That Was Quick: Feds to Investigate Occidental for Sexual Assault

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced last night that it will investigate allegations that Occidental College didn't respond appropriately and effectively to multiple claims of sexual harassment and sexual violence on the Los Angeles-based campus.

The OCR's response — Oxy's Sexual Assault Coalition just submitted a 250-page complaint in mid-April — is one of the fastest in Title IX history, thanks to the work of student/survivor activists who've formed a national network to help each other challenge impossibly inept administrations and spread awareness that — NEWSFLASH — sexual assault on college campuses is A Thing. (We know people are paying attention because Law & Order recently ran a predictably sensationalized episode essentially clipped from the headlines of Jezebel's "rape rape" tag and the always on-trend Gloria Allred is taking on Oxy's case. America!)

From the OCR’s letter to two professors who are the lead complainants (via Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition):

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  • Students at the College have been subjected to sexual harassment and sexual violence by other students and a College staff member, and the College has filed to respond appropriately and effectively to notice of the sexual harassment and sexual violence.
  • The College has failed to respond adequately to internal complaints filed by students alleging that students had been subjected to sexual harassment and sexual violence, dating back to the 2010-2011 academic year.
  • Students who have filed complaints with the College regarding sexual harassment and sexual violence have been subjected to intimidation and retaliation by College administrators and by other students, including further sexual harassment by other students, and the College has failed to respond appropriately and effectively to notice of the intimidation and retaliation.
  • Employees and students who have advocated that the College change its policies and procedures with respect to preventing and responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence have been retaliated against by administrators at the College.
  • The College’s consistent failure to respond adequately to complaints by students of sexual harassment and sexual violence has created a hostile environment on campus on the basis of sex.
  • The College has not adopted and published grievance procedures providing for the prompt and equitable resolutions of complaints of sex discrimination, including sexual assault and sexual violence.

"We are grateful to the original 37 (now 42) individuals who bravely shared their experiences of sexual harassment, sexual battery, sexual assault, rape, and retaliation at Occidental College with OSAC in order to seek justice when the institution failed them," the OSACoalition wrote.

This is a great development, but let's not get too excited yet; remember the federal investigation that's still going on in Missoula? Last April, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would investigate allegations of harassment against University of Montana's football team. The Department of Justice announced an investigation into how the University of Montana campus police (along with the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office) handled sexual assault reports. Eventually, the two investigations were lumped into one, and The Missoulian recently reported that both are still ongoing.

As I reported last May when I visited Missoula, the federal investigation was and is a good start (and will still hopefully help the university and the city more effectively report sexual assaults in tandem) but the real problem is widespread rape culture — that's hardly specific to Missoula or the University of Montana, which didn't have a higher rate of sexual assault than other colleges of its size at the time the investigation was announced. But, a year later, the climate really does seem to have changed thanks to the student activists who've linked themselves together by filing complaints that are (finally!) garnering national attention.

"The Department of Education launching an investigation into Oxy's treatment of survivors indicates a greater trend into how serious our national problem is," IX Network organizer Andrea Pino told Jezebel. Pino said Oxy is very different than the University of North Carolina, where she's a rising senior who helped file a recent complaint against the University for violating the Clery Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other laws. "Our network is mobilizing...it is with our combined effort that we are changing the conversation and reclaiming Title IX."

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]