Harvard Under Second Investigation of Sexual Assault Responses

Harvard University, which is under a federal investigation for its law school’s handling of sexual misconduct, faces a second probe into its response to sexual assault among undergraduates.

The U.S. Education Department confirmed that its Office for Civil Rights has begun a second investigation, spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said today. Two members of Our Harvard Can Do Better, a student group fighting sexual assault at the campus, filed a complaint with the department in March. Member Jessica Fournier said today that the OCR informed the group last week about the probe.

The OCR will look at whether Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard failed to prevent and respond to campus sexual assaults, which are violations of Title IX, the law that bars gender discrimination in education. Schools found in breach risk fines and loss of federal student financial aid.

“We’re pleased that the department has decided to open an investigation,” Fournier said in a telephone interview. “We hope that Harvard takes this as an invitation to constructive dialogue around campus with its student body.”

Women across the U.S. have filed complaints saying that their schools have failed to prevent and respond appropriately to sexual assaults and harassment. Last week, 23 students at Columbia University filed complaints alleging that the school and its all-female affiliate, Barnard College, violated Title IX, the Clery Act, which requires institutions to report violence on campus, and provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Task Force

Harvard has submitted its policies and procedures to the OCR for review, and will announce and implement any feedback when it’s received, Jeff Neal, a spokesman, said today in an e-mail. On April 3, Harvard President Drew Faust created a universitywide task force composed of faculty, students and staff to recommend better measures for sexual-assault prevention, he said.

Harvard began reviewing its policies and procedures related to Title IX last year. Neal declined to comment directly on the students’ complaint or the department’s investigation.

Harvard, the oldest U.S. college, is a member of the Ivy League, a group of elite colleges in the northeastern U.S. Harvard Law School has been under investigation for its Title IX policies since 2011.

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