Why U.Va. was found in violation of Title IX, and what has been done since

New policy, new hires, new University office led to "resolved" complaint

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights found the University to be in violation of Title IX regulations from the 2008-09 to 2011-12 academic years and in two cases during 2013 and 2014, according to a September 2015 report.

Since 2011, the University has operated within three different policies outlining procedures for handling complaints of sexual assault or harassment. The Sexual Misconduct Policy was in place from July 2011 to March 2015. An interim policy was adopted from March 2015 to July 2015 until the Policy on Sexual and Gender-based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence was enacted in July 2015.

The report found the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy did not provide for the “prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee complaints in violation of Title IX.” More specifically, the informal resolution process under this policy was found to be inequitable to both the complainant and accused parties as it allowed for sanctioning based on admission without conducting an independent investigation.

The report also found some cases addressed through the formal resolution process were not handled promptly and equitably, and the University failed to handled promptly and equitably “many” reports of sexual violence not filed as formal complaints during the 2008-12 academic years and in two cases from 2013-14.

The results of the federal investigation came 10 months after the publication of the Nov. 19 Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus,” which depicted the University as an ineffective in disciplining students in cases of alleged sexual assault. The article has since been retracted.

The University entered into a formal agreement with the OCR on Sept. 17. It said it would continue to implement steps to address sexual assault and harassment, and would also implement specific steps to remedy areas of noncompliance.

While OCR will “monitor closely” the University's progress, “based on the commitments the University has made in the Agreement, OCR has determined that it is appropriate to consider this complaint resolved,” according to the report.

Among other provisions, the agreement requires the University to make explicit to student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, that they may be cut from University affiliation if they do not maintain agreements prohibiting “sexual violence, sexual harassment, and retaliation.”

After suspending all Greek social activity in the wake of the Rolling Stone article, the University required fraternities sign onto new Fraternal Organization Agreements stipulating stricter policies about alcohol consumption and alcohol safety.

Also addressed in the resolution agreement is OCR’s finding that the University did not comply with Title IX between 2008-12 because “the Title IX Coordinator did not adequately coordinate and oversee all Title IX complaints with regard to employees.” Last summer, the University hired Kelley Hodge as the University’s first full-time Title IX coordinator.

Another new hire, Assistant Vice President for Equal Opportunity Programs Catherine Spear, has been working with Hodge on addressing such complaints, President Teresa Sullivan said.

“We also have issues that come up among employees,” Sullivan said. “This new office takes care of complaints one employee makes against another employee, that a student makes against an employee, that a student makes against another student. It’s an office that can handle all of those.”

Starting last year, the University has also made structural changes to who handles complaints and cases of sexual assault, moving the job out of the Vice President for Student Affairs Office and into a separate office, Sullivan said.

“One reason for this is the appearance of a conflict of interest if you have one office at the University that takes your complaint, provides you with counseling, then investigates your complaint, runs a judicial hearing, and [deals] out punishment,” Sullivan said. “In effect, we were asking that office to be all things to all people.”

The new office will investigate complaints and make recommendations which will be heard by a panel that will then decide on an appropriate sanction, Sullivan said.

New training and prevention programs have been implemented for both students and employees, including awareness campaigns such as Not on Our Grounds and #HOOSGotYourBack, as well as bystander education program Green Dot.

The University formed the President’s Ad Hoc Group on University Climate and Culture in December 2014. The group serves as an advisory body to the president and “explore[s] policies, practices, and organizational structure” to foster the safety and wellbeing of students while providing a strong education.

OCR cited the University’s current policy on sexual harassment as compliant with Title IX regulations but stated the University will still have to submit documentation in the future to prove its continued compliance, including all reports by students alleging sexual harassment and violence starting with the 2014-15 academic year and the University’s response to these reports.

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