College Sexual Assault Policies to Get Closer Scrutiny from DOE

When Andrea Pino was raped at an off-campus party while she was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she didn’t think her experience would be the catalyst to bring about a new way for colleges and universities around the country to deal with sexual assault. Initially, when Pino tried to take advantage of the tools that are supposed to be available to victims on the UNC campus, she was turned away. Her academic adviser wouldn’t assist with her academic load when the trauma made it too difficult to keep up, and even other students discouraged her from reporting her rape to the police, saying that nothing would be done anyway.

According to Inside Higher Education, there the matter might have remained if Pino hadn’t been appointed as a member of the committee vetting candidates for the post of the school’s Title IX Coordinator. During the course of the search, she realized that Chapel Hill wasn’t fulfilling many of its obligations under Title IX, and the basis for the federal complaint to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights was born.

But it wasn’t the problems at UNC that led Pino to help write the federal complaint that was largely responsible for pushing a nationwide watershed moment for sexual assault on college campuses into the national spotlight. It was the subsequent realization that the situation at UNC was far from unique.

“I realized the UNC complaint is so much bigger than UNC,” Pino said. “It’s something that has been happening for years.”

IHE’s Allie Grasgreen explains that the complaint did more than bring government scrutiny onto the process schools around the country use to handle sexual assault allegations. It also brought attention to the issue and galvanized the students into uniting and launching protests on their campuses to demand change.

The student population at America’s colleges embraced the issue, and from Pino’s efforts to the OCR’s follow-up, the issue of sexual assault and student safety on campus has remained

While students are largely responsible for pushing this issue into the public consciousness, it was OCR that sternly reminded colleges there would be consequences for not complying with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination in schools and colleges on the basis of sex. When OCR announced it would be cracking down on colleges that didn’t fulfill their obligations under Title IX, which includes requirements for policies and procedures in sexual assault cases, it was simultaneously beginning an investigation of Yale University. In that case that garnered national attention, students filed a federal complaint alleging that Yale failed to eliminate a hostile campus environment after fraternity members chanted “No means yes, yes means anal” outside a campus women’s center.