For the second time in a little more than a year, Southwestern University is being investigated by the federal government for the way it handled a sexual violence allegation by one of its students.
Records show that on Monday the U.S. Education Department launched a Title IX inquiry at the small liberal arts school in Georgetown, which already is the subject of an ongoing investigation that began in February 2016. It’s unclear if either investigation is linked to accusations of sexual misconduct in 2015 when a fraternity on campus was accused of drugging two of its party guests.
In a statement released to the American-Statesman, Southwestern President Edward Burger said the Office for Civil Rights — the federal investigative arm for the Education Department — asked the university on Wednesday to turn over information regarding a sexual misconduct case as well as the school’s policies for handling such allegations.
“The university is cooperating fully and is actively working to gather all requested materials in a timely manner,” Burger said.
Burger went on to say “Southwestern is committed to a safe campus community. We believe that OCR will recognize that commitment, and if OCR suggests changes to improve still further, those changes will, of course, be implemented.”
Changes were made two years ago in the wake of student protests over the school’s handling of alleged sexual misconduct by the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha, which was accused by two students of drugging drinks at a February 2015 event. Upsetting to some students was an email sent by University Police Chief Deborah Brown that offered pointers for not getting drugged at parties — always keep a hand over your drinking cup — but made no promises of getting to the bottom of the alleged crimes.
Hundreds of students demanded the administration take stronger action, accusing it of being too intertwined with the Greek system on campus
Asked if the latest investigation was sparked by a more recent allegation, university police directed the Statesman to the school’s director of communications, Eric Bumgardner, who couldn’t be reached.
According to the Title IX statute, a school violates a student’s rights regarding sexual violence when the alleged conduct is “sufficiently serious to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational program” and “the school fails to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”
The Office of Civil Rights declined to comment on the Southwestern cases, citing a policy against discussing details of investigations.
After the 2015 protests, a committee made up of students and staff revised the school’s sexual violence policy. They proposed three changes — expanding the definition of consent, expanding the appeal process and expanding the rights of both parties involved in an accusation.
The investigation at Southwestern was one of three launched Monday by the Office of Civil Rights. The others are at the University of Illinois and at Manor College in Pennsylvania.