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Feds: Princeton University Mishandled Sexual Violence Cases

Nassau Hall Princeton

The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights announced today that it has entered into a resolution agreement with Princeton University to ensure compliance with Title IX as it applies to sexual harassment and violence.

Princeton University’s previous sexual assault policies violated federal law by not “promptly and equitably” responding to complaints of sexual assault. The university failed to end a “sexually hostile environment” in the case of one student, and the policies and procedures used by the university to investigate and respond to assaults and violence did not comply with Title IX.

The school recently instituted a series of reforms to correct problems the department identified, including resolving cases of sexual assault using the “preponderance of evidence” standard. The university has agreed to  provide a comprehensive education and prevention program to students, to develop a public-awareness program promoting bystander intervention, and to improve communication with local law-enforcement officials.

“I applaud Princeton University for its commitment to ensuring a community-wide culture of prevention, support, and safety for its students, staff, and community,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Education. “We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with Princeton to implement this agreement.”

The university did comply with Title IX by designating and providing notice of its Title IX coordinator and by providing and publicizing compliant notices of nondiscrimination. The probe was based on complaints filed on behalf of university students. The complete letter from the U.S. Department of Education can be found online along with the agreement between the school and the federal government.

Princeton University’s new policies and procedures “correct many of the deficiencies identified” in the investigation, federal officials said.

The new policies make clear that both parties will be provided appeal rights, and that cases will be handled in prompt time frames (generally 45 days). The policies also state Princeton’s commitment to providing appropriate interim measures to preserve a complainant’s educational experience, promote safety for all, and deter retaliation.

Princeton has agreed to take numerous other steps to ensure that revised policies are effective in creating a campus environment in which students feel comfortable and safe reporting incidents of sexual assault and violence. The school has also committed to take campus safety seriously and respond to complaints promptly and equitably, federal officials said. In addition, as part of its monitoring of the agreement, the Department of Education will analyze the school’s new policies and procedures in detail to determine if any other revisions are necessary.

“We are pleased that this investigation has been concluded with an agreement that brings the university’s policies and procedures into compliance with all statutory and regulatory requirements,” Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said. “The agreement reaffirms our commitment to address all matters of sexual misconduct in ways that are fair, effective, and transparent, and our determination to ensure a campus climate that places high priority on prevention and support, and on ensuring safety and freedom from discrimination for all members of our campus community.”

In addition to revising its policies and procedures, the University also has created a new faculty-student committee on sexual misconduct, co-chaired by Professor Deborah Nord of the Department of English and Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter. The committee will recommend strategies to ensure students understand their rights under Title IX and the University’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures, and to improve the effectiveness of the University’s procedures, support services and resources available to students and for the prevention of sexual misconduct, including outreach and educational activities. The committee will also provide consultative support for annual climate surveys.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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