RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The University of North Carolina’s flagship school violated Title IX anti-discrimination law because of the way it handled sexual-assault and harassment complaints, a federal civil rights office has found.
The decision by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights came after an investigation of more than five years into complaints at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The civil-rights officials said they were concerned about whether the school provided “prompt and equitable responses to complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence, of which it had notice; and, if not, whether such failure allowed individuals to continue to be subjected to a sexually hostile environment.”
The office sent a letter Monday night to four former students and a former administrator who filed a complaint in January 2013. The office determined the school did not adopt and publish proper grievance procedures for the resolution of sexual discrimination complaints as required by Title IX.
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One of those former students, Andrea Pino, said in a statement that after five years “and on the heels of the #metoo movement and the 46th anniversary of Title IX, I am glad that our complaint “pushed campus sexual assault and Title IX to the national agenda.”
UNC did not admit any violation in the agreement , which was signed June 21 by Chancellor Carol Folt. However, it agreed to several changes, including to review, and possibly revise, its Title IX policies and grievance procedures. The school also agreed to provide reports to the federal government and to allow federal officials to monitor its efforts.
The Office for Civil Rights noted that the university has improved its response to sexual-harassment and violence complaints by taking steps such as hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator and other investigative staff and by beginning extensive training and prevention programs.
Folt, the chancellor, noted those improvements in a statement. “Nothing is more important to us than creating a culture at Carolina where every member of our campus community feels safe, supported and respected. While this concludes the OCR investigation, it does not conclude our commitment,” she said.
But it said the school still had problems with its process for handling harassment and violence complaints, such as not differentiating between two ways that students can file a complaint against a university employee. It also said the procedures involving employees don’t specify that written notice of a decision will be provided to both parties and that it only allows one side to appeal.
Melinda Manning, who was the assistant dean of students when she and the four students filed the complaint, said in a Facebook post that she was told she was overreacting when she went to UNC about problems with its handling of complaints.
“I was ignored when I prepared a brief outlining the new Title IX requirements. I was retaliated against,” she wrote. “Last night, I was vindicated.”
Pino and another complainant, Annie Clark, founded the national advocacy group, End Rape on Campus. The UNC complaint was the first of many filed by students on campuses nationwide since 2013.
The two women were featured in “The Hunting Ground,” an Emmy-nominated documentary that premiered at The Sundance Film Festival in 2015.
“UNC is certainly not the only school that has swept sexual violence and harassment under the rug; however, our students have learned from a great place of higher education, and because we have the knowledge, privilege, and power to do so, we have and continue to hold the university that we love accountable,” Clark said in a statement.
This story has been edited to correct the title to Office for Civil Rights instead of Office of Civil Rights.
Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc