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June 7, 2014

Elmira, BU students react to Title IX probe

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Several area students who attend Elmira College said Monday that they are shocked and perplexed that their alma mater was included in a list of more than 55 colleges being investigated for possible Title IX violations.

Elmira College and Binghamton University were among colleges being investigated for the handling of Title IX sexual violence and harassment complaints, according to the May 1 announcement from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. 

All colleges, universities and K-12 schools that receive federal funding must comply with Title IX. Schools that violate the law and refuse to address the problems identified by OCR can lose federal funding or be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for further action.

The State University College at Oneonta and Hartwick College were not on the list. 

Brittany Hayes, of New Berlin, graduated from Elmira College on Sunday. She said news of the college’s placement on the list broke in an unconventional way at the school.

“One of the students saw the list and shared it to Facebook,” Hayes said. “The administrators found out about that and sent an email to all of us, saying they’re handling it in a private manner.”

Hayes said she has heard classmates talking about the list, but is unaware of any particular case or incident to which the list may be referring.

“Things like that get kept hush-hush, though,” Hayes said.

The May list is the first comprehensive look at which campuses are under review for possible violations of Title IX’s requirements around sexual violence, the release said. Under federal law, sexual violence refers to “physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent — including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse and sexual coercion.”

Like Hayes, several other Elmira students said they’ve never heard of anything like that happening on campus and do not feel unsafe there. 

The DOE will not disclose any case-specific facts or details about the institutions under investigation, according to the release. It did, however, reveal that the list includes investigations opened because of complaints received by OCR and those initiated by OCR as a result of compliance reviews.

According to the most recent statistics from the Department of Education, Elmira College reported four instances of forcible sex offenses in on-campus student housing facilities from the years 2010 through 2012. Two occurred in 2012.

On May 28, Elmira College issued an online statement regarding the list. 

“Elmira College is fully cooperating with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights with regard to this inquiry,” the release said. “Because of the ongoing investigation, the College will have no further comment on the inquiry itself.”

The college said the health and well-being of its community members are its highest priorities.

“Sexual offenses have no place in our community and will not be tolerated,” the statement said.

Casey Markham, of Norwich, said she felt the DOE’s release created more questions than answers and was vague, as was Elmira’s response.

“I’m going to keep reading up on it, though,” Markham, a 2014 Elmira graduate, said. “I’d like to know what really happened.”

Binghamton University reported five such instances to the DOE in 2010, six in 2011 and two in 2012. The college recently released a statement saying it cannot comment on the charges at this time but is cooperating with investigations.

Erin Filupeit, of Arkville, will be a junior at Elmira College next year. She was surprised to hear about the list after college administrators emailed students and assured them they were working on the issue, she said.

“They said ‘we care about the safety of our students,’” Filupeit said. “I’ve been on campus two years and haven’t heard anything about sexual harassment here.”

Kelsie Laing, a 2014 graduate of Elmira College from South Kortright, said the list came as a shock to her, as well. Laing said there were rumors swirling around campus recently.  

“Some rumors were that it was for not having equal room selection for men and women,” Laing said. “That’s the only thing I can think of. We’re primarily a women’s college, so there obviously would be more housing for women. But that could be why we’re on the list.”

A few other colleges on the list are Amherst College, Boston University, Harvard University Law School, Princeton University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

For the University of Michigan, the investigation involves allegations of mishandling of a matter involving a football player who was expelled a year after a sexual misconduct incident.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said the list was made available in “an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights.”

“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 noted.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said there is “absolutely zero presumption” of guilt in his mind for schools that are being investigated.

“No one probably loves to have their name on that list,” Duncan said during a White House briefing. “But we’ll investigate; we’ll go where the facts are.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.