A federal investigation about Western’s handling of a sexual violence case was announced on Wednesday, April 29, following a complaint issued by a student against the university through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The original date of that complaint has not been released.
“Western cares deeply about ensuring a safe environment for its students, faculty and staff, and does not and will not tolerate sexual violence, or any form of violence or harassment,” said Paul Cocke, Western Office of University Communications and Marketing director.
The investigation into the Title IX violation was launched Friday, April 17, according to an email from the OCR. As of April 29, 119 sexual violence cases were under investigation at 109 institutions, including Western. Title IX was signed into law in 1972 and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. A letter published by the OCR in 2011 established the agency’s focus on addressing sexual violence as a part of upholding Title IX.
At Western, the Equal Opportunity Office recently aimed to increase awareness on campus through the EverFi Haven online course on sexual violence. The course was distributed online through student emails during winter quarter.
No timeline has been set for the OCR investigation at Western, Cocke said.
The investigation comes in the wake of legislation passed by the Washington State Senate requiring Washington public universities to report sexual assault cases to the governor and legislators for review.
A federal crackdown on sexual violence at universities has taken place over the course of the last year. In January 2014, President Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The OCR’s original list of 55 institutions under investigation was made public May 1, 2014, as a continuation of the goals set by the task force.
Washington State University was on that original list, and has since been joined by Whitman College and Western as the only Washington universities under investigation.
Most investigations remain open, but the OCR has published letters describing agreements and resolutions reached at several universities, according to the OCR website.
St. Mary’s College in Maryland incurred four separate investigations, more than any other school, according to the list published by the OCR.
At Tufts University, The OCR found that “the University failed to provide a prompt and equitable response to complaints of sexual harassment/violence,” and contributed to a hostile environment for a student, according to a letter sent to Tufts by the OCR dated April 28, 2015.
Following its investigation, Tufts signed an agreement with the OCR to implement new policies around sexual violence and continue to report to the OCR regarding the handling of those cases.
Services for individuals affected by sexual assault can be accessed through Consultation and Sexual Assault Support in the Equal Opportunity Office at 360- 650-3700. A discrimination complaint can be filed with the Office for Civil Rights through their website, or by phone at 1-800-421-3481.