Occidental College Reaches Agreement with Dept. of Ed.

The school voluntarily resolved the investigation before OCR had completed its review.

The U.S. Department of Education announced June 9 that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reached an agreement with Occidental College in Los Angeles to resolve a sexual violence and sexual harassment complaint investigation.

“OCR’s investigation found a campus actively engaged in important work to satisfy Title IX responsibilities for all students,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “Where we had concerns, Occidental leaders committed to taking appropriate steps to ensure student safety. I am grateful for Occidental’s responsiveness during the course of the investigation, as well as its commitment to its students.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Occidental voluntarily resolved the investigation before OCR had completed its review, addressing concerns that arose in the course of the probe. For those issues for which OCR completed review, OCR found insufficient evidence that the college violated Title IX, except with respect to promptness of the college’s review of several cases during the 2012-13 school year.

The investigation did reveal Title IX concerns in some areas, and the college committed moving forward to secure full satisfaction of Title IX.

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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.

The office found insufficient evidence that the college violated Title IX’s requirement to provide an equitable grievance process over the four-year period (2010-2014) OCR examined, but OCR did find that some sexual assault complaints were resolved untimely.

OCR also concluded insufficient evidence of a hostile environment on the basis of sex existed during the time period OCR investigated. Finally, OCR found insufficient evidence that the college engaged in retaliatory conduct against the individual students and faculty who advocated for changes in the college’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures.

However, OCR was concerned about actions by college administrators to discourage students from speaking up about their experiences with sexual violence, indicating that the college’s staff may not be aware of their responsibility to safeguard student speech, along with the Title IX requirement not to interfere with student advocacy. Staff responses to such advocacy can have an impact on whether students and the broader college community feel comfortable speaking about Title IX protections and reporting complaints of sexual harassment and violence.

In addition, OCR is concerned that a recent climate survey conducted by the college suggested that students are not reporting complaints of sexual assault.

Prior to the conclusion of OCR’s investigation, Occidental agreed to take action to resolve all areas of concern and to enter into a voluntary resolution. The college committed to revise its sexual misconduct policy, which the college has already completed to OCR’s satisfaction. Additional terms of the agreement commit the college 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.

A copy of the resolution agreement can be found here. A copy of the letter can be found here.

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