AU Under Investigation

On March 18, The Eagle reported that AU was added to a list of 104 universities undergoing a Title IX investigation for the handling of sexual assault and harassment claims.

The University faces an inquiry that may last years. The results of the investigation are in no way certain, and an investigation does not necessarily mean that there has been any wrongdoing. The investigation will be conducted by the Office for Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of Education.

“OCR cannot provide any case-specific details while a case remains open,” Office for Civil Rights spokesman David Thomas said.

Since the beginning of 2014, there have been nine reported sex offenses at AU.

The University learned of the complaint when the investigation began on March 11, Dean of Students and Title IX Officer Robert Hradsky said.

“We had every intention of notifying the campus community as quickly as we could, so as soon as we were made aware of the complaint, we contacted the Department of Education to get more information,” Hradsky said.

He added that he had not yet seen the complaint as of April 3.  The Eagle has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for both the complaint that sparked the investigation and for materials the University is required to give to the Department of Education as part of the investigation.

“My understanding is that the Office for Civil Rights will not share the actual complaint with us,” Hradsky said in an email on April 3.

Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, according to the Department of Education’s website. The law is often used to investigate colleges for handling sexual assault poorly.

One key requirement is that colleges respond to reports within a reasonable amount of time. However, Hradsky did not have a timeline for AU’s typical response when asked by The Eagle.

The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports received related to sexual assault or sexual violence,” he said in a follow-up email.

Several colleges and universities across the country have already had Title IX cases open for several years. In a four-year Title IX investigation of Princeton University, OCR found the school did not give timely or adequate responses to sexual violence complaints, according to the Department of Education’s determination letter.

Upon completion of the investigation, Princeton University restructured its procedures for reporting and subsequent investigation by internal authorities. It also implemented new ways to teach the community about sexual assault, according to the university’s resolution agreement with OCR.

Similar circumstances have occurred at other universities.

In 2011, OCR received a complaint alleging that a sexually hostile environment existed on Yale University’s campus and that Yale had not responded promptly and adequately, according to a press release. The complaint was filed after an October 2010 incident where fraternity pledges chanted “No means yes! Yes means anal!” outside the university’s Women’s Center.  

Yale ultimately agreed to improve and publicize university resources for preventing and responding to sexual violence and harassment, the 2012 press release said.

“I think the data is pretty clear that sexual assault is an issue on college campuses, and even one assault is one too many,” Hradsky said. “I think that all colleges and universities have an obligation to look at ways that we can prevent, to the extent that we’re able, any sort of interpersonal violence on campus.”

Following the Department of Education’s public release of the investigation on March 11, Hradsky wrote a memorandum to the University community on March 18.  

“We will work cooperatively with OCR to address the questions they have with regard to this complaint,” Hradsky wrote in the memo.

Student Government President Sophia Wirth said she was unaware of the open investigation until the University’s memorandum was released. Sexual assault prevention has been a key focus of Wirth’s administration.

“While I understand that there is a lot of confidentiality wrapped up, especially in legal situations, it becomes hard for me to respond effectively and answer students’ questions when I’m not made aware of what’s going on,” Wirth said.

As AU’s Title IX Officer, Hradsky is “responsible for monitoring and oversight of overall compliance with Title IX,” according to the University’s Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy.

During the ongoing investigation, he will remain compliant with OCR by answering questions and providing data information about what AU does in regard to following the legal guidelines of Title IX, Hradsky said.

“We have been asked to provide data regarding Title IX complaints received by the University. I expect that we will receive questions about our process for responding to and resolving complaints,” Hradsky said in a follow-up email.

Upon review of documentation about how AU handled the case, a site visit would be scheduled, where OCR members would come to AU to speak to the individuals responsible for Title IX compliance, according to Hradsky.

Since his start at AU in 2009, Hradsky said he has focused on sexual assault prevention and support, hiring a full-time victim advocate Sara Yzaguirre and sexual assault prevention coordinator Daniel Rappaport, who support survivors of sexual assault and who work with administration to educate the campus community, he said.   

“We have been working diligently on creating an appropriate mechanism to educate our community and support those affected by interpersonal violence for a number of years.  We have had a deep commit to this issue, and we will maintain that commitment,” Hradsky said.

Step Up!, a bystander intervention program, was launched at AU in Summer 2014.  Step Up! was chosen to replace the previous Green Dot program after reviewing results from a survey conducted by Professor Jane Palmer showed that a change was warranted.  

Following the memorandum on March 18 notifying the University community of the investigation, AU Students Against Sexual Violence wrote a Facebook post expressing concern with how the University has not actively taken enough steps to battle sexual assault, specifically with how survivors file formal complaints.

SASV executive board member Faith Ferber said in an interview with The Eagle that sexual assault education on campus has a long way to go.

“We have required math.  We have required college writing.  I don’t see why we shouldn’t have required sexual assault prevention,” Feber said. “I really think that a lot of time it does take more than just one Step Up training or one Peers training to be able to really fully understand sexual assault and everything that surrounds sexual violence.”

Since the beginning of 2014, there have been nine reported sex offenses at AU.  

“I’m concerned that an individual in our community felt that they did not get the kind of response and support that they wanted,” Hradsky said. “That’s deeply concerning to me, and that’s something that I want us to take seriously and I want us to look at closely, and I want us to figure out what we might do better moving forward.”

Published in the April 2015 print edition of The Eagle.

 


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