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IU responds to being cleared in multiple federal Title IX reviews

IU officials say they are ready to take on the obligations set forth by the Department of Education in an agreement IU signed last week. 

The agreement comes following the resolution of multiple federal investigations into IU’s sexual misconduct policies, the first of which dates back to 2014. 

IU Title IX coordinator Emily Springston said IU is already doing what the agreement asks of the University. She said IU will continue its sexual misconduct response and education efforts.

“This doesn’t create more work,” Springston said.

While last week's resolution stated IU-Bloomington’s involvement in this agreement did not reflect any wrongdoing found in the DOE’s review of University policy, Provost Lauren Robel said IU would continue to review sexual misconduct policy.

“We take these issues very seriously and will continue to provide rigorous education and training as we work to create a safe campus environment,” Robel said in an email to IU students, faculty and staff.

The five investigations included a compliance review initiated by the Office of Civil Rights and four individual complaints against the University, Springston said. The four individual complaints came after the compliance review began. The OCR conducts compliance reviews to determine if a university's sexual misconduct policies are in line with federal guidance. 

IU Students Respond

Hailey Rial, a junior at IU-Purdue Fort Wayne, filed one of those complaints in 2016, accusing the University of mishandling her case. Last week she received an email from the OCR with an attached 14-page resolution letter for her complaint.

Rial reported being sexually assaulted at a fraternity party her first year at IU. Overwhelmed with IU's investigation of her report, she dropped out of classes in Bloomington and moved home to South Bend. The University found the man she accused of the assault not responsible. 

That same school year, Rial filed a formal complaint against the University with the OCR. 

Rial said when she got the email, she called her mom because she wanted her to be there when she opened it. The outcome was a disappointment. 

According to the letter, the OCR determined there wasn’t enough evidence that the University mishandled her case.

“It felt like a slap in the face,” Rial said. “It felt like they were just siding with the University.”

After doing an interview with the Indianapolis Star on her complaint against IU, Rial said a student from a state university who was thinking about making a complaint against her own school reached out to her. 

“I’m more likely to tell them to not do anything and just go on with their lives,” Rial said. 

Rial, now engaged and expecting her first child, said she isn’t sure she’ll continue to pursue justice from the University. Now, she said she just wants the University to acknowledge that survivors felt targeted.

“I would like to see IU give a formal apology to all survivors,” Rial said.

Karis Neufeld, a senior and former president of Raising Awareness of Interactions in Sexual Encounters, said it is somewhat of a relief to finally have a reading from the OCR on this issue but said there are many students who feel that they are still not being treated in a way that is sensitive to what their experience has been.

RAISE is a student-led organization which supports survivors of sexual assault and advocates on their behalf, Neufeld said. 

“Although we support IU, we cannot forget these cases,” said an official statement from RAISE sent in an email. “It is essential that we hold IU accountable for their previous failures to adequately address sexual assault cases on behalf of the survivor and support ongoing efforts to hold perpetrators responsible for any sexual misconduct. We will continue to advocate for survivors and monitor the University's actions and policies regarding the reporting and handling of reported incidents.”

The University's Response

The federal resolution, only seven pages long, is broken down into two parts. The first covers sexual misconduct training and education, and the second covers the “working groups,” or committees, the University is required to organize to study IU's practices of sexual assault training, education and prevention.

The working group section is broken down into a general “Working Group” and a more specific “Greek Working Group.”

Springston said IU was already providing student and employee training and education. Responsible employees, meaning all instructors, student affairs administrators, advisors, residence hall staff, coaches and athletic staff are required to complete online training, according to IU’s annual Title IX report from the Office of Student Welfare & Title IX. More than 100 in-person training sessions for employees were completed as well. 

According to IU's Stop Sexual Violence website, new IU students have to complete online drug and alcohol training taught in the context of sexual assault training, and students who participate in new student orientation watch a short, live musical which touches on themes of sexual misconduct. Freshman students are also expected to complete a two-hour bystander intervention program called “It’s on Us: Alcohol and Consent.”

By June 30, 2018, IU will have to report its review of these training and education programs and describe the content of the trainings to the OCR.

Springston said IU will use its Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Coalition to fulfill the obligation of forming working groups, which requires IU to identify areas of concern where sexual misconduct may be prevalent and suggest changes to existing plans for response and prevention.

Springston said the OCR acknowledges IU already has this existing structure and the University will just have to report back to the OCR with how their working groups are reviewing policy and fulfilling the OCR's obligations. 

The greek working group is meant to look at issues of sexual misconduct specifically within the greek system.

Robel created a task force to address the special challenges created by IU’s large greek system before the resolution agreement was issued, she said in her email to students, faculty and staff regarding the resolution.

The University will look at a smaller group that focuses on sexual misconduct to see if it complements the work of the task force Robel mentioned in her email, Springston said.

Springston said there are challenges inherent to the greek community, including sexual misconduct, that the task force was designed to work on.

Rial said she thought the working groups were a good idea but is concerned that the groups won’t do anything after investigating IU’s policy, much like how her complaint was investigated, but no change came from its resolution.

In addition to the greek working group, Springston said IU has already reached out to two people who don't work for IU to use as outside consultants to the group. 

IU will submit a report by Aug. 31, 2018, according to the resolution agreement, to address its steps taken to strengthen efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault. OCR representatives may also visit IU to interview staff and students, as well as request additional reports, until IU has fulfilled the obligations of the compliance agreement.

“The standard of not doing anything unlawful is a little bit of a low bar,” Neufeld said.

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