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USU reaches agreement with DOJ to improve response to sexual assaults

Justice Department found university failed to comply with Title IX

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The Wayne Estes Center opens at Utah State University in Logan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.

The Wayne Estes Center at Utah State University in Logan.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After finding Utah State University failed to comply with federal sex discrimination laws, the U.S. Department of Justice has reached an agreement with the school to ensure better response to reports of sexual assault and harassment.

The DOJ launched an investigation in 2017 based on allegations that the university failed to respond to numerous reports of serious sexual assaults.

One high-profile case alleged former USU football star Torrey Green sexually assaulted seven women, and another argued the school did little to protect a student from a fraternity member accused of assaulting five women before he raped her. Green has since been convicted of five rapes and one sexual assault, with one case pending.

Federal officials reviewed USU’s policies, procedures and responses to sexual harassment complaints over more than a four-year period, concluding that the Logan school did not comply with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities receiving federal funds.

“Sexual harassment and violence have no place on college campuses, and too often deny students their right to an equal education. No student should feel unsafe because of a school’s failure to address sexual violence and its devastating impacts,” said Eric Dreiband, an assistant U.S. attorney general in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

The agreement outlines specific steps USU has agreed to take to improve its investigation and resolution of sexual harassment complaints, and help students, faculty and staff understand their reporting options, duties and obligations with respect to sexual harassment. The school must also ensure that members of the campus community know where to go for resources and support.

“The review found that, during this three-year time period, there were universitywide failures in addressing sexual misconduct,” said USU President Noelle Cockett. “We’ve made sweeping changes since 2016, and this agreement further lays out a series of steps we will take to prevent sexual misconduct and respond to it appropriately when it does occur.”

Requirements of the agreement include:

• Update and revise the sexual misconduct policy and the procedures for investigation and disciplinary action.

• All incoming students attending a residential campus in Logan, Price and Blanding must complete in-person training regarding sexual misconduct prevention beginning fall 2020.

• All undergraduate and graduate students must complete annual online training in sexual misconduct prevention beginning fall 2020.

• All “responsible employees,” as defined by Title IX, must receive annual in-person training in their responsibilities to report disclosures of sexual misconduct to the Title IX coordinator.

• Employees involved in the Title IX process, those receiving confidential disclosures and USU police officers will receive annual in-person training.

The DOJ will monitor compliance with the agreement through the 2022-23 school year. The university also will submit semiannual reports regarding reports of sexual misconduct.

“Utah schools should be free of discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual assault. When such misconduct occurs, schools must know how to respond appropriately,” said John Huber, U.S. attorney for Utah.

The University of Utah last summer announced it would implement more than two dozen measures to improve campus safety after student-athlete Lauren McCluskey was murdered on campus.

McCluskey was shot to death by 37-year-old Melvin Rowland, whom she briefly dated. Rowland, a convicted sex offender, had lied to McCluskey about his name, age and background.

McCluskey’s parents filed a $56 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the university alleging it had taken no responsibility for the death of their daughter, who called campus police more than 20 times for help before her murder, according to court documents.