Title IX Investigation of FSU Reaches Two Year Point
On September 18, 2013, the United States’ Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened a Title IX investigation at Frostburg State University. This investigation, now reaching the two year point, began after a complaint was filed by FSU alumna, Jerica Bennett. Bennett filed the report after her graduation in 2013.
OCR representatives have reported that while their goal is to resolve a complaint in 180 days, some cases take longer “due to complexity of the issues under investigation.” The Philadelphia OCR, which oversees Title IX complaints in Maryland, commented that sexual violence investigations “tend to be highly complex and involve systemic issues, in addition to issues pertaining to specific students.”
Bennett filed the complaint over two years ago, on July 29, 2013. “I still love FSU. I love the faculty, staff, and memories I had here,” Bennett told The Bottom Line in a 2014 interview. “This was not a vengeance thing. My big thing is I don’t want this to happen to another woman.”
According to Bennett, FSU did not provide the necessary resources to her after her assault. As The Bottom Line has previously reported, Bennett’s father contacted Dr. Tom Bowling, who was then FSU’s vice president for student affairs, after her assault to inform him that his daughter would not be in classes for a bit as a result of her trauma. Bowling is currently serving as FSU’s interim president. According to Bennett, no one from the university reached out to her during her absence, and when she returned her alleged rapist continued to harass her with few measures taken by the school to stop him.
According to a spokesperson for the Philadelphia OCR office: “if a school is found in noncompliance, we [OCR] will attempt to negotiate a resolution agreement to bring the institution into compliance.” The number of schools who have not reached a resolution is nearly negligible, according to the spokesperson. “However, the law and regulations provide for enforcement options, such as, referring the case to the Justice Department for litigation or terminating federal funding. However, in most every case, we’re able to work with schools to bring them into compliance without having to use the enforcement option.”
This two-year-long investigation at FSU has allowed OCR to collect a plethora of information using methods such as data requests, interviews, and site visits. According to the OCR spokesperson, “when OCR investigates a school for possible violations under Title IX involving sexual violence, OCR often examines the university culture and reviews the university’s response to complaints of sexual violence over a period of years, not just the facts related to the individual complaint. OCR analyzes all relevant evidence from the parties involved in the case to develop its findings.”
On May 1, 2014, OCR released 55 schools that were currently under investigation for potential violations. The list of ongoing inquiries has now grown to include 155 investigations at 133 institutions. FSU was the only Maryland school present on the original list. Out of the 155 current investigations, FSU is number 20 on the chronological list.
Of the 55 original cases, only four have been resolved; University of Connecticut, Michigan State University, Princeton University, and Southern Methodist University. University of Connecticut’s first case was resolved, but a new case has since opened. Six of the original schools now have another investigation occurring on top of the original.
After The Bottom Line reported on the Title IX investigation in May 2014, FSU spokesperson Liz Medcalf wrote a letter to the editor saying, “FSU’s leadership is committed to promoting a safe, inclusive and supportive environment through active educational programming, providing campus resources to victims and survivors, coordinating community resources, management of our Student Code of Conduct processes, and meeting our legal obligations to all parties involved. The information that follows is intended to provide information and open a continuing campus and community dialogue on this important topic.”
Title IX efforts have increased, both at FSU and throughout the nation in the last year. President Obama began addressing college sexual violence in 2010, and on January 22, 2014 the president issued a Presidential Memorandum to establish the “White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.” According to the government website, the task force was created to “sharing best practices, and increasing transparency, enforcement, public awareness, and interagency coordination to prevent violence and support survivors.”
At FSU, a Title IX coordinator has been hired, and many plans have been made. While the completion of plans such as a dating violence prevention workshop and Title IX training have yet to be seen, Caputo assured The Bottom Line last semester that “the process takes time.”