Second Title IX investigation into the College began in August

by Emilia Baldwin | 11/2/15 8:10pm

The federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights began investigating Dartmouth for a potential violation of Title IX on Aug. 21, Vermont Public Radio reported in late October. The College has been under investigation for a separate complaint since May 31, 2013.

According to a list provided to The Dartmouth by the Office for Civil Rights, other peer institutions with more than one pending Title IX investigation include Columbia, Stanford and Brown Universities. There are 146 colleges being investigated for at least one complaint, with 25 of those having more than one open investigation.

Unlike the first complaint filed against the College in 2013, the second involves a complaint made by an individual against the College to the Office for Civil Rights, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email. The College does not believe that there is merit to the complaint and, at this time, the Office for Civil Rights has not found any instance of noncompliance by the College, she said.

Adele Kimmel, an attorney specializing in Title IX at the Public Justice Foundation in Washington, D.C., said that procedurally, students are able to file complaints to the Office for Civil Rights, assuming that there is an institutional noncompliance with Title IX. She said that the Office for Civil Rights will only pursue an investigation if research shows probable incidence of noncompliance. Although the Office for Civil Rights’ investigations are only supposed to last for 180 days, some investigations often last longer depending on the case at hand, Kimmel said.

Office for Civil Rights investigations are common not only in institutions of higher education but also in many elementary and secondary schools, she said. The Office for Civil Rights also opens investigations without student complaints, as was the case with the 2013 investigation against Dartmouth.

While having more than one concurrent investigation is not unique to Dartmouth, the incidence is very rare, John Clune said. Clune specializes in Title IX litigation at Hutchinson, Black and Cook, LLC, in Boulder, Colorado.

It is difficult to draw institutional conclusions based on Office for Civil Rights investigations, however, as they are more likely to happen at colleges which have undergone them before, Clune said.

Dartmouth Change co-founder Susy Struble ’93 credits the investigation to a disconnect between administrators and students.

Dartmouth Change is an organization that connects faculty, alumni, students and other community members to combat sexual violence at the College.

“Students are tired of dealing with strategic committees and of working within the system,” Struble said.

She said that she commends the student who filed the complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, adding that she believes the College’s administration has not yet achieved an easy and open way for students to file sexual assault complaints outside of the College-controlled judicial process.

Struble also hopes the new Office for Civil Rights investigation will incite a change in how administrators address sexual assault and Title IX violations on campus.

The College must reform itself as an institution now that there are multiple open federal investigations at proceeding against it, Struble said.

“There are a lot of words but not a lot of actions [from administrators], and I think we are seeing the fruit of that now,” she said.

This second Office for Civil Rights investigation is the direct result of decades of neglect on behalf of administrators in providing an equal and safe space for students at Dartmouth, Struble said.

Because the Office for Civil Rights would not undertake an investigation unless there was considerable evidence against the institution in question, the College having two open federal investigations is indicative of a larger problem at Dartmouth, Struble said.

The message of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative constitutes a step in the right direction, Struble said, although she thinks the administration could be more effective in its execution of the program.

Administrators continue to encourage a separation between themselves and students, ultimately discouraging students from coming forward with Title IX issues to the College, she said.

Dartmouth Title IX coordinator Heather Lindkvist declined to comment, citing that the ongoing nature of the investigation.