UNC on list of schools under investigation


The Office for Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Education is releasing the list of schools in an attempt to be more transparent about its review process of civil rights complaints against colleges and universities.

"We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

"I also want to make it clear that a college or university's appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law," Lhamon added.

The federal agency confirmed last year that it was looking into allegations UNC mishandled sexual assault cases on campus, including underreporting the incidents. 

Title IX investigations are meant to ensure students are not subject to discrimination based on their gender. 

The U.S. Department of Education investigators have visited the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and conducted multiple interviews since five women --both current and former students and one staff member-- filed a Title IX complaint in January 2013.

UNC was also investigating a third federal discrimination complaint filed by UNC student Landen Gambill, one of the five original Title IX complainants. Gambill accused UNC of retaliation after she faced possible disciplinary action from the school's honor court.

At least two former students who filed the original complaint support the federal agency's transparency, but not at the expense of sexual assault survivors on college campus.

"Announcing an investigation can open survivors to retaliation," wrote Annie Clark and Andrea Pino in a statement to ABC11. "It's important that the Office for Civil Rights also emphasizes providing survivors an option to opt out of having their investigation announced if it could endanger them, especially in small institutions where anonymity is less of an option."

The women say the list has already encouraged more survivors to come forward and to contact investigators. 

Responding to changes in federal law, the University already had a Title IX Task Force in place. With the three pending federal complaints making national headlines, the state's flagship school started a campus conversation about sexual assault. (http://campusconversation.web.unc.edu/)

A task force comprised of administrators, students and staff meets regularly. The group is creating a list of policy recommendations in response to student complaints about harassment, discrimination and sexual assault. According to its website, the 22-member panel is working on the appeal process of student complaints.

UNC-Chapel Hill and Guilford College are the only North Carolina schools to make the new list.

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