Investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will visit campus from Jan. 27 to Jan. 30 as part of a Title IX investigation into the College’s climate surrounding sexual assault. Students, faculty, alumni and staff are encouraged to speak with the representatives regarding issues of sexual harassment and violence, according to a message from the Office for Civil Rights distributed to campus in a daily digest email Monday morning.
During the visit, the Office for Civil Rights plans to gather perspectives on Dartmouth’s responses to cases of sexual assault, as well as solicit possible solutions, a statement from the Department of Education said.
“Dartmouth is fully cooperating with the Department of Education’s compliance review and hoping for a positive resolution,” College spokesperson Justin Anderson said in an emailed statement. “Representatives from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will be on campus later this month, and we hope and expect community members who are interested in speaking with them will do so.”
Investigators will return to Hanover in February, according to the Office for Civil Rights.
The Department of Education initiated an investigation of the College for possible Title IX violations last May, seeking to evaluate the College’s response to sexual harassment claims and its grievance procedures.
Occidental College professor Caroline Heldman, a co-founder of End Rape on Campus who led a Title IX complaint against Occidental in April 2013, said that Dartmouth’s case is unique because the investigation was initiated by the Department of Education, not an individual complaint.
“In this particular case, I would be curious to know how they are deciding who to speak to,” Heldman said. “Since there isn’t a complaint file, they will be certainly speaking with administrators who have authority over cases.”
In May 2013, more than 30 Dartmouth students and alumni alleged Clery Act violations of sexual assault, hate crimes, bullying, hazing and gender-based, racial and religious discrimination. The Clery Act requires institutions of higher education to disclose information regarding campus crime.
Susy Struble ’93, founder of the nonprofit activist organization Dartmouth Change, said the decision to hold open office hours at the College acknowledges the problem of sexual assault and makes clear that an authority is willing to listen.
She said the government-driven investigation draws greater attention to problems the College has struggled with for decades.
“The OCR recognizes that the systemic issues at Dartmouth are deeply seated, institutionalized and make it very difficult for the people who see the problem to feel comfortable speaking out,” she said.
Activist Andrea Pino, a complainant in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Title IX case who has helped students nationwide file federal complaints against their institutions, said addressing sexual assault is a complex task.
“It’s a systematic problem because students of color and students of queer identity don’t feel like they can talk about it,” Pino said. “I hope a lot of Dartmouth students will come forward, but I don’t know how acceptable it will be.”
Struble said she was concerned by the fact that the College chose to inform campus of the investigators’ visit through a Dartmouth Daily Updates email, a password-protected message distributed at 1 a.m.
Heldman said that in most Title IX investigations, complainants publicize the investigators’ visit to campus. At Occidental, the complainants created Facebook groups and announced the investigators’ visit via email.
The standard process for Title IX investigations begins with external research, in which the Office for Civil Rights collects information about the institution. In some cases, the investigators schedule a campus visit, typically within a month or two of launching the investigation. Once on campus, the investigators speak to both those who lodged the complaint and to school administrators listed in the complaint. Campus officials that are not named in the complaints may also be asked to provide relevant information.
Student involvement in investigations varies. At Occidental, for example, investigators offered forums that allowed any interested individuals to speak with them privately.
Heldman said campus visits are an essential component of investigations because in-person conversations convey more nuances than documents can.
“Oftentimes, complainants don’t necessarily know what is a violation of the federal law,” Heldman said. “Investigators speaking to them can determine the extent which the law has or has not been violated in a way that layperson can’t.”