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The University of Utah is being investigated by the federal government after a complaint from graduate Nisha Kavalam who said the school mishandled her sexual assault investigation.

Kavalam, who graduated in December with a degree in social work, says she reported to the U. a few weeks after being sexually assaulted by a fellow student in February 2015. Under Title IX, a federal law that bars sexual discrimination, schools have an obligation to swiftly investigate reports of sexual assault.

The school took more than a year to find the perpetrator responsible, she said, so in May she filed a federal complaint with the education department's Office for Civil Rights.

The feds began investigating the U. last month, and Kavalam said she's "ecstatic" about it.

"It feels like a win for me and everyone on campus," Kavalam said, adding that the U. "will now be forced to look at its policies and practices."

The Tribune typically does not name sexual assault victims, but Kavalam agreed to be identified.

Maria O'Mara, the U.'s spokeswoman, said the school was informed of an investigation "into how promptly we respond to reports of sexual assault" and that U. officials will cooperate and welcome investigators in the fall.

"It is critical to the university that our students feel comfortable reporting sexual assault through the university process, the criminal process or both," O'Mara said. "We know sexual assault is underreported, on our campus and around the country, so we are heartsick to learn that any student felt the process was difficult."

Kavalam previously told The Tribune that the U.'s Title IX investigator decided in April 2015 that there was not enough evidence to support her sexual assault claim, so she quickly appealed the decision to a disciplinary panel of U. faculty, staff and students.

Nine months later — in January — that panel decided it was more likely than not that the male student had sexually assaulted her, she said.

By that time, both she and the accused student had graduated.

The U.S. Department of Education recommends schools complete their investigation within 60 days, but it's not a requirement. That time frame does not include the appeals process, but department documents state that an "unduly long appeals process may impact whether the school's response was prompt and equitable as required by Title IX."

As of last week, the office was investigating 257 sexual violence cases at 200 institutions.

One of those institutions is Westminster College in Salt Lake City, which has been under investigation since January 2015.

Brigham Young University student Madi Barney filed a complaint with the office in April, saying the private Provo school blocked her from enrolling in classes after she reported being raped to local police. BYU was not on the list of schools being investigated by the Office for Civil Rights.

If a school is found to have violated Title IX, it usually reaches a settlement with the federal government and must show it is making new efforts to comply with the law. A school could lose its federal funding, though experts say that has never happened.

The office has said it aims to resolve complaints in 180 days, but it can take longer depending on the case.

A department spokesman said it won't disclose specific details about institutions they're investigating.

Twitter @alexdstuckey

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