Federal officials will visit UMass Amherst investigating response to possible sexual harassment and violence

Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2015

AMHERST — A continuing investigation into the response by University of Massachusetts to possible sexual harassment and violence is prompting representatives from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights to visit the Amherst campus next week.

An email sent Thursday from the office of the vice chancellor for student affairs informed students, faculty, staff and other members of the community that federal officials will be at UMass Monday afternoon and evening and Tuesday afternoon.

According to the email, “As part of our investigation, the Office for Civil Rights is interested in hearing from a variety of members of the UMass Amherst community, including students, faculty, administrators, alumni and other stakeholders to learn more about issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. We are interested in getting a wide range of perspectives on what issues may exist, the adequacy of the university’s response to complaints, as well as potential solutions.”

The Office for Civil Rights is responsible for investigating complaints of alleged violations of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational programs and activities

UMass spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons said Friday that the news office has no additional information about the meetings, observing that officials at the Office for Civil Rights approached the administration, and the news office coordinated the mailing.

“We sent this to everyone on campus to let them know they’re coming,” Fitzgibbons said.

Last May, both UMass and Amherst College were among 55 institutions listed as being reviewed for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment. At the time, a UMass spokesman said the campus was part of a compliance review, because no complaint had been filed.

The review at Amherst College was prompted by two complaints filed in November 2013.

In July, Hampshire College was added to the list for review, but college President Jonathan Lash said it was not prompted by a complaint.

The memo to UMass recipients states that the federal officials are trying to get a wide range of participants and those wanting to share information should send email to OCRBostonTitleIX@ed.gov. People will also be able to meet in person on campus or as small groups. Officials will return to the UMass campus in the summer.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for Department of Education in Washington, D.C., last year referred to a press release in which the Office of Civil Rights stated that “it will not disclose any case-specific facts or details about the institutions under investigation. The list includes investigations opened because of complaints received by the OCR and those initiated by the OCR as compliance reviews.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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