Northeastern is one of 85 colleges and universities to be investigated by the United States Department of Education (DoE) for Title IX violations in the handling of sexual assault cases on campus. Other schools under investigation include Boston area Harvard College, Boston University and Emerson College, as well as other institutions such as the University of Virginia, all which have been at the forefront of the national conversation of sexual assault.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Helen Sharma, a third-year international affairs and anthropology combined major and president of the Feminist Student Organization (FSO), said. “I think honestly, most schools are under investigation because [of] how the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights are operating right now.”
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities,” according to the DoE Office for Civil Rights. In combination with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Crime Statistics Act of 1990, a federal law that requires institutions to provide up-to-date crime statistics, the two bodies hold schools accountable for accurately reporting all sexual and nonsexual violence on and off campus.
“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a press release on May 1, after a list of 55 investigations of higher education institutions was announced. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.”
Investigation proceedings vary depending on the allegations presented as well as the age of those involved, the size of the administrative structure of the school, state and local laws and past experiences.
Third-year criminal justice major Rowan Cornell is surprised by the investigation, but notes the environment and work the university has put into addressing gender discrimination and sexual assault.
“From what I’ve seen, Northeastern is a great example of the importance of female leadership and equality,” Cornell said. “If the Title IX investigation is about sexual harassment, then I will be not only surprised but very disappointed. I’ve personally met the NEU Campus Police Detectives who deal with student-related sexual assault cases. They seemed extremely competent and far superior to other campus police detectives I’ve encountered at other universities. I’ve also heard from Boston Police that NEU’s Campus Police are very engaged. We always receive emails of crime alerts related to sexual assault, I can’t imagine a student-related rape or sexual assault going un-investigated.”
After an investigation, policy advised can be made towards student-to-student or survivor-to-offender level, but also on a broader university level. According to the Office of Civil Rights, suggestions that can be applied to the broader student population include retraining or training school employees on Title IX responsibilities, distributing materials on sexual violence to all students and conducting bystander intervention and prevention programs.
At Northeastern, Violence Support Intervention and Outreach Network (ViSION) provides some of these solutions, including education and training on sexual assault prevention, access to confidential medical and counseling services, access to legal services and an active bystander intervention program.
If an institution that receives federal fundings found to have violated Title IX and does not come into compliance of requirements voluntarily, federal funding may be revoked or the case can be referred to the Department of Justice for further litigation.
Northeastern administration declined to comment on the matter.
“I think the fact Northeastern is being investigated is a good thing though,” Sharma said. “It’s really forcing the administration to open their eyes to how as a campus and a culture we look at women’s rights and sexual assault, which are very intertwined.”
This piece was originally published by the Huntington News.
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