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Office for Civil Rights to visit the U

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights will visit the U Feb. 21-23. As part of this visit, OCR will hold five focus groups for students to attend.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will visit the University of Utah Feb. 21-23 to review the university’s policies and procedures regarding sex-based discrimination. The university was informed by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in June 2016 that it had received a complaint alleging the U had discriminated on the basis of sex by failing to timely respond to a complaint of sexual misconduct.

As part of this Title IX investigation, OCR is gathering information through a variety of methods to determine if the U is meeting its obligations to comply with federal civil rights laws. The U is cooperating fully with OCR’s inquiry and shares a common goal of providing a safe and respectful educational climate for every member of the university community.

As is typical during these campus visits, OCR will host focus groups that any student is invited to attend. These focus groups will be held at the S.J. Quinney College of Law building in Room 2100:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 21, 9-10 a.m. or 3-4 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 22, 11 a.m.-noon or 1-2 p.m.
  • Thursday, Feb. 23, 10-11 a.m.

Students who are unable to attend one of the focus groups may visit with OCR representatives during open office hours. No appointment is necessary. Office hours will also be held in the S.J. Quinney College of Law building in Room 2100.

  • Tuesday, Feb. 21, 4-5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2-2:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, Feb. 23, 11 a.m.-12 pm.

“We welcome what we can learn from this process as we continue to look for innovative ways and best practices to address an issue that faces every college campus,” said Sherrie Hayashi, the U’s Title IX coordinator.

For more information on OCR’s visit to campus, please read the FAQs below. If you have questions about the upcoming site visit and review, contact a member of the U’s Title IX team at 801-581-8365.

FAQs on the Office of Civil Rights Site Visit to the University of Utah

What is OCR?

The Office for Civil Rights is part of the U.S. Department of Education and is charged with enforcing certain federal civil rights in educational settings. OCR investigates complaints of discrimination, provides technical assistance to institutions to help achieve compliance with civil rights laws and addresses problems with compliance.

Why is OCR on campus?

Over the past few years, OCR has conducted similar site visits at many universities and colleges. OCR is reviewing the U’s overall policies and procedures that govern its response to student allegations of sexual misconduct or discrimination. OCR staff also will meet with select staff and students.

Is this connected to a particular incident?

Yes. The U was contacted by OCR in connection with its response to a previous incident of alleged sexual misconduct. Out of respect for the privacy of all the parties involved in incidents of this nature and the integrity of university procedures, the U does not discuss or comment publicly on particular allegations, complaints or incidents of misconduct.

What did OCR ask for?

In addition to reviewing university records, OCR has asked the U to arrange meetings with specific administrators, faculty and staff involved in its response to sexual misconduct and also to provide space for, and notice to students of the focus groups it will hold while on campus.

What information did the U provide to OCR?

In response to OCR’s request, the U has provided a number of documents pertaining to the policies and procedures and to the incident in question. The U quickly made every effort to comply with the spirit and letter of OCR requests and to work collaboratively with OCR staff to ensure an effective site visit.

Why does OCR want to meet with focus groups?

It is typical for OCR to hear directly from students about their perspective of the climate at a university as well as a university’s efforts to address sexual misconduct or discrimination.

With whom is OCR meeting?

In order to protect the privacy of students, faculty and staff, and guarantee the integrity of the OCR inquiry, the identities of those who have been invited to meet with OCR representatives are not disclosed. It would not be appropriate for the U to speculate on the content of these conversations, which are opportunities for OCR staff to have private and unfiltered contact with campus members.

What will we learn from this investigation?

The campus has been working to adopt best practices in addressing Title IX for some time. The U welcomes OCR’s input and will use the findings to help respond more effectively, promptly and equitably to alleged violations and to make the campus a respectful, safe and secure environment for all students, faculty and staff.

What is the U’s stance on issues of sexual misconduct?

The U is deeply committed to an inclusive campus environment in which all members of the community are respected and have equal access to educational opportunity. The U sees sexual misconduct as fundamentally incompatible with the university’s mission and is committed to preventing and responding promptly and fairly to all alleged policy violations.

What steps has the U taken to address these challenges?

A Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety is currently working to ensure the U is doing all it can to provide a safe campus for all its community members. That includes reviewing and making recommendations regarding awareness and training efforts, adequacy of support personnel and physical safety on campus. The task force is expected to make its recommendations this spring.

The Academic Senate and Board of Trustees have approved a realignment of policies regarding nondiscrimination designed to make the U’s policies and processes more clear, easier to find and to follow, and applicable across the university.

Other steps recently taken by the U include: Hiring two full-time victim advocates; increasing bystander intervention and other trainings available to students, staff and faculty; hosting listening and information sessions about campus sexual assault resources and campus safety; preparing a new resource guide on sexual misconduct; providing anti-discrimination and sexual harassment training to staff, students, and faculty, and providing trauma-informed sexual assault investigation training to all officers in the Department of Public Safety.