- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Six Massachusetts schools are among 55 colleges nationwide facing federal investigations over their handling of sexual assault complaints, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The six are Amherst College, Boston University, Emerson College, Harvard College, Harvard University Law School, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

The Title IX investigations do not imply the schools have violated the law, said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Department’s Office of Civil Rights. Title IX protects against sex-based discrimination. Violators of the federal law would be in jeopardy of losing federal funds.

“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” Lhamon said, adding that she hopes it will spark dialogue on campuses.

University of Massachusetts-Amherst is being investigated as part of the department’s standard compliance review that began in June 2011. Other schools have had formal complaints filed against them by students.

Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, applauded the federal department’s work.

“We are confident that any information that results from this compliance review will have a direct and positive impact throughout the university,” Gelaye said.

At Amherst College, two students filed complaints to the department in November. Another student wrote in the school newspaper in October 2012 that she had been raped the previous year in an acquaintance’s dorm room. Angie Epifano, who identified herself in the article, said the school did little to resolve the matter and her alleged assailant graduated with honors. She left Amherst at the end of her sophomore year and is now an advocate for sexual assault victims.

Amherst spokeswoman Caroline Hanna responded by saying “a group of articulate and courageous students” came forward in the fall of 2012. “Since then, we have made important changes and will continue to do so,” Hanna said.

At Harvard University’s undergraduate school, Harvard College, multiple students filed complaints that said some students had to live in the same residence buildings as their alleged assailants. In a school newspaper article, one student wrote that a friend she trusted sexually assaulted her in his dorm room. She said she repeatedly asked the school to take action, but it did not.

Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal, speaking for both the college and the law school, said the university takes the issue “extremely seriously” and has “taken a number of steps to foster prevention efforts and to support students who have experienced sexual misconduct.”

Harvard recently created a task force and issued new policy changes, which the federal department will review, that better address sexual assault on campus, Neal said.

At Boston University, a student filed a complaint in October 2013 and said the school did not handle an allegation in a timely or fair manner, but the university disagrees, university spokesman Colin Riley said.

Emerson College spokesman Andy Tiedemann said Thursday the college would not identify the number of complaints made but it has taken several steps to improve policies.