Southern Methodist University Found in Violation of Title IX, Commits to Remedy Harassment, Sexual Assault of Students

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Southern Methodist University Found in Violation of Title IX, Commits to Remedy Harassment, Sexual Assault of Students

December 11, 2014

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today that it has entered into a resolution agreement with Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas after finding SMU in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for its response to gender-based and sexual harassment, including sexual assault. The agreement requires the university to take specific steps to come into compliance with Title IX.  SMU is a private, four-year university with approximately 11,000 students.

“I appreciate Southern Methodist University’s strong commitment in this agreement to provide a safe and supportive educational environment for its students,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “I look forward to working with Southern Methodist University in its implementation of the agreement."

Following its investigation, OCR determined that SMU violated Title IX by failing to promptly and equitably respond to student complaints of gender-based harassment and sexual violence, including sexual assault, and to reports of retaliatory harassment.

OCR concluded that the institution’s failure to respond promptly and equitably to  complaints of sexual assault of a male student by another male student and of subsequent retaliatory harassment from other students resulted in a continued sexually hostile environment for the male victim, ultimately leading to the student’s withdrawal from the university.  The office also found that SMU’s sexual harassment and sexual violence policies and its nondiscrimination notice do not comply with Title IX requirements.

During the course of the probe, SMU took steps to proactively address the issue of sexual violence on campus. In 2013, the school implemented new and improved “interim” sexual harassment policies and procedures.  It adopted the recommendations of a new Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures covering grievance policies, sexual misconduct reporting procedures, outreach about sexual misconduct prevention and resources, and education and training of students and parents.  

Through this agreement, SMU commits to take the following specific actions:

  • Revise and, following OCR review and approval, finalize its “interim” Title IX grievance procedures to comply with Title IX.
  • Report to OCR on SMU’s ongoing implementation of the Task Force recommendations, including those requiring: the creation of a pocket-sized card for all SMU employees with information about how to support students who report sexual misconduct and a checklist for staff members who may meet with a student to outline their rights and the resources available; clearer protections against retaliation; and the development of bystander intervention training.
  • Develop and implement a procedure for sharing information between the SMU Police Department and the Title IX coordinator.
  • Notify students and employees about the university’s Title IX coordinators and their contact information in its nondiscrimination notice, as well as in other publications and notices.
  • Track harassment reports, investigations, interim measures, and resolutions.
  • Train staff and students on the revised university policies and procedures.
  • Conduct annual climate assessments to inform future proactive steps to be taken by SMU.
  • Review sexual harassment/violence complaints and reports of sexual harassment/violence filed during and since 2012-2013 to determine whether the institution investigated each complaint or report promptly and equitably and, following OCR review and approval of SMU’s proposed response, take action to address any problems identified.
  • Provide reimbursement for one student for university-related expenses and counseling.

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here, and the agreement is posted here.

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 details on how OCR handles civil rights cases, please click here.