from and after sexual assault.”



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