ADEA Washington Update

Sexual Assault on Campuses in the Federal Spotlight

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As part of its continuing effort to publicize the problem of sexual assaults at U.S. colleges and universities, the Department of Education (ED) has released a list of 55 higher education institutions under investigation for possible violations of Title IX, due to their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on gender in any educational institution that receives federal financial assistance, including those with pre-doctoral, allied and advanced dental education programs.

An institution’s appearance on the list does not mean the school has been found in violation but simply that an investigation is ongoing, said ED’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Catherine Lhamon. The department plans to keep the list updated and make it available in an effort to bring more transparency to its enforcement work.

In January, the White House responded to growing awareness of campus sexual violence by establishing the Task Force to Protect Students Against Sexual Assault. The task force put out its first report two days before the release of the list of higher education institutions under investigation. The report contained several concrete steps and recommendations, including a model confidentiality report, a toolkit to conduct a campus climate survey and a checklist schools can use to draft a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy. 

The federal effort to combat sexual assault on campus is also supported by the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which imposed new requirements for campus sexual violence policies at colleges and universities receiving federal dollars. ADEA overviewed these policies as they relate to dental schools and institutions supporting allied dental programs in a recent memo. Such policies include adding domestic violence, dating violence and stalking to the list of crimes a school must report. VAWA requires schools to offer new students and new employees programs that enhance awareness of rape and acquaintance rape, domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. 

In April, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) initiated a survey of 350 colleges across the country to inquire how they handle rapes and sexual assaults on campus. In May, McCaskill then held the first of three roundtables designed to examine the practices and protocols academic institutions have in place to protect students and enforce laws when alleged crimes occur. The findings from these efforts will be used to inform legislative remedies, including institutional eligibility for Title IV federal loan programs, to improve enforcement of Title IX and VAWA.

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