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Occidental College Cleared Of Major Title IX Sexual Assault Violations

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Fowler Hall at Occidental College / Photo by Michael Locke via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
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Occidental College and the United States Department of Education (DOE) have reached an agreement over the college's alleged mishandling of several dozen student sexual assault cases brought to the school by students. The resolution concludes a three-year investigation into the school's compliancy with federal Title IX standards for providing an educational atmosphere free from sexual discrimination, according to the L.A. Times.

Three years ago, a group of 50 Occidental students and faculty filed federal complaints against the school, claiming the school was doing a poor job of investigating claims of sexual assault on its campus. Attorney Gloria Allred represented them.

The cases argued that sexual assault victims were actively discouraged from reporting their assault, were not provided adequate counseling resources after the fact, and that assaulters were given lenient sanctions even after being determined to have committed sexual assault. The complaints also alleged that Occidental failed to provide adequate education about why sexual assault is wrong, and other preventative efforts.

The complaints prompted a federal investigation, which concluded with today's notice of agreement.

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In a news release, the Federal Department of Education said that Occidental had voluntarily resolved the ongoing Title IX investigation before the DOE's Office of Civil Rights completed its own investigation:

OCR determined that the college's current policy and procedures for addressing complaints of sexual violence and harassment comply with Title IX, and that the college meets requirements regarding publication of a notice of non-discrimination and having a Title IX coordinator.

OCR did, however, include some recommendations for Occidental moving forward. From the release, Occidental needs to:

  • Develop and provide mandatory annual training for staff and faculty on the grievance process and on retaliation under Title IX and its implementation with a special focus on the definition of a protected activity;
  • Provide OCR with three years of complaint files, as well as proactively review the complaint files themselves, to ensure that the college is providing a prompt and equitable process;
  • Review the results of the file assessment to determine whether any changes to policy or practice are needed to ensure the prompt and effective resolution of the complaints; And
  • Continue to conduct an annual climate survey and develop proposals for OCR's review and approval to effectively respond to and prevent sexual assault.

This news can be viewed in both positive and negative light. On one hand, the fact that the school responded to the complaints and scrutiny about sexual assault on its campus reflects a willingness to engage with this very important issue on an institutional level. On the other hand, sexual assault on collegiate campuses is still a very important issue, and news that Occidental has been 'cleared' shouldn't necessarily mean everything is hunky dory.

Occidental's Title IX investigation is the third such federal investigation to have been resolved so far this year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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If you're interested in reading the DOE's Office of Civil Rights 30-page letter of findings specifically about Occidental, you can do so right here.