Newly-disclosed documents regarding the federal investigation into the university's response to sexual assault allegations reveal one student claimed MSU retaliated against her after reporting an assault "when it engaged in activities to malign her character."
As the Department of Education investigates MSU’s response to reports of sexual assault and harassment, documents obtained by The State News from a Freedom of Information Act request reveal allegations leveled at the university span over three years and three separate cases. The documents provide a new level of insight into the incidents under investigation, one of which has not yet concluded nearly three years after it began.
That oldest case involves the reported sexual assault of a female student by two male students in a residence hall at the beginning of 2010’s fall semester. Documents show the university first received notification of the investigation in July 2011.
The date and location bears striking similarity to an incident involving two MSU basketball players that reportedly occurred between Aug. 29 and Aug. 30, 2010 in Wonders Hall.
Although names and identifiable details of alleged victims and assailants were redacted, the documents confirm there were two alleged assailants associated with the first case, dated Aug. 29, 2010, in communication between federal investigators and the university.
In a written statement, MSU spokesman Jason Cody denied the allegations of noncompliance.
“MSU responded fully and appropriately to the incidents under review,” Cody said. “While federal law and privacy concerns prevent MSU from fully discussing specifics, we have a comprehensive record of the actions we took that supports the university’s position that we acted appropriately.”
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, informed MSU in a letter sent in July 2011 it would investigate whether the university “failed to respond appropriately” to the student’s initial report of sexual assault and the reported retaliatory harassment she received from the students and the university in the months that followed.
This past February, MSU received another letter from OCR requesting additional information and notifying MSU of their intention to visit campus.
A response letter sent three days afterwards from MSU attorney Kristine Zayko questioned the OCR’s conduct, noting MSU did not receive a response from the office until almost one year after it had initially submitted information in 2011.
“The delay in processing and reaching resolution in this matter is both frustrating and incompatible with the expectations that OCR places on college and universities for conducting timely investigations,” the letter reads.
Another case under investigation stems from an allegation that the university didn’t respond properly to a report of retaliatory harassment. According to a letter sent to the university in February 2013, the student already had filed an internal grievance with MSU but disagreed with the university’s findings, leading OCR “to determine whether the university provided (the student) with a resolution process comparable to OCR’s.”
The most recent case being investigated questions whether MSU responded "promptly and equitably" to a 2013 report and whether the university’s alleged failure to properly respond “allowed a student or students and/or the campus, generally, to continue to be subjected to a sexually hostile environment.”
The department is investigating whether MSU handled complaints in a manner compliant with Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in federally-funded institutions.
Institutions are notified of changes in standards of compliance through “Dear Colleague” letters disseminated by OCR. Correspondence revealed MSU worked with OCR to amend their procedures in Oct. 2010, two months after the first case occurred.