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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is making visits to Harvard’s campus to investigate the College’s adherence to anti-sex discrimination law Title IX, according to two members of the student activist group that filed the complaint that precipitated the probe last spring.
Emily M. Fox-Penner ’17 and Jessica R. Fournier ’17, organizers for the student activist group Our Harvard Can Do Better, said they met with two OCR investigators responsible for the College investigation on campus on Sept. 10.
At that meeting, according to Fournier, the investigators—who she identified as Jane Lopez and Olga Benjamin—said they had spent the summer reviewing files from Harvard’s handling of past sexual assault cases and planned to begin reaching out to students for interviews as part of the investigation.
Fox-Penner and a second, unnamed undergraduate filed a complaint with the federal government on behalf of a larger group of students in March, alleging that the College’s sexual assault policies violated Title IX. OCR opened its investigation into the issue in April.
When reached by phone last week, Lopez declined to comment on the investigation, instead referring a reporter to Jim Bradshaw, a Department of Education spokesperson. Bradshaw did not respond to a request for comment this week, but in a separate statement in early September, he declined to comment on the status of the investigation at the College. That statement cited a May press release that said the Department of Education would not disclose any specific facts about OCR investigations until their resolution.
University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides, who has not spoken with The Crimson on the record in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation. University spokesperson Jeff Neal, meanwhile, wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard expects OCR to “speak with various administrators” as part of its “usual process,” but citing confidentiality rules, did not comment further. In an interview last week, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said OCR had not contacted him about the investigation.
According to the Department of Education’s website, OCR’s investigatory process may include reviewing evidence submitted by the complainant and the school, conducting interviews with both parties, and making on-campus visits. If an OCR investigation determines that the school is not in compliance with federal regulations, OCR will attempt to enter a “voluntary resolution agreement” with the school to resolve the issues. If the school refuses to enter such an agreement, OCR will begin the process of withholding federal funds from the school.
Fox-Penner and Fournier said they provided Lopez and Benjamin with a list of suggested student organizations—BGLTQ-affiliated and cultural groups, among others—to interview. They said OCR will likely speak with other students as well.
OCR opened its investigation into the College’s Title IX compliance just days after University President Drew G. Faust said Harvard had submitted a revised sexual assault policy to OCR for review. Harvard implemented its revised policy—the University’s first that applies across all schools—this summer, before receiving official approval from OCR.
The federal government’s inquiry into the College’s Title IX compliance overlaps with efforts to get Harvard’s new policy up and running. The University is also currently under investigation for a separate Title IX complaint, which was filed against the Law School in 2010.
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