The University of Virginia entered into a settlement Monday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights after a four-year long investigation, changing the way the school handles reports of sexual violence and harassment, officials said Monday.
OCR began investigating UVa. in 2011 because of the university’s “mixed record” of responding to sexual violence and harassment complaints, and for failing to satisfy its obligations under Title IX, which require providing support to purported rape victims.
UVa. President Teresa Sullivan noted that the school has already implemented some of the measures listed in the settlement agreement.
“By signing the resolution agreement, we have reaffirmed our commitment to continue taking steps we believe to be an important part of effective responses to sexual harassment and assault — urgent and complex societal issues of national importance that are challenging institutions of higher education and beyond,” Ms. Sullivan said in a statement released Monday.
Before today’s settlement, there were 106 higher education institutions under investigation by OCR, but the national media shined a light on the UVA probe in November after Rolling Stone magazine published the now retracted story, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.”
The story focused on a college freshman named “Jackie” who told the magazine that UVA officials discouraged her from telling police she was gang-raped. The article created a national outcry, and immediately prompted hostile campus protests including a violent attack on the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house where the purported gang rape occurred.
In the November Rolling Stone piece, OCR Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon was quoted as sharply criticizing UVa.’s handling of Jackie’s “rape” — a stark contrast to her comments on Monday in which the Department of Education official praised Ms. Sullivan’s “continuing commitment to comprehensive work to assure a safe learning environment.”
The Rolling Stone article is currently the subject of two libel lawsuits in federal court.
Nicole Eramo, a UVa. dean and administrator filed a $7.5 million libel suit in a Charlottesville-based U.S. District Court in May, and three Phi Kappa Psi fraternity members sued the magazine in a New York-based U.S. District Court in July.
According to the OCR statement, “during academic years 2008-09 through 2011-12, and with respect to three specific concerns identified after the 2011-12 academic year, OCR found UVA to be in violation of Title IX for failing to promptly and equitably respond to certain complaints of sexual violence, including in instances in which the university did not promptly investigate information in cases that involved fraternities. OCR also found a basis for a hostile environment for the affected students and that the university failed to take sufficient steps to eliminate a hostile environment and prevent its recurrence for the portion of the investigation that OCR completed.”
As part of its settlement agreement, UVa. has agreed to develop and implement a tracking system for all reports involving alleged sexual violence and harassment, provide related training to all members of the UVa. community and submit all such complaints and university responses to OCR for review.