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U.S. Finds Michigan State’s Sex-Assault Policies Created ‘Hostile Environment’

[Updated (9/1/2015, 3:11 p.m.) with the university's response.]

The U.S. Education Department has found that Michigan State University’s sexual-assault and sexual-harassment policies violated the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX, creating a “sexually hostile environment.”

In a letter released on Tuesday, the department says that the university did not notify students or employees of its Title IX coordinator, and that grievance procedures did not satisfy Title IX’s standards, among other things.

In a resolution agreement enclosed in the letter, the university agreed to take a series of steps, including:

  • Revise its notice of nondiscrimination.
  • Train its staff on revised Title IX complaint procedures.
  • Provide mandatory training to students on the role of the Title IX coordinator, as well as what constitutes sexual assault and the university’s definition of consent.
  • Update the training materials given to athletes about sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault.

The government’s investigation dealt with two student complaints — one filed in 2011, the other in 2014 — alleging that the university had discriminated against them by not fairly handling their reports of sexual violence.

After investigating, the Education Department found that the university had not promptly and equitably responded to the students’ reports, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest the students experienced further discrimination because of the university’s failure to respond.

Michigan State was one of roughly 130 colleges and universities under investigation by the department’s Office for Civil Rights for their policies dealing with sexual assault under Title IX.

According to the letter, the university signed the proposed resolution agreement on Friday.

In a news release, the university said it had already started several efforts to improve its timeliness in responding to complaints. “No member of our community should be threatened by sexual violence, and we have made a commitment to be part of a larger societal conversation on this issue,” said the university’s president, Lou Anna K. Simon, in the release. “We have been constantly making improvements, using various inputs to be better tomorrow than we are today.”

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