Fed findings: MSU’s sex complaint response contributed to ‘sexually hostile environment’

EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Michigan State University officials say they will change how they respond to sexual violence on campus, after a federal investigation found the college’s reaction led to a ‘sexually hostile environment’ for students.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights says it found the university violated Title IX when it did not properly investigate two sexual violence complaints filed against MSU.

Taking into account all of the evidence gathered during the investigation, OCR determined that a sexually hostile environment existed for and affected numerous students and staff on campus at the University during the time period of OCR’s investigation, and that the University’s failure to address complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, in a prompt and equitable manner caused and may have contributed to a continuation of this sexually hostile environment,” the U.S. Department of Education concluded in a resolution letter Tuesday.

In the 42-page letter, the OCR said it launched its investigation after receiving a complaint in 2011 from a student who said the university discriminated against her by failing to respond appropriately after she was sexually assaulted and harassed in retaliation.

The student also reported the university also retaliated against her for reporting the sex assault.

The OCR found there was not enough evidence to support the student’s claim of retaliatory harassment by students; federal investigators also found the student’s claim that MSU retaliated against her to be ‘untimely.’

A second complaint filed by a student in 2014 accused MSU of sexually discriminating against the student and others when it failed to properly respond to sexual violence complaints and reports, which ‘created a sexually hostile environment.’

During the course of the investigation, the OCR said the university informed them it had two Title IX investigators to handle all Title IX complaints on campus, but both investigators said at times they had difficulty keeping up with the caseload and the number of complaints increased in recent years.

The OCR said the university began changing its policies and procedures to correct the problems before and during the course of the investigation, and Tuesday’s agreement takes the changes a step further.

The agreement includes 15 actions the university must take, including:

  • Issuing a public anti-harassment statement for the campus community
  • Provide mandatory sexual harassment/sexual violence prevention and education training for university students, faculty and staff
  • Review past complaints and whether they were properly handled
  • Provide remedies to people who were negatively impacted by the university’s delay in handling complaints
  • Ensure campus has sufficient lighting and emergency phones

For a copy of the entire agreement, visit the OCR’s website.

In a statement posted on the university’s website Tuesday afternoon, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said the university requires every incoming student to take online classes about sexual assault and prevention.

“No member of our community should be threatened by sexual violence. I frequently call on all members of our Michigan State community to be active participants in building a culture of respect and caring and remind them we need to look after one another. Anything less from any of us fails to live up to our values as Spartans and our potential as human beings,” Simon said in the statement.

 

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