Northeast Edition

Occidental College resolves issues with Education Dept.

EAGLE ROCK — The U.S. Department of Education has announced that it has reached an agreement with Occidental College to resolve allegations that students were discouraged from reporting incidences of sexual assault.

The department’s civil rights office “found a campus actively engaged in important work to satisfy Title IX responsibilities for all students,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights.

“Where we had concerns, Occidental leaders committed to taking appropriate steps to ensure student safety,” she said. “I am grateful for Occidental’s responsiveness during the course of the investigation, as well as its commitment to its students.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

The findings came three years after dozens of then-students and faculty members at the Eagle Rock campus filed federal complaints that college administrators had fostered a hostile environment for victims of sexual assault.

Occidental voluntarily resolved the investigation before the civil rights office had completed its review, addressing concerns that arose in the course of the probe. For the issues under review, the board found insufficient evidence that Occidental violated federal law, except with respect to promptness of the college’s review of several cases during the 2012-13 school year.

The investigation did reveal concerns in some areas, and the college committed to moving forward to secure full satisfaction of Title IX requirements, Lhamon said.

The civil rights office determined that the college’s current policy and procedures for addressing complaints of sexual violence and harassment are in compliance, and that the college meets requirements regarding publication of a notice of non-discrimination and having a civil rights coordinator.

The office found insufficient evidence that the college violated a federal requirement to provide an equitable grievance process over the four-year period — 2010-2014 — that was examined, but did find that some sexual assault complaints were resolved in an untimely manner.

The investigation also concluded insufficient evidence of a hostile environment on the basis of sex existed during the time period examined.

Finally, there was insufficient evidence to show that the college engaged in retaliatory conduct against the individual students and faculty who advocated for changes in the college’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures, according to the findings.

However, the civil rights office was concerned about actions by college administrators to discourage students from speaking up about their experiences with sexual violence, indicating that the college’s staff may not be aware of their responsibility to safeguard student speech, along with the Title IX requirement not to interfere with student advocacy.

Staff responses to such advocacy can have an impact on whether students and the broader college community feel comfortable speaking about Title IX protections and reporting complaints of sexual harassment and violence, according to the Department of Education.

In addition, the civil rights office said it is concerned that a recent survey conducted by the college suggested that students are not reporting complaints of sexual assault.

Prior to the conclusion of the investigation, Occidental agreed to take action to resolve all areas of concern and to enter into a voluntary resolution.

Occidental committed to revise its sexual misconduct policy, which the college has already completed to the civil rights office’s satisfaction, Lhamon said.