The Department of Education allegedly sent 18 letters to people who reported Clery Act violations promising an investigation but did not inform the colleges that they were under review, according to a report from BuzzFeed.
One of those letters was sent to Harley Lennon, one of two University of Utah graduates who complained about the school’s handling of a violent incident on the Salt Lake City campus.
Lennon submitted a complaint after another student was held at gunpoint and raped in the backseat of her car by a man in a Halloween mask on October 31, 2016. The university waited two and a half hours to send an emergency text alert and it did not mention a gun.
“I’m honestly speechless,” Lennon said. “The U.S. Department of Education misled us to believe that our complaint was being addressed and taken seriously when we received that letter.”
The other complainant, Jenny Larsen, also says the school brushed off her complaint regarding the Halloween attack.
“The school also did not update their crime log to include this incident, making it feel to us that they were either acting irresponsibly or trying to hide the incident,” claims Larsen.
The University of Utah says it had no contact with the Education Department regarding the two complaints. In August of 2017, shortly after the letters were sent to Lennon and Larsen, the school reached out to the department for more information after learning about the letters through local media. A spokesman for the school told BuzzFeed that the university has yet to hear back.
“It’s a slap in the face and further demonstrates our government’s lack of concern and commitment to address campus sexual assault,” Lennon said.
The other schools at which the department found “shortcomings” in Clery compliance include Stanford University, Old Dominion University, Longwood University, the University of Richmond, Skidmore College, Southern Arkansas University, Texas A&M International University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Oklahoma, Washington University in St. Louis, Bellevue College, Clark University, the College of St. Scholastica, Dakota County Technical College, the University of Hartford and Kaplan College Fresno.
BuzzFeed reached out to officials from all of the schools allegedly being investigated but were told they were not aware of the letters either.
According to an internal email obtained by BuzzFeed through a Freedom of Information Act request, some department staff members knew that some schools under review had not been informed.
“Many of the [colleges] at issue likely had no idea that our Division was even looking at them,” a department official wrote in December, explaining the letters were sent to try and clear out a backlog of complaints.
A senior official defended the department’s handling of the 18 cases and said all had been “thoroughly reviewed” for possible Clery violations, assuring the department “takes extraordinary measures to protect the anonymity of the complainant,” so schools will not always know there has been a complaint filed against them, BuzzFeed reports.
This particular issue adds to the scrutiny of the department regarding campus safety issues since Secretary Betsy DeVos took office, among those an overhaul of Title IX regulations and an increase in the time it takes the department to investigate a Title IX claim.
Data from 2015 shows that from the 2009 fiscal year to the 2014 fiscal year, sexual violence complaints at colleges increased by more than 1,000 percent.
The amount of time it takes for an investigation to be completed also increased from an average of 379 days to 1,469 days, suggesting the department is overworked and lacks necessary resources to conduct a timely investigation.
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