The U.S. Department of Education revealed Monday it is investigating complaints about MSU’s handling of sexual assault accusations, a fact that university officials successfully kept quiet until now.
On Friday, university officials sent a letter via email to the MSU community announcing what they described as several new events aimed at educating students, faculty and staff about sexual assault prevention. In the letter, Paulette Granberry Russell, a senior advisor to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and the university’s Title IX coordinator, acknowledged “there is more that we can do to educate the MSU community on sexual violence.”
Near the bottom of the letter was a single sentence stating that the university is “collaborating” with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, to “give members of the campus community an opportunity” to meet with representatives from the department.
But on Monday, Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw told The State News the planned visit to campus is directly related to an official investigation into sexual harassment and violence complaints pending against the university.
Although details of the complaints are a mystery for now — neither the Department of Education nor MSU would provide insight into the nature or reach of the allegations — university officials were quick to defend their overall handling of sexual assault accusations. It’s not yet clear whether the investigation could prove to be a liability for Simon, who just last week publicly addressed “destructive” behavior among students, including sexual violence.
Granberry Russell said investigators will examine whether MSU’s processes for handling sexual assault follow federal guidelines. She insisted MSU leaders are doing everything in their power to address the problem.
A university spokesman said MSU officials are fully cooperating with the investigation.
“MSU responded fully and appropriately to the incident under investigation,” MSU spokesman Kent Cassella said in a statement. “While federal law and privacy concerns prevent MSU from fully discussing the specifics of the matter, we have a comprehensive record of the actions we took that supports the university’s position that we acted appropriately. We look forward to continue working with the OCR on this matter.”
Simon commented at the last Faculty Senate meeting that MSU leaders are doing all they can to prevent sexual assault on campus, and stressed that Spartans need to take initiative and look out for one another.
“We need to have that kind of conversation about how we can have Spartans really feeling comfortable taking care of other Spartans in situations so we’re not about another educational program to prevent (sexual violence), because the same people come to them,” Simon said. “We’re not about trying to clean up after things happen, which is always unsatisfactory. People’s lives have been affected.”
Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention advocate and media and information junior Laura Swanson has a similar take, but said she was not surprised by the investigation.
“I think that this is applicable not only to MSU, but to a lot of different universities,” Swanson said. “You do hear stories. Sexual assaults are very much underreported, and you hear stories of police victim blaming.
“It speaks to the whole culture that we are in general not believing of victims and their stories, and we don’t take the necessary steps to prosecute people.”