Campus / Featured / News / February 24, 2016

Title IX case lingers

Since the Office of Civil Rights first opened an investigation into Knox, two classes have graduated from the college. Its students have celebrated two New Years. In that time, someone could bike cross-country almost 457 times.

Since the OCR first opened an investigation into Knox’s Title IX policies, it’s been 25 months — 10 months longer than the average investigation time, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Knox’s second complaint has still been open five months longer than the average time.

Knox has the longest-standing OCR investigations of any ACM school — the only other schools, Grinnell and Monmouth, have one case open each.

But as far as open investigations, Knox may not be in the minority. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 18 percent of the 251 investigations have been resolved.

“It seems like they have come in small waves,” Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader said. The most recent cases, she said, were resolved in September at University of Virginia and Michigan State. In both cases, the OCR doled out 60-plus pages of findings to the schools, which are now available on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s database.

These findings include requirements that Michigan State provide annual training to sororities and fraternities by December 30, 2015, and that the university will install lighting and emergency phones on campus.

But it’s still not clear what’s taking so long at Knox.

“I wish I knew,” Schrader said. “I think we just don’t know.”

As more schools file OCR complaints, the OCR has become more stringent and prescriptive, Schrader said.

“It’s the difference between ‘you need to address the climate,’ and ‘here’s what you need to do to address the climate,’” Schrader said.

Senior Rachael Morrissey, who’s familiar with the Title IX process and open OCR complaints, said that when additional people file a complaint against Knox, the process might take longer.

“It delays the process because they have to investigate and add to the complaint,” Morrissey said. “That may be why it’s taking a while.”

Knox made national news in 2014 when it was listed as one of 55 schools being investigated by the OCR. It prompted a nationwide conversation about sexual assault on campuses, and in 2016, the Obama administration’s budget included $131 million to hire 200 full-time employees, and was granted $107 million, according to the Chronicle.

Since the first 55 college names were released, more schools have been added to the list, and more Knox students have filed complaints.

“I don’t think it’s surprising in that there’s been a lot of general student unrest about Title IX literally for years now,” said senior Erica Witzig, who’s been working on Title IX policies at Knox. “So I think with that activist unrest there’s been a lot of information disseminated about how to file an OCR complaint.”

Witzig said she knows of at least five people who have filed complaints.

As Knox waits for the OCR to release its findings, Schrader said that the college has adapted its policies based on what the OCR has prescribed to other colleges. That included getting rid of the Grievance Panel and making Schrader’s position as Title IX Coordinator a full-time job.

“We want to get this right. We want to take every step that we can to be in compliance with their full guidance and to demonstrate best practices,” she said.

According to Witzig, filing an OCR complaint might be more appealing than suing the college because it’s a fairly simple process.

“The OCR kind of does all the work themselves, and that’s the big draw,” Witzig said. “It’s a better process to go through with the OCR because at least the college will have to fix themselves rather than just hand over money.”

The only financial penalty, though, is that the government would withhold federal funding to Knox if it’s found in violation of Title IX. Schrader said that hasn’t happened at any school yet, though.

“I’m not looking for money — I want validation, and I want Knox to admit they were wrong and apologize, and if they won’t do that I want the OCR to say they [Knox] were wrong,” Morrissey said.

She said she feels confident Knox will, in fact, be found in violation of Title IX.

“I’m so excited to see what they come back with, like what kind of negotiations, because there are things here that definitely need to change,” Witzig said. “I know Knox is working on things without the OCR, but I don’t think it’s moving fast enough.”

Kate Mishkin
Kate Mishkin is a senior majoring in English literature and minoring in journalism. She started working for TKS as a freshman and subsequently served as managing editor, co-news editor and co-mosaic editor. Kate is the recipient of four awards from the Illinois College Press Association for news and feature stories and one award from the Associated Collegiate Press. She won the Theodore Hazen Kimble Prize in 2015 and 2014 and the Ida M. Tarbell Prize in Investigate Journalism in 2014. She has interned at FILTER Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and WGIL radio and the Virginian-Pilot.

Twitter: @KateMishkin

Tags:  ocr investigation sexual assault title ix

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