Dartmouth under federal investigation over handling of sexual harassment claims

This article is by Zack Peterson of the Valley News, in which it was first published July 23, 2013.

Hanover, N.H. — Dartmouth College is being investigated by the federal government over its response to sexual harassment claims on campus, officials said Monday.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights initiated a compliance review of Dartmouth for sexual harassment grievance procedures and potential violations of Title IX, said Stephen Spector, the department’s assistant press secretary. Title IX is the federal law that forbids gender discrimination among schools that receive federal aide.

The federal government has recently looked into a series of similar cases at other colleges, including a sex discrimination complaint against the University of Southern California, Spector said.

Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said the college is cooperating with the investigation and is committed to promoting the safety of students. The school has focused on prevention and education and worked to strengthen its policies, he said in an emailed statement.

“We strive to maintain a process for handling complaints that is fair, supportive and incorporates best practices,” Anderson wrote. “Beyond responding to complaints, we have worked intentionally and diligently in recent years to reduce incidents of sexual assault on campus, create a climate of reporting and support those who have come forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault.”

In May, a group of Dartmouth students filed a federal complaint under the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to disclose statistics about campus crimes, including sexual assaults, to the Education Department.

Around that time, the Dartmouth students had joined others from Swarthmore College, University of California at Berkeley, University of Southern California and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during a New York news conference on sexual assault. Dartmouth students voiced their concerns over homophobia and racism, and in the same month, the Education Department opened its probe on the school.

Danny Valdes, a senior at Dartmouth who is among the students who filed the federal complaint, described the news of the investigation as “unprecedented.”

In his time at Dartmouth, the school has never been investigated by an outside third party, Valdes said. It marks a significant development, he said, that could reshape how sexual assault and homophobia-related grievances are handled at the college.

“Right now, it’s all done internally,” Valdes said. “It lacks a lot of transparency. This investigation shows that there’s somebody other than Dartmouth who thinks there’s a problem.”

Valdes, who identifies as “trans and queer,” said he reviewed reports from the college’s Safety and Security office, Hanover Police Department and the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program at Dartmouth. He found inconsistencies in the data, he said, which raised his concern over the accuracy behind the reporting of alleged incidents.

“It’s not streamlined at all,” he said. “I hope that they do an overall investigation. I care about LGBT issues, and sexual assault is also an enormous problem that the college tries to sweep under the rug.”

Allison Puglisi, a rising junior at Dartmouth, said it’s too early to know what the investigation will yield, or how it will be conducted.

“Will they go into fraternity basements? Or do student interviews? I don’t know,” she said Monday.

Puglisi said she had witnessed hurtful acts, and heard stories from friends about campus misconduct. Puglisi hasn’t been the victim of sexual assault, she said, but understands the affect it has on the school’s culture.

She hopes the investigation sheds light on “the environment of hostility” that she said exists on campus. However, Puglisi remains realistic about the amount of hard data that would need to be collected to persuade people of the extent of the problem.

“If it ends up being a he-said-she-said kind of thing, it could be hard for students to make a point,” she said.

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or [email protected]

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