Gov’t. Investigates College Sex Assaults; 2 MI Universities Land On List
ANN ARBOR (WWJ/AP) - The U.S. Department of Education took the unprecedented step of listing 55 schools currently under investigation for how they respond to sexual assault complaints on campus — and on that list were both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
U-M is one of only a handful of schools named by federal officials Thursday to publicly reveal anything about why the department is investigating. The probe involves the school’s handling of a reported 2009 violation of its sexual misconduct policy by then-football placekicker Brendan Gibbons, who was expelled this past December.
Michigan is “fully cooperating” with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, school spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.
“They were on campus a week or so ago doing some interviews with faculty, staff and students,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve had information related to the investigation posted on our website since they informed us about the investigation toward the end of February. This is well-known on campus.”
A student government group that examined the school’s student sexual misconduct policy said last month that it planned to share with investigators its determination that the university failed to explain the delay between the alleged incident and Gibbons’ expulsion.
News of the investigation was welcomed by many students in Ann Arbor.
“I think this is definitely a good idea; a good thing that there’s more transparency and things are being brought to light,” says one student.
Against the backdrop of a White House study that says 1 in 5 female students will be assaulted at one time or another during their stay on campus, other students in Ann Arbor say they feel safe.
That includes Katie — a sophomore at U of M — who says, “They do a good job of sending out the reports as soon as they happen to let the student body know when and where and kind of who to look out for type thing.”
U of M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says the fact that more incidents are being reported is not necessarily a bad thing.
“It eventually puts us in a better position to solve this problem or to resolve the effects of sexual misconduct,” says Fitzgerald.
He believes the school’s response to sexual assault can always be improved and he welcomes the feedback.
“It’s an incredibly important topic for all of us to stay focused on; to how to prevent it, how to avoid it, how to remedy the effects of it,” says Fitzgerald.
The Obama administration is seeking more openness about the issue of sexual violence on and around the nation’s campuses. On Thursday, the Education Department revealed its list of schools facing investigations that were started after complaints were filed with its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) or as part of a review to see whether the schools were complying with Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at institutions receiving federal funds.
It is the same law that guarantees girls and women 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.
The schools range from public universities, including Ohio State, the University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State, to private schools including Knox College in Illinois, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Catholic University of America in the District of Columbia. Some Ivy League schools also are on the list.
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