Freedom of Information Act requests sent to fifteen public colleges and universitiesRichmond, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has asked public colleges and universities in the state to provide information related to their schools’ campus sexual assault policies, procedures and practices in an effort to determine their compliance with Title IX.
The information request comes more than a year after the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education (OCR) sent colleges and universities a “Dear Colleague” letter to explain that under Title IX—a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding – schools and colleges receiving federal funds have a legal obligation to protect students from gender-based violence and harassment, including sexual assault.
“Sexual assault on college campuses is all too common,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastañaga. “Nationally, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college. We need to ensure that colleges are doing their part to address sexual violence and harassment. Students in Virginia deserve to know if their schools are in compliance with federal civil rights law.”
“OCR’s letter sent in April 2011 provided clear advice to colleges and universities on ways to revise their disciplinary proceedings,” said Katherine Greenier, Director of the ACLU of Virginia’s Women’s Rights Project. “We’ll be working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance to review campus policies to ensure they follow OCR’s directives so that students will be encouraged to report incidents of sexual harassment and feel schools have their best interests in mind.”
Among other things, the OCR letter advised lowering the standard of proof applied in disciplinary proceedings so it is not a barrier that prevents victims of sexual assault from coming forward. Also, if school personnel become aware that a student has experienced sexual harassment or violence, schools are required to investigate the complaint promptly, even if the police are doing a separate investigation. Finally, schools must keep victims apprised of the investigation and inform them of how to appeal the schools’ findings.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter can be found online at https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/20121114TitleIXFOIA.pdf
The information requests were sent to fifteen institutions of higher education: Christopher Newport University, College of the William and Mary, George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood University, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, Radford University, University of Mary Washington, University of Virginia, University of Virginia at Wise, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia State University, and Virginia Tech.
ACLU of Virginia Contacts: Claire Gastañaga or Katherine Greenier, 804/644-8022