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Harvard Still Facing Three Federal Probes Into Its Compliance With Title IX

University Hall
University Hall.

Harvard continues to face three separate federal investigations into its compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX more than four years after the first complaint was filed.

In 2014, two College students filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging that the College’s sexual assault policies at the time violated Title IX, which underlies the University's guidelines for investigating and adjudicating allegations of sexual misconduct.

Since the 2014 filing, the University has overhauled its approach to sexual assault prevention and response on campus — changing its policies and separating its Title IX Office, which provides resources and education, from its Office for Dispute Resolution, which investigates formal Title IX complaints.

The Crimson reported in 2017 that — on top of the 2014 complaint — there aretwo other ongoing federal investigations into Harvard’s compliance with Title IX: one probe into the College that officials launched in 2016,and one probe into the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences that the government opened in 2017.

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The federal government opened the 2016 investigation based on a complaint from an individual who claimed the College discriminated against him on the basis of sex during its efforts to addressa sexual assault complaint in which he was involved.

The specific date of the sexual assault claim in question was redacted from documents provided by the Department of Education, as were many identifying details about the individuals involved. It isunclear whether the filer was the complainant or respondent in Harvard’s Title IX probe.

The 2017 investigation is also examining concerns about promptness and equity in a Harvardinvestigation into a different sexual assault allegation, though it includes separate accusations against GSAS, too. That complaint also charged that the University failed to appoint a Title IX coordinator to oversee compliance with Title IX and failed to publish notices of non-discrimination.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said OCR does not discuss the details of its ongoing investigations.

When The Crimson initially reported on the contents of the 2016 and 2017 investigations, a University spokesperson said Harvard responds “fairly and purposefully to allegations of sexual assault among its students, faculty, and staff.”

Much has changed since the federal government opened these investigations — at Harvard and on the national stage. Harvard has expanded its training efforts around sexual misconduct and has hired additional Title IX coordinators since 2014. Even as Harvard has strengthened its programming around Title IX, enforcement of the law at the federal level remains in flux. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era policy guidelines that underlay Harvard’s Title IX policies and procedures in September 2017.

Harvard’s central Title IX administrators pledged at the time to uphold the University’s current policies and procedures anyway — but new federal Title IX policies she is reportedly considering could compel Harvard to change its approach to addressing sexual assault and harassment, according to legal experts.

The nationwide climate around sexual misconduct has also shifted as the #MeToo movement has taken off and encouraged women to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment. Harvard saw an uptick in reports of sexual misconduct last fall after the cultural movement began.

Despite changes in the University’s policies and procedures since the 2014 investigation began, students have continued to call on Harvard to do more to prevent and address instances of sexual misconduct.

Our Harvard Can Do Better, an anti-sexual assault advocacy group, has been particularly vocal. Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19, a member of the group, wrote in an email this week that the group has “repeatedly” sought a meeting with new University President Lawrence S. Bacow to discuss Title IX.

“As of this writing, we have received no response from President Bacow,” she wrote.

University Spokesperson Melodie Jackson wrote in an email that Bacow has met with “a wide range of students and looks forward to meeting those focused on the important work of addressing and preventing sexual assault and harassment.”

“The safety and well-being of our community remains the University’s top priority,” Jackson wrote. “We have worked hard in recent years to develop strong policies and procedures, to significantly expand our training and prevention efforts, to increase the support services available to our community members, and to raise awareness of them across campus.”

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.

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