University receives fourth Title IX complaint

DAN DOUCET, Evergreen opinion editor

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is currently investigating a complaint against WSU regarding a federal sex discrimination law.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, signed into law in 1972, prohibits gender-based discrimination in any federally-funded education program, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The complaint, filed on March 20, is the fourth of its kind filed against the university since 2013, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A January 2013 complaint alleged WSU failed to respond adequately to sexual harassment allegations, according to a letter from the OCR to Elson Floyd, WSU president at the time. The letter also stated in order to resolve the complaint, the university would either have to sit down with the complainant in an OCR-facilitated meeting to come up with a resolution, write a voluntary agreement to take OCR-approved corrective actions, or agree to an OCR investigation of the university to determine if it complies with Title IX.

Following an investigation, if OCR found that the university was not following Title IX guidelines, WSU would have to take steps to make sure the guidelines were met, according to the letter.

Shortly following the letter’s reception, WSU officials opted for the voluntary resolution option, according to a 2014 WSU news release.

In order to look into the 2013 complaint and gather information to make a recommendation, the OCR conducted focus groups with students in February 2014, according to a WSU news release from the time. The OCR met with a variety of WSU student groups, including international students, sorority and fraternity members, graduate students, members of sexual assault survivor groups, athletes, LGBTQ students and teaching assistants.

The OCR added WSU to a list of 55 higher education institutions under investigation for alleged Title IX violations on May 1, 2014, according to a WSU news release from the time.

In September 2015, WSU received a similar complaint notification from the OCR. The OCR letter, sent to Interim President Dan Bernardo, stated that the complaint was for the university failing to provide a student with a “prompt and equitable grievance process” regarding a sexual violence complaint.

In May 2016, Bernardo received another letter from the OCR, this time stating that the university had not only failed to provide a grievance process but had also “failed to address a sexually hostile environment related to sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

None of the complaints have been resolved yet, WSU spokesman Rob Strenge said in a Seattle Times article, although WSU is continuing to cooperate with the OCR.

The OCR is also investigating the University of Washington, Western Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Whitman College, Whitworth University and Edmonds Community College, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.