Elmira College Reaches Agreement with U.S. Education Department to Address Title IX Violations Regarding Sexual Harassment, Sexual Violence

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The U.S. Department of Education announced today that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reached an agreement with Elmira College in Elmira, New York, after finding that the college violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by failing to promptly and equitably respond to complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

“Elmira College has demonstrated a strong commitment to address and prevent sexual harassment and violence among students, staff and the college community,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “I thank Elmira and its leadership for their commitment to work with OCR to implement this agreement, and to ensure student safety.”

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. OCR’s Title IX investigation was prompted by a student complaint alleging that the college failed to respond to her complaint of a sexual assault.  OCR also reviewed 16 other incidents of sexual harassment, including sexual assault spanning three academic years.

OCR determined that the college’s response to the complaint violated Title IX because the college was not prompt in completing its investigation and providing its determination to the complainant.  Further, there was conflicting information regarding whether Elmira provided appropriate interim measures to the complainant while it investigated her complaint.

OCR also identified procedural violations with respect to the college’s designation of a Title IX coordinator and its notice of non-discrimination.  Although OCR determined that the college’s current Title IX grievance procedures comply with the requirements of Title IX, OCR’s review of case files revealed either a violation or a concern in all but one of the 16 case files reviewed from academic years 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015, including instances where the college failed to provide prompt and equitable investigations and took insufficient measures to assess and address the impact of harassment and possible hostile environments.

Under the resolution agreement, Elmira College agreed to take actions to remedy the Title IX violations and concerns, including the following:

  • Add the office address of the college’s Title IX coordinator to all relevant documents.
  • Revise the notice of non-discrimination to state that it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and that inquiries concerning Title IX may be referred to the college’s Title IX coordinator or to OCR.
  • Provide training to all Elmira staff who are responsible employees for recognizing and reporting incidents of sexual harassment, on the college’s grievance procedures; the obligation to report sexual harassment; how to recognize identify sexual harassment; the college’s obligation to address allegations of sexual harassment; and relevant resources available.
  • Provide training to the college’s Title IX coordinator and others directly involved in receiving, processing, investigating, adjudicating or otherwise resolving complaints of sexual harassment, on how to conduct adequate, reliable and impartial investigations.
  • Offer information sessions to students so that they are aware of the college’s prohibition against sex discrimination (including sexual harassment and sexual assault/violence), including how to recognize and to whom to report any incidents of sex discrimination.
  • Continue to conduct bi-annual climate surveys for students that contain questions about the student’s knowledge of sex discrimination (including sexual harassment and sexual assault/violence) and the student’s awareness of the college’s Title IX policies and procedures; and, use the information gathered from these surveys to inform future proactive steps taken by the college to provide an environment that is safe and supportive to all students and in compliance with Title IX.
  • Assess and address effects, if any, the complainant experienced due to the length of the investigation and adjudication process, as well as from moving from her dormitory, if appropriate, depending on the outcome of the college’s investigation. 
  • Take actions to address violations and concerns OCR identified with respect to the 16 other cases OCR reviewed from academic years 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.
  • Reexamine all reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault/violence filed with the college during academic year 2015-2016 and the fall 2016 semester to determine whether each complaint was handled consistent with Title IX; and take appropriate action to address any problems identified, including providing remedies that may still be available for the complainants in these cases, such as counseling or academic adjustments.

Click the following links to see: the resolution letter of findings and the resolution agreement.

OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights.  The office is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001.

Click here to see more on the work of OCR.