The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today announced that it has obtained a settlement agreement related to its investigation of student-on-student sexual harassment, including sexual violence, at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind.
Pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), OCR conducted an investigation of the university’s handling of student sexual harassment cases. OCR’s investigation included campus visits, interviews with university and St. Mary’s College officials, an extensive review of the university’s written policies and procedures, and examined files related to sexual harassment cases. OCR’s investigation followed an internal review of previously filed cases against the university, and recent articles in the press about Notre Dame’s handling of sexual assault complaints, including one incident in which a student committed suicide after reporting that she was sexually assaulted by another student. OCR's investigation was agency-initiated, and not based on a complaint.
Before OCR concluded its investigation, Notre Dame entered into a voluntary resolution agreement with OCR. The agreement addresses four objectives: (1) it furthers the goals of OCR and the university to have in place procedures and practices that are designed to prevent a sexually hostile environment from occurring on campus; (2) assures that students feel comfortable and safe complaining about sexual harassment, including incidents of sexual violence; (3) assures that sexual harassment complaints will be quickly and equitably resolved and that appropriate discipline will be taken against the harasser; and, (4) assures that victims of sexual harassment will be given appropriate and necessary counseling services and academic support.
Specifically, the agreement requires the university to ensure that students and the public know how to report sexual harassment and what to expect from the university and law enforcement after making such a report. The university agreed to make clear that it will use a “preponderance of evidence” standard to evaluate allegations of sexual harassment, cyber-harassment as a form of sexual harassment, and intimidation or obstruction to prevent the reporting of sexual harassment or participation in appropriate investigatory proceedings. The university also agreed to initiate and conclude its Title IX sexual harassment and violence investigations within 60 calendar days of receipt of a complaint, except in extraordinary circumstances.
The agreement includes provisions to ensure that victims feel safe throughout the investigation and disciplinary proceeding process, including not being required to face the accused. Complainants will also be allowed to appeal a disciplinary decision on the same grounds as provided to the accused. The university will publicize the resources and services available to complainants, accused students and witnesses, and provide both parties equivalent notice of the process, opportunity to provide evidence, and, access to peer support, information about the procedures and written notice of the outcome. Interim and permanent steps that the university will take to stop the harassment, remedy the harassment and prevent recurrence include specific discussions with the complainant about academic, extracurricular activities, housing and on-campus dining arrangements of the parties to determine if adjustments in schedules or housing are necessary and an explanation that any adjustments made will be designed to minimize the burden on the complainant’s educational program
“Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education are very concerned about sexual violence on the nation’s campuses," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali. “No student can learn if they are fearful of sexual harassment or assault. We launched this investigation to ensure that college students have an educational environment free from sexual violence and other forms of sexual harassment. We commend the university for its willingness to show leadership in this area by improving its efforts to address and prevent sexual harassment of students on its campus.”
OCR recognizes that policies and procedures alone are not sufficient to ensure that students feel comfortable complaining about sexual harassment and confident that a university will respond appropriately. To ensure that the policies and procedures are implemented effectively at the university, OCR will closely monitor the university’s implementation of the agreement. As part of the monitoring activities, the university will invite students who have experienced sexual harassment on campus to share their recommendations for improving the university’s responses to sexual harassment. The university will also work with its established campus coalition, the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention, (CSAP) to assess the campus environment and recommend further improvements.
A copy of the Resolution Letter and Agreement is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/investigations/index.html.
OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001.
For more information about the Office for Civil Rights, see http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.
For details on how OCR handles civil rights cases, visit http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintprocess.html.
For information on how OCR handles complaints alleging sexual violence, see OCR’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence, which is available at: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.html.