Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights begins on-campus interviews

By Shoham Geva, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 16, 2014

Officials from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are on campus until today as part of an ongoing Title IX investigation at the University.

The investigation spurred by an August 2013 complaint from former University professor Douglas Smith, who lodged a complaint with the department in connection with a 2009 sexual misconduct case involving former kicker Brendan Gibbons. In his complaint, Smith alleged that the University did not respond in a timely manner to the incident.

According to documents reviewed by The Michigan Daily, Gibbons was permanently separated from the University in December following a violation of the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy.

A second complaint is also being investigated along with Smith’s — the content of which has not been made public.

OCR investigators are holding office hours until Thursday, and held two focus groups for male and female students Wednesday afternoon.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said the University has cooperated with the OCR inquiry, and is interested in hearing and responding to any of the investigation’s findings.

“They’re going to help us,” Harper said. “They’re going to say look, we’ve come to campus, we’ve heard from students, here’s some ideas and thoughts about what you might do differently. And we will welcome that.”

However, she added that she believes real change at the University, especially in relation to systemic issues like sexual misconduct, can’t only come from an external source — it also has to be driven by the students and University community.

She added that though the University should constantly strive to produce better policy, the community must also work collectively to combat behavior and norms that allow sexual misconduct to occur in the first place.

“We keep behaving as if there’s an answer outside of ourselves, and there isn’t,” she said. “We certainly have to do something about the system that creates it, but we reinforce and keep the system going. Half the things that hurt, we inflict we do ourselves or to other people. And we could do something on this campus about that.”

OCR officials also invited members of Greek life, the LGBTQ community, international students, residential advisers, student athletes, band members and Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center staff and volunteers to meet with them separately, according to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.

LSA senior Hassan Reda was one of several students to stop by the office hours on Wednesday afternoon. He said he came because he had some negative interactions with instructors and faculty on campus and wanted to share his experiences.

“It was a productive conversation,” Reda said. “I shared my thoughts and they gave me some feedback.”

Reda said he found the investigation’s presence on campus a positive one.

“I think it’s a good check, to remind the University and to remind people in general, that issues of sexual harassment won’t really be tolerated, and they’re going to be looked into and set straight if things are not right,” Reda said.

Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw declined comment, citing the OCR’s policy not to discuss ongoing investigations.