UC Berkeley on new list of schools under investigation for handling of sexual violence

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UC Berkeley and three other California schools join 51 others across the nation in a new list of higher education institutions under investigation for possible violations of federal law regarding the handling of sexual violence cases.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released the list Thursday in an effort to increase transparency of the federal government’s enforcement of civil rights legislation. The list contains all institutions currently being investigated for violations of Title IX, which mandates students not be subject to sex discrimination that affects their educational or other pursuits.

The law means that schools must take action to prevent sexual assault and respond appropriately when it occurs. Previously, department officials had confirmed individual Title IX investigations, but had not provided a full list of the institutions being investigated, according to a Department of Education statement. In the future, the list will be updated regularly. These investigations do not necessarily mean the institution has violated or is violating the law.

The schools on the list include Harvard College, Princeton University, Arizona State University and the University of Michigan. The other California institutions listed are the University of Southern California, Butte-Glenn Community College District and Occidental College.

The civil rights office launched a Title IX investigation at UC Berkeley in March after a group of 31 current and former students filed a federal complaint alleging the campus mishandled their sexual assault and harassment cases. While the office will not release case-specific facts about the ongoing investigation, when the investigation concludes, the office will disclose upon request whether it has entered an agreement to address concerns at UC Berkeley, according to the statement.

“Sexual assault on college campuses is a critical issue and we will cooperate fully with the investigation,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email. “Much has been done to strengthen the campus’ handling of these issues, but we understand that there is always room for improvement.”

The list’s release advances the goals of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. On Monday, the task force released its first report, which proposes campus climate surveys, outlines effective strategies for preventing sexual violence and provides recommendations for increasing the transparency of the federal government’s enforcement efforts.

Haley Broder, an ASUC senator-elect, said the report was “incredibly affirming, coming from the federal government.” She noted, however, that the issues cannot be addressed through mere policy and that reform must be comprehensive.

Shannon Thomas, a UC Berkeley senior and another of 31 complainants, added that the newly released list has the potential to bring awareness that sexual assault is a national problem.

“Some of top schools in the nation have this issue,” she said. “We don’t always associate Harvard and Berkeley with these crimes, we don’t think it happens at these universities.”

Contact Sahil Chinoy at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @sahilchinoy_dc.