University of Chicago's Sexual Assault Policy Under Investigation

The University of Chicago is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for its possible breach of the sex-based discrimination law, Title IX.

After a student filed a formal complaint with the OCR last March, reports the Chicago Maroon, the Department will dig into the University’s record regarding sexual misconduct and that includes reviewing university records as well as chatting with staff and student groups. Here's part of how the University ended up here:

Fourth-year Olivia Ortiz filed the original complaint on the claim that the University had mishandled disciplinary procedures after she was sexually assaulted by her then-partner, who has since graduated, over the course of the 2011–2012 academic year. OCR accepted her case in June 2013, based both on the content of Ortiz’s original complaint and on the Maroon Sexual Assault Investigative series from fall 2012, which was cited in the original complaint.

In Ortiz’s case, she says she went to Dean of Students Susan Art about her assault and Art suggested an “informal mediation,” which brings the accuser and the accused into the same room to talk through the incident. Obviously chatting with their alleged accuser is the last thing any victim ever wants to do, but that very suggestion is prohibited by Title IX. Elsewhere, Art seems to remember the situation differently.

Art categorized the accusation of assault as a “dispute between students,” according to Ortiz and the original complaint filed by Ortiz’s attorney. However, in an e-mail sent to Ortiz in November 2012 following a Maroon article, Art stated that her “recollection of our conversation was quite different” and invited Ortiz for a follow-up conversation, which Ortiz declined.

Reportedly, the investigation isn’t based solely on Ortiz’s case, and it's unclear what else may have spurred the probe.

On Monday, OCR attorneys hosted a focus group, asking the University's anti–sexual violence student groups about their school’s “climate of sexual violence” as well as the disciplinary steps victims must take to identify and accuse their attackers.

Lawyers refused to specify whether the University of Chicago is or is not in compliance with Title IX, just that their research will be published later in a “letter of findings.”

On the other hand, the University says it has made compliance with Title IX a priority but will take any and all of OCR’s findings into account for future action. The OCR investigation will last nearly six months and the University of Chicago has promised to implement a new disciplinary process by July 1.

Image via University of Chicago.