4 Colorado schools among those being investigated over sexual violence complaints

(Credit: MGNOnline.com)

(Credit: MGNOnline.com)

DENVER – Federal investigators are checking whether 55 colleges and universities illegally handled sexual violence and harassment complaints, the U.S. Department of Education said Thursday.

Four Colorado schools are among those being investigated. They are Regis University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of Denver.

Such investigations have long been known, but this is the first time that the department released a list of all such probes currently under way.

The release came two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education.

“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a media release. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.

On the list are such big-name schools as Arizona State, California-Berkeley, Florida State, Harvard, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, University of Southern California, Vanderbilt and Virginia.

The investigations center on Title IX, under which a school must ensure that students are not denied or limited in the ability to participate in or benefit from its educational programs or activities on the basis of sex.

The list, which reflect open investigations as of Thursday, does not disclose any details about the cases, other than when the investigation was opened. The list will be updated regularly and available to the public upon request.

Colo. schools respond

Regis issued a statement saying the school had only one complaint pending before the Office of Civil Rights.

“Regis University takes the complaint seriously and has responded appropriately. At Regis University, the safety and well-being of our students and staff is a top priority.”

DU also released a statement saying there is a zero tolerance policy for threats.

Spokesman Will Jones said that when a person disagrees with the outcome of an investigation, they have the right to share their concerns with the Office of Civil Rights.

“Such cases remain open until the OCR makes a final determination on the outcome. The situation just described is the reason for the University of Denver’s inclusion on the list of 55 institutions that have an open investigation with the OCR involving sexual violence,” Jones said.

“The University responded to the OCR more than four months ago and are awaiting OCR’s determination,” Jones said.

The University of Colorado Boulder said it wasn’t surprised by its inclusion as it knew of the probe in July, and it has since hired a law firm to conduct an external a review of its policies. It also expects to a name a specially designated Title IX director by the end of the summer.

National movement against rape

Rape is a longstanding issue on college campuses, but the latest movement, led by student activists, survivors and faculty, recasts sexual violence as a cultural problem on campuses nationwide — not just a series of isolated incidents. Students are taking matters into their own hands, filing complaints en masse and speaking out publicly.

They’ve flocked to advocacy groups such as End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX, which sprang from grassroots activism around university handling — or mishandling — of sexual violence.

In Thursday’s announcement, the Department of Education said releasing its list “advances a key goal of President Obama’s White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to bring more transparency to the federal government’s enforcement activities around this issue.”

The department also released new guidance this week outlining federally funded schools’ responsibilities to address sexual violence and other forms of discrimination. All schools — from K-12 to universities — must comply with Title IX or risk losing funding and Justice Department action.

“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,” the statement said.

The full list of open investigations (current as of May 1, 2014) is as follows:

AZ Arizona State University
CA Butte-Glen Community College District
CA Occidental College
CA University of California-Berkeley
CA University of Southern California
CO Regis University
CO University of Colorado at Boulder
CO University of Colorado at Denver
CO University of Denver
CT University of Connecticut
DC Catholic University of America
FL Florida State University
GA Emory University
HI University of Hawaii at Manoa
ID University of Idaho
IL Knox College
IL University of Chicago
IN Indiana University-Bloomington
IN Vincennes University
MA Amherst College
MA Boston University
MA Emerson College
MA Harvard College
MA Harvard University—Law School
MA University of Massachusetts-Amherst
MD Frostburg State University
MI Michigan State University
MI University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
NC Guilford College
NC University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
ND Minot State University
NH Dartmouth College
NJ Princeton University
NY Cuny Hunter College
NY Hobart and William Smith Colleges
NY Sarah Lawrence College
NY Suny at Binghamton
OH Denison University
OH Ohio State University
OH Wittenberg University
OK Oklahoma State University
PA Carnegie Mellon University
PA Franklin and Marshall College
PA Pennsylvania State University
PA Swarthmore College
PA Temple University
TN Vanderbilt University
TX Southern Methodist University
TX The University of Texas-Pan American
VA College of William and Mary
VA University of Virginia
WA Washington State University
WI University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
WV Bethany College
WV West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine

CNN contributed to this report.