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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Special Title IX Digest 101

August 31, 2016

INTRODUCTION

A case at Yale university in March of 2011 is recognized as one of the earliest cases leveraging Title IX, which historically had been used to open athletic opportunities for women, to compel action at federally funded institutions in response to gender-based violence. Although this case was far from the first, the cultural currency of the school and the number of complainants generated high media coverage and helped launch a new era of Title IX. This era is rooted in the notion that if a school fails to effectively respond to reports of gender-based violence it is violating the rights of a significant portion of its population. Whether one is speaking of school action or inaction, what a school does in the wake of a report of gender-based violence can shape a victim’s access to health services, counseling, classes, athletics and far more and thereby impede their right to equal education. As the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses occur within the first few weeks of the semester, and we are approaching or launching the Fall semester, now is the time to look at the prevalence of gender-based violence on college and university campuses in order to encourage continued conversation about this important topic and to identify key resources for parents and students alike.

As of August 29, there are 268 open Title IX investigations. Below is a timeline of major events from select Title IX investigations of colleges and universities in 2016. The timeline is focused on cases involving victims’ rights and does not include cases where an investigation has followed a defendant’s complaint.

* Indicates the school has, at any point, requested a “religious exemption” as indicated by the document released by the Department of Education (DOE) in April naming all institutions requesting such an exemption from a Title IX claim. This provision allows educational institutions controlled by religious organizations to request an exemption if the application of Title IX protections is perceived to interfere with the respective institution’s religious liberties.


JANUARY

Jan. 12 - University of California at San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)

  • A second Title IX investigation, following the active investigation from May of 2015, is opened for UCSF following a report of an inefficient disciplinary and investigative system.

    • The school affirmed its commitment to sexual violence prevention and the rights of victims.

Jan. 25 - Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)

  • A settlement is reached in a suit filed in January of 2015. The suit states the university violated Title IX in its handling of sexual assault cases and displayed indifference to victims.

    • The suit was settled for $950,000.

    • In recent years, the university has hired a full-time Title IX director and strengthened its sexual harassment and sexual misconduct policies.  

Jan. 28 - Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, NY)

  • A federal investigation is opened following reports of a failure to respond to the repeated violation of a victims’ no-contact order.

    • The school responded to the initial complaint in 2015 with intentions to reassess its policies concerning the expulsion of disciplined defendants and strengthen its relationship with the local domestic violence and rape crisis center.

FEBRUARY

Feb. 3 - University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)

  • A second and third investigation of Title IX violations are opened. There are no public details concerning the nature of the case.

    • Following previous investigations, the university strengthened its training and “educational initiatives” to combat sexual violence including a website and an annual report of the school’s sexual misconduct.

Feb. 18 - Southwestern University (Georgetown, TX)

  • A federal Title IX investigation is opened. The school gained attention after reports of widespread sexual violence on campus with a focus on drug facilitated sexual assaults at fraternity houses.

    • The university has since made several policy changes including expanding its definition of consent, reviewing its fraternity and sorority events, and implementing more effective prevention education.

Feb. 19 - Vincennes University (Vincennes, IN)

  • A second Title IX investigation is opened; the first has been active  since May of 2014.

  • In 2015, a former student of the university filed a federal civil lawsuit against the school for their failure to remove students who have records of sexual misconduct. The lawsuit was settled in May of 2016 and the settlement is undisclosed.

    • The school has not publicly announced any changes to its policies or practices.

Feb. 19 - Notre Dame University (Notre Dame, IN)

  • A fourth federal investigation is opened, based upon allegations of the school’s handling of multiple hearings.

    • The policy in question of conducting hearings on the basis of a student’s enrollment has been amended.  

MARCH

March 3 - Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)

  • A third federal investigation is opened after a graduate student filed a suit stating the school does not provide adequate resources for victims and does not protect victims from retaliation.

    • The following week a student task force recommended that the school mandate an annual sexual assault prevention training for students – the University President accepted this and additional recommendations. The following month Harvard updated and expanded its FAQ page on sexual assault.

March 3 - Stonehill College* (Easton, MA)

  • A federal Title IX investigation is opened. The investigation follows a student’s report that the school does not respond equitably to incidents of sexual violence.

    • The school has not publicly announced any changes to its policies or practices.

March 8 - College of Idaho (Caldwell, ID)

  • A federal investigation is opened following a complaint from a student stating the school does not have a “prompt and equitable” grievance process and thus facilitates a hostile environment for victims.

    • The following month the school joined the national “It’s On Us” campaign.

APRIL

Apr. 4 - Rider University (Lawrence Township, NJ)

  • A federal Title IX investigation is opened. In the Fall of 2015, multiple sexual assaults were reported in on-campus housing in a span of weeks; a report was filed stating the school did not have suitable grievance procedures.

    • The school responded in part by updating its nondiscrimination policy.

Apr. 6 - Knox College (Galesburg, IL)

  • A third federal investigation is opened following a report stating that the school did not deliver an efficient disciplinary process and created a hostile environment for victims of sexual assault.

    • The school has not publicly announced any changes to its policies or practices.

Apr. 14 - University of Tulsa (Tulsa, OK)

  • A federal Title IX investigation is opened. In 2014, a student filed a federal civil lawsuit against the university referencing its “deliberate indifference” to its Title IX obligations in the handling of sexual assault cases. The court ruled in favor of the university.

Apr. 18 - Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

  • A fifth federal investigation is opened.

    • In June, Stanford announced intent to allocate $2.7 million towards programs combating sexual violence for the next school year.

    • In June, Vice President Joe Biden affirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to aiding victims of sexual assault on college campuses in an open letter to a Stanford University victim. The letter stresses the importance of bystander intervention and the role of communities in accounting for sexual violence.

Apr. 21 - Monmouth University (West Long Branch, NJ)

  • A federal investigation is opened following a student report that the school did not appropriately address a report of sexual assault and created a hostile environment for victims.

    • The school has responded by conducting an independent review of its actions relating to cases of sexual violence.

MAY

May 10 - Washington State University (Pullman, WA)

  • A third federal investigation is opened addressing a reported failure to provide victims with an efficient grievance process.

    • There have been no publicly announced policy changes to arise from the most recent investigation.

May 12 - University at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY)

  • A federal investigation is opened. A student filed a complaint stating the school did not respond appropriately to victims seeking disciplinary action and resources.

    • The school has not publicly announced any changes to its policies or practices.

May 17 - Indiana University at Bloomington (Bloomington, IN)

  • A third federal investigation is opened concerning the handling of a case overseen by a former Title IX coordinator who became a defendant in a separate sexual misconduct case.

    • The university responded by surveying the student body to gain insight into the climate and safety of the school.

May 20 - University of Wisconsin at Madison (Madison, WI)

  • A fourth federal investigation is opened. There are no public details concerning the nature of the latest case.

    • The administration states that it has taken steps to improve its climate.

May 24 - St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN)

  • A federal investigation is opened in relation to reports of its handling of sexual assault cases and indifference towards victims.

    • The school commissioned an advisory group for recommendations on how to improve their policies concerning sexual violence.

May 26 - Baylor University* (Waco, TX)

  • Baylor University releases details of the results of an independent external investigation conducted in September of 2015 into its handling of sexual assault cases. The investigation found the institution “affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence” and exhibited “institutional failures at every level”.

    • The university plans to adopt the recommendations outlined in the briefing.

JUNE

June 1 - Rhodes College (Memphis, TN)

  • A federal investigation is opened in reference to its response in a case of sexual assault and the hostile environment that followed.

    • The school has responded with the implementation of an anonymous reporting system and a revision of its sexual misconduct policy.  

June 21 - American University (Washington, DC)

  • A federal investigation is opened, potentially involving the report of a victim being required to sign a confidentiality agreement before a hearing of a sexual assault case.

    • The university has since agreed to a series of policy changes.

June 23 - University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)

  • A federal investigation is opened following a report of a slow and ineffective disciplinary process that places an undue burden on victims.

    • The school has not publicly announced any changes to its policies or practices.

JULY

July 5 - Northeastern University (Boston, MA)

  • A second federal investigation is opened. There are no public details concerning the nature of the case.

    • The university has announced intentions for a climate survey of the student body to better assist victims and required sexual violence prevention training for incoming students.

July 5 - University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg, MS)

  • A federal investigation is opened, possibly in conjunction with the school’s history of sexual violence in on-campus housing.

    • The school revised its policies and procedures of sexual assault cases in 2013.

July 6 - University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Knoxville, TN)

  • A settlement is reached in a lawsuit against the university filed by multiple victims in February. The suit details how the university violated its Title IX obligations by fostering an environment where sexual assault, specifically by student-athletes, prevails and victims are treated with unfair bias in the disciplinary process.

    • The suit was settled for $2.48 million.

    • Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the plaintiffs agreed to withdraw two Title IX complaints with the Department of Education (DOE), Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

    • The university will now adhere to conditions set in the lawsuit including allocating $700,000 to new positions in its Title IX office and referring student-athletes to the local bar association for attorneys rather than providing a list.

AUGUST

Aug. 11 - Duke University (Durham, NC)

  • A third federal investigation is opened, likely in relation to the report of the school’s deliberate indifference in the investigation of a drug-facilitated sexual assault.

    • In 2013, following the school’s first federal investigation, Duke University increased training for its staff members and identified expulsion as the “preferred sanction” in cases of sexual assault.

Aug. 21 - University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (Fayetteville, AR)

  • Two federal investigations are opened, based upon allegations that the disciplinary panel in a sexual assault case was not trained and that the school showed deliberate indifference to victims of sexual assault.

    • The school responded by collaborating with city police to pen a draft agreement for the handling of future sexual assaults.

CONCLUSION

While a Title IX investigation can take years to resolve, its filing and the public accountability that follows if we continue the conversation can be powerful tools for change. Title IX efforts can not only lead to improved disciplinary processes post-assault and individual perpetrator accountability but also increased prevention education and bystander intervention programs, which have been shown to have positive results on college campuses. Without both accountability and prevention, gender-based violence will go unchecked and individuals will continue to bear the burden of trauma in their pursuit of higher education.

The listing of this year’s cases in this digest is not intended to cause fear or imply that the identified schools are the only ones confronting this issue.  Rather, in following the federal cases opened across the country, we hope we can gain a better understanding of the national landscape so that we can recognize the prevalence of the problem and assess where and what reforms are needed.

To find more information on the process of filing and pursuing a Title IX complaint, visit the Department of Education’s “Title IX Resource Guide”. For a comprehensive look at the rise of Title IX investigations in recent years, The Chronicle of Higher Education provides a Title IX Tracker.  For assistance understanding a college or university process consider these nonprofit advocacy organizations dedicated to this issue: End Rape on Campus,  Know Your IX, and SurvJustice.  You can also learn about the intersection of Title IX and Victims’ Rights in a recent NCVLI publication available on our Law Library.


DISCLAIMER: By providing a list of other advocacy resources, NCVLI is not endorsing the services or information provided by other nonprofit advocacy organizations.

*NCVLI is grateful to Lewis & Clark College student and guest author, Scout Brobst, who devoted considerable time compiling case information to make this special Digest possible.

Interested in learning more about Title IX and campus disciplinary processes? Click here to sign up for an online training from the National Association of Victims’ Rights Attorneys & Advocates (NAVRA) on September 14th. 

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