Federal government to visit campus, review sexual assault policies

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The U.S. Department of Education will be visiting the campus next week as part of an investigation to review the campus’s work in responding to and preventing cases of sexual violence, assault and harassment.

During the two-day visit, which will take place Feb. 3-4, the Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, will meet with student representatives to assist in a review of the campus’ compliance with Title IX. They will also hold open drop-in office hours and prescheduled meetings at Sproul Plaza and Alumni House to hear from students.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination and requires universities to react efficiently to incidents. It also specifies that schools must be proactive in eliminating a hostile environment and ensuring that a victim can continue his or her education.

ASUC Student Advocate Rishi Ahuja — who also sits on the Title IX Compliance Advisory Committee as a student representative — said he believes “more variety is always better,” responding to the OCR’s meetings with representatives from the Greek, student-athlete, multicultural, residence hall and other communities.

Campus senior Sofie Karasek, a sexual assault survivor, said she was disappointed in the campus’ outreach of the visit.

“They made (the review) sound like a regular course of business, almost like the accreditation process … instead of an ongoing investigation because students had raised concerns,” she said.

An investigation of the campus was initiated March 25 last year in response to a complaint filed by 31 current and former UC Berkeley students — including Karasek — alleging that campus administrators violated Title IX.

The campus is “fully cooperating and supporting the OCR’s efforts” and has supported them by reaching out to students and arranging focus group sessions, according to Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs.

“This is an ongoing effort and we have been working to create a culture of prevention, reporting and support on a sustained basis,” Holmes said, in an email, citing the establishment of additional resources such as a UCPD position to assist survivors and mandatory Bear Pact training for first-year and transfer students.

Back in May, the OCR released a list of 55 higher education institutions — including UC Berkeley — under investigation for potential breaches of Title IX.

As of Wednesday, the list has grown to 95 postsecondary institutions pending investigation. The only other UC campus on the list was UCLA.

Opening a complaint for investigation does not imply that the “OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint” and, during the investigation, the OCR remains a “neutral fact-finder,” according to its website.

Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the OCR will reveal whether it will enter into a resolution agreement or has found insufficient evidence of a Title IX violation.

Heyun Jeong is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @heyunjeong.