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University among institutions under review for Title IX compliance

Dept. of Education lists 55 schools whose sexual assault response procedures are being investigated

The University is one of 55 institutions on a list the U.S. Department of Education released on Thursday of schools currently under investigation for possible violations of Title IX, a federal law which outlines, among other things, requirements for universities when responding to complaints about sexual violence.

The Office for Civil Rights, which is conducting the investigations, began its review of the University in 2011, according to Assoc. Dean of Students Nicole Eramo, who chairs the Sexual Misconduct Board.

“Over the course of 2011-2012, the University fully participated in this review — including opening case files, providing extensive interviews with faculty and staff, and providing students for a number of focus groups,” Eramo said in an email. “As of yet, we have not received information regarding OCR’s findings.”

Student Council released a statement following the announcement which said it was disappointed to hear the news, but “partially comforted that our involvement is part of a long-term compliance review ongoing since 2011, and not the result of any new Federal concern about our processes.”

The list, which also includes the College of William & Mary, is part of an effort by the Department of Education to further increase transparency of the government’s enforcement efforts surrounding Title IX compliance.

“As with all OCR investigations, the primary goal of a Title IX investigation is to ensure that the campus is in compliance with federal law, which demands that students are not denied the ability to participate fully in education and other opportunities due to sex,” according to a U.S. Department of Education press release.

The department also released updated guidelines earlier this week as an update to 2011’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which outlines universities’ responsibilities under Title IX when it comes to addressing sexual assault.

“The guidelines provide greater clarity about the requirements of the law around sexual violence — as requested by institutions and students,” according to the press release.

The announcement also comes on the heels of a federal task force created to address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. The task force, launched in January, released a report Tuesday which called for improved response efforts by universities to sexual assault complaints, a renewed focus on engaging men in discussing prevention, increased government transparency and enforcement, and “climate surveys” to better gauge the prevalence of sexual misconduct on college campuses.

The task force also launched a new website last week — “Not Alone” — to serve as a resource for students and schools.

Fourth-year College student Emily Renda, who chairs the Sexual Assault Leadership Council, was one of several students brought on to advise in the creation of the website.

“I think the website was designed largely to help students in particular,” Renda said. “It’s really a resource locator [and acts] as like a hub the government can provide, [allowing students to track] complaints against [their] school and centralizing a lot of resources.”

Renda said students could get to University resources through the federal site, but the University lays out its own resources in a very comprehensive manner.

“The U.Va. website I think is more helpful to U.Va. students,” Renda said. “The federal website really lays out ‘these are your rights.’ … That’s a nice confirmation [for sexual assault survivors].”

Joseph Liss contributed to reporting for this story.