Sunday, January 15, 2012

OCR Investigates Xavier University's Handling of Sexual Assault

In response to a complaint filed by a former student, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating how Xavier University handled that student's accusations of sexual assault directed at another student. Kalyn Burgio, the complaining student, alleged to the university that she was assaulted by Sean Marron in March of 2009. The incident occurred in the several-week period after Marron was had been found responsible by the university for a similar assault against another student, but before he was required to leave campus to serve his suspension.

Burgio alleges that when she reported the incident, the Dean of Students encouraged her to drop the charges in exchange for a promise from Marron that he would leave campus voluntarily. According to Brett Sokolow, a legal expert on campus sexual assault who was quoted in the article linked above, such a conversation, which amounts to the university negotiating on behalf of the accused, would not only be highly inappropriate, but retaliatory and a violation of the victim's civil rights. Such a deal also reportedly violated Xavier's disciplinary procedures, which allow the accused to waive a hearing only if he accepts responsibility for the charges.

Burgio further alleges that the university's disciplinary procedure, which did result in a finding that Marron was responsible for sexual assault against, was nevertheless procedurally flawed and biased toward protecting the university's reputation and accommodating the accused. She alleges that Xavier failed to inform her of her rights to file criminal charges, unduly delayed the disciplinary proceeding, and denied her academic accommodations. In addition, Marron was again allowed to finish the semester before his sentence of expulsion took effect.

This investigation is reportedly one of 30 open investigations being pursued by the Office for Civil Rights, and one of 40 complaints received by the agency since the beginning of 2011. The number of complaints has nearly doubled that of prior administrations, and is likely due to OCR's efforts to clarify universities' responsibilities to protect victims civil rights in the wake of sexual assault, efforts that have included a recent Dear Colleague letter and a couple of high-profile settlements.