Occidental didn't respond promptly to sexual assault cases, feds say
The U.S. Department of Education reached an agreement with Occidental College Thursday after finding the Los Angeles school didn't respond promptly to several sexual assault cases in the 2012-2013 academic year.
Investigators concluded that aside from those cases, the small, private liberal arts college did not violate federal civil rights statutes.
"Where we had concerns, Occidental leaders committed to taking appropriate steps to ensure student safety," said Catherine Lhamon, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights.
In a letter to Occidental's president, Office of Civil Rights chief attorney Laura Faer noted the three cases that took too long to resolve in 2012-13 occurred under a prior campus policy. But she said there are still concerns about timeliness because Occidental's current policy for handling complaints allows for resolutions that "could extend well beyond 60 days."
She said Occidental has agreed to provide the Office of Civil Rights with complaint files for review to make sure the college provides a prompt response.
Thirty-seven students and alumni filed a federal complaint in 2013 accusing Occidental administrators of violating equal rights standards when dealing with rape, sexual assault and retaliation claims.
The complaint alleged Occidental showed indifference to sexual assault allegations, dragged out investigations, discouraged reporting and gave wrongdoers light punishments.
Gloria Allred, the attorney representing several women who filed the 2013 complaint, commended the students Thursday for coming forward.
"We are proud of those students who understand that Title IX protects them in their right to obtain an education free of rape and sexual assault and that there are remedies if they become victims of sexual violence on campus," she said.
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs that receive federal funding. In 2011, the Department of Education sent a letter to universities advising that sexual harassment and acts of sexual violence are a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.
Under the agreement, Occidental will develop mandatory annual training for staff and faculty on Title IX compliance in responding to complaints. The college will also conduct an annual climate survey and develop policies for review by the Office of Civil Rights.
In announcing the investigation's conclusion, federal officials expressed concern that a recent survey by the college suggests students are not reporting complaints of sexual assault.
Occidental spokesman Jim Tranquada said the college was still reviewing federal findings in detail, but the end of the investigation didn't mean an end to the college's efforts to protect students.
"We have made significant progress in addressing the problem of sexual assault on campus," Occidental President Jonathan Veitch wrote in a letter to students Thursday. "But there is much more that we need to do as a community to encourage survivors to come forward and to change campus culture to prevent sexual assault from occurring."