The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced on Friday that it has reached a settlement agreement with the University of Notre Dame related to its recent investigation of student-on-student sexual harassment, including sexual violence.
OCR conducted the investigation into the University’s handling of several student sexual harassment cases, including the Elizabeth Seeberg case, which included campus visits, interviews with Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College officials, an extensive review of the University’s written policies and procedures and examined files related to sexual harassment cases.
The investigation followed an internal review of previously filed cases against the Notre Dame along with recent articles in the press about University’s handling of sexual assault complaints.
OCR's investigation was agency-initiated, not based on a complaint.
Before the investigation was concluded, Notre Dame voluntarily agreed to a resolution agreement with OCR.
The agreement requires the University to ensure that students and the public are informed on how to report sexual harassment and what to expect from the University and law enforcement after making such a report.
The University agreed to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard to evaluate allegations of sexual harassment, cyber-harassment as a form of sexual harassment and intimidation or obstruction to prevent the reporting of sexual harassment or participation in appropriate investigatory proceedings.
Notre Dame also agreed to fully complete its Title IX sexual harassment and violence investigations within 60 days after receiving a complaint. It also must ensure that victims feel safe throughout the investigation and disciplinary proceeding process which includes not being required to face the accused.
Complainants will also be allowed to appeal a disciplinary decision on the same grounds as provided to the accused.
Notre Dame must inform complainants, accused students and witnesses about the resources and services available. It also must inform both parties of the notice of the process, the opportunity to provide evidence and how to access peer support and information about the procedures and written notice of the outcome.
The University must begin interim and permanent steps to halt harassment, remedy the harassment and prevent recurrence.
Those steps include specific discussions with the complainant about academic, extracurricular activities, housing and on-campus dining arrangements of the parties to determine if adjustments in schedules or housing need to be made. Also, any adjustments made must be designed to minimize the burden on the complainant’s educational program
“We commend the university for its willingness to show leadership in this area by improving its efforts to address and prevent sexual harassment of students on its campus," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali. “No student can learn if they are fearful of sexual harassment or assault. We launched this investigation to ensure that college students have an educational environment free from sexual violence and other forms of sexual harassment.
To ensure that the policies and procedures are implemented effectively at Notre Dame, OCR will closely monitor the University’s implementation of the agreement. As part of the monitoring activities, the University will invite students who have experienced sexual harassment on-campus to share their recommendations for improving the Notre Dame’s responses to sexual harassment.
Notre Dame will also work with its established campus coalition, the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention to assess the campus environment and recommend further improvements.
“We very much appreciate the thoroughness exhibited by the OCR staff who conducted the review,” said Rev. Thomas Doyle, C.S.C., vice president for student affairs at Notre Dame. “The review has confirmed for us that we have outstanding initiatives in place, while also providing direction for several areas in which we can make modifications for improvement. Sexual misconduct can have no place at Notre Dame, and we are committed to continuing to protect the safety and human dignity of every student.”
Notre Dame entered into the agreement voluntarily, which does not constitute a finding or admission that the University is not in compliance with Title IX.
To view a copy of the Resolution Letter and Agreement, click here.