Dear Colleague Letter

The Department of Education- Office of Civil Rights

April 4, 2011

Dear Colleague:

Education has long been recognized as the great equalizer in America. The U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) believe that providing all students with an educational environment free from discrimination is extremely important. The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq., and its implementing regulations, 34 C.F.R. Part 106, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance. Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. In order to assist recipients, which include school districts, colleges, and universities (hereinafter “schools” or “recipients”) in meeting these obligations, this letter explains that the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual harassment also cover sexual violence, and lays out the specific Title IX requirements applicable to sexual violence.

To  read the Full Letter Click Here


University Of New Mexico Often Mishandled Sexual Violence Cases, DOJ Finds

A federal investigation finds incompetence dealing with sexual assault and harassment in multiple departments at the public university.

04/22/2016 02:44 pm ET | Updated Apr 24, 2016
Tyler KingkadeSenior Editor/Reporter, The Huffington Post

University of New Mexico President Robert Frank speaks on campus in Albuquerque, N.M. He did not say that the university failed on sexual assault, despite a damning DOJ report.

The University of New Mexico failed to comply with federal law in handling sexual assault and harassment cases, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found.

The results of the federal inquiry, released Friday, paint a picture of significant incompetence on the part of UNM, in multiple offices.

“Our findings reveal how a flawed system for responding to sexual assault fails all those involved,” Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s civil rights division, said in a statement, “from victims seeking adequate protection, to accused students demanding fair hearings, to faculty looking for clear instruction.”

While the U.S. Department of Education has ramped up probes of how colleges handle sexual assaults in recent years, with more than 200 such investigations currently opening, a Justice Department inquiry is rare. The last one completed at a higher education institution was a joint investigation with the Education Department at the University of Montana, but that one also looked at how local police and prosecutors handled cases.

Colleges and universities are required under the gender equity law Title IX to respond to reports of sexual assault and harassment.

The DOJ investigation at UNM, in Albuquerque, began on Dec. 5, 2014, and looked at cases handled over a six-year period.

During much of that time, UNM had no written protocol on how long it should take with investigations, and cases often took twice as long to resolve as the 60-day timeframe recommended by the U.S. Department of Education. Both complainants and respondents were often not told about delays or why things were taking so long, the DOJ said.

“The United States found that after UNM received an allegation of sexual harassment, effective follow-through procedures were largely absent, both during [Office of Equal Opportunity]’s investigative period and after it issued findings,” the DOJ report said. “In addition, UNM does not have established protocols to ensure that information regarding investigations and findings are effectively conveyed to other departments and divisions on campus.”

In one case, the university’s own admissions office did not know that an undergrad applying for graduate school was currently under investigation for sexual misconduct, the report said.

Vanita Gupta, the head of Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said UNM did not comply with federal law in handling sexual violence.

Further problematic was that until the DOJ investigation, the OEO, which handled sexual assault investigations, reported to the office of the university’s general counsel.

“This management structure created a conflict between OEO’s stated goal of eliminating and redressing harassment and OUC’s role in limiting the University’s liability,” the DOJ said.

Interim sanctions were inconsistent, according to the DOJ report. Sometimes they suggested against a temporary suspension because there was so much heat on the accused that school assumed the accused wouldn’t be a threat to anyone. But in another matter, the DOJ said, “UNM suspended the respondent from campus during the pendency of the investigation, but told him that he could continue with his course work at home. However, no arrangement was made for him to take his tests off campus, and respondent did not know who to reach out to for assistance. As a result, he dropped all his classes and lost a semester of course work.”

Students speaking with federal investigators accused campus police of gender bias, saying officers questioned victims about why they didn’t do more to fight off their attackers or lectured them on why young women should not drink in public, the report said. UNM cops often believed at “face-level” the accused students’ claims that victims consented and rarely challenged them, federal investigators found.

University administrators had similar sentiments, the DOJ said, sometimes describing victims as “lonely” or “clingy.” In interviews, “University officials made several statements placing blame with students who are assaulted, reflecting a significant lack of understanding about the dynamics of sexual assault.”

The DOJ will now require UNM to provide better and clearer information about reporting options for sexual violence, and disclose more details to students and staff on where to go for assistance or to begin grievance procedures. The university will also have to revise policies, procedures and investigative practices to ensure “prompt and equitable resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations.”

In a statement Friday, UNM President Robert G. Frank disputed the DOJ report. He didn’t explain what specifically was wrong with it, other than to say it was a “brief snapshot in time.”

“While we respect the efforts of the DOJ, we believe its report is an inaccurate and incomplete picture of our university,” Frank said.

While colleges are required under federal law to handle sexual assault reports from students, Frank complained that the school is being asked to do too much.

“Universities like UNM face the unattainable goal of stopping campus sexual assault. We are asked to be investigators and adjudicators of incredibly complex situations that typically involve alcohol or drugs, and frequently occur off our campus,” Frank said. “The reality is that federal regulations hold us to a higher standard than any city, any police department, or any court system, even though our primary mission is to provide  high quality education, health care, and research. And we are asked to do it all without any additional financial support.”

He did not acknowledge in his statement that the university did anything wrong.

Read the entire letter of findings from the investigation: 





Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter who covers higher education and sexual violence and is based in New York. You can reach him at, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

4 Questions You Need to Ask Your Future College Before You Go There


APR 28, 2016 1:53PM EDT

This piece is part of Not Your Fault, a Teen Vogue campaign that aims to educate people about the epidemic of sexual assault. For more on this series, click here.

Now that college acceptances have been given out, there’s a lot to think about before deciding where you’re going to spend the next four years: What’s the professor-to-student ratio? Is the food any good? Do people live on campus all four years? And, of course, how is campus safety — especially as it relates to sexual violence?

We’ve all heard the grim stats: One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted during their college years. While a school’s policies on sexual violence may not be something that you’d thought about when applying, they’re definitely worth adding to your decision-making criteria — both for your own well-being and safety, as well as for pushing the school to address any problems with how it handles sexual violence.

The recent “Unacceptable Acceptance Letters” campaign made this statement loud and clear through a video, which shows students opening acceptance letters filled with disturbing statements about the reality of campus rape, such as: “Prepare for a challenging year ahead which includes losing your virginity to a rapist.” It includes a call to action for accepted students to sign a petition demanding accountability.

So as you make the exciting, monumental decision about where you’re going to go to college, here are a few key questions to keep in mind.

How does the school educate students about its sexual violence policies?

Under Title IX, schools are required to address “hostile environments” created by sexual discrimination, violence, and harassment. Prevention education falls under this umbrella. The 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter from the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, which clarified schools’ obligations for dealing with sexual violence under Title IX, recommends that schools “implement preventive educational programs” and demands that they widely disseminate their grievance procedures. However, schools aren’t required to make their prevention programs mandatory.

According to a recent study by the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Research Center, in order to really understand a school’s rules and policies and put them into practice, students need to be forced to “process and practice them.” In other words: Emailing an educational video around to the student body during orientation is not enough. For instance, if there is a required reading of the school’s policies, it should be followed by a facilitated discussion.

You should also check and see if the sexual violence prevention training the school provides is mandatory, and if any trainings are held beyond freshman year. “A lot of campuses just do [a prevention program] during orientation or that first week of school, when a lot of students are away from home for the very first time,” says Sharyn Potter, associate professor of sociology and co-director of UNH’s Prevention Innovations Research Center. “They’re trying to figure out how to buy books and how to get to classes, and to throw this message in, it’s going to be lost. I’d want to know how, when, where they’re doing [the prevention program], and is it mandatory?”

What is the school’s record?

Yes, it’s true that the Clery Act requires schools to report campus crime statistics, and those numbers are searchable through an online database. But keep in mind that those numbers are a small part of the story. The definition of “on campus” varies by institution, and the assault numbers included in that data are only cases that are reported to campus authorities.

“What we know is the majority of students who are sexually assaulted are going to disclose to a friend or roommate and not go to an authority,” Sharyn says. But it’s still worth researching a school to see if there have been any major cases and how they handled them. That can be as easy as doing an online search for the name of the school and “campus sexual assault” to see what comes up.

Will you get in trouble if you report an assault that occurred in an environment of underage drinking?

It’s important to know whether or not the school offers amnesty in these situations — meaning students breaking school rules, such as drinking while underage or taking drugs at the time of their assault, are immune from punishment for those offenses when they report.

What resources does the campus offer survivors, and how does the school handle perpetrators?

Obviously, the hope is that nothing happens while you’re on campus. But if it does, it’s good to know what the school offers in terms of support for survivors — both personally, and in moving forward with the adjudication process should they decide they’d like to pursue justice. According to SAFER, an organization that strengthens student-led movements to combat sexual violence, beyond fulfilling federally mandated Title IX requirements, good school policies include: Offering 24/7 crisis services every day of the school year, unlimited, free long-term counseling for survivors, and sexual assault response training for staff and faculty. (You can see its definition of a good college policy here.) You’ll want to see if you can easily find these resources on the school’s website.

Regarding perpetrators, other questions to consider include: Are the perpetrators expelled? Does the school enforce no-contact orders, so that the person who assaulted you can’t be in your dorm or in your class?

Also important: Gauge how open students, administrators, and staff are to your questions about sexual assault policies and prevention. Are they willing to talk about these issues? You’ll want to choose a school that listens to its current — and prospective! — students.

Related: Campus Sexual Assault Is an Epidemic — But What Are We Doing About It?

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN, End Rape on Campus, Know Your IX, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.