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An allegation that Westminster College failed to protect a student who reported a sexual assault in 2013 is drawing federal investigators to campus.
The three-day visit by representatives of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights starts Nov. 2. The office is seeking to determine whether the school was timely and effective in handling the case and creating an environment for the alleged victim that was not hostile, and whether it is complying with a broader federal sexual violence law.
"It's good to have the government come in," said Melissa Flores, Westminster College general counsel, "and say,'these are the places you're deficient and these are the places you've done a good job.' "
There was only one sex offense reported to Westminster police in 2013, according to the school's crime report from that year. The alleged assault occurred somewhere off-campus at 1 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10, and was reported to campus officers an hour and a half later. It was then referred to the Salt Lake City Police Department, which declined to pursue the case, according to the school.
It is not the only instance the federal attorneys will consider after touching down from their agency's Denver office.
They are sifting through 14 other claims of sexual assault and misconduct at Westminster from 2012 to November 2014. A trio of reports in that time frame ultimately led to a 2½ year suspension of one student who administrators found to be at fault in all three accounts. Administrators say the federal investigation will shed light on what they need to fix.
"We welcome this visit," said Jason Schwartz-Johnson, Westminster's Title IX coordinator. "I think every school around the country is grappling with this and can do better."
The Salt Lake City liberal arts school is one of more than 100 colleges under similar scrutiny nationwide, but the first in Utah to be investigated. It was sparked by the complaint filed to the OCR, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education.
The visit is set to include meetings with faculty and staff who reviewed the 2013 report.
The federal team also wants to hear from current students and employees who were not involved in that case, and will meet for 20 minutes with anyone on Westminster's campus who wants to weigh in on civil rights issues.
Additionally, they will hold closed meetings with specific groups such as student athletes and coaches; diversity officials and club members; feminist groups and gender studies professors; and resident advisers.
Westminster has already handed over to investigators 1,000 pages of training documents and policies related to discrimination; harassment and sexual violence; and allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.
Much of the paperwork is recent as Westminster adjusts to federal requirements that went into effect in July. For example, one new policy maintains that after a student reports a case to the school, administrators must keep both the alleged victim and offender up-to-date on the proceedings.
Under the federal guidelines, colleges review cases of sexual misconduct and assault differently than law enforcement does. Administrators use a less stringent standard based on a "preponderance of evidence," and are tasked with figuring out whether a student is "responsible," rather than guilty.
Flores, who is the main attorney for the school of roughly 3,000 students, anticipates the investigation will take up to four months.
Number of sexual assaults reported to Westminster from 2012-2014
2012-2013 academic year: 5
• In two cases, the alleged victims chose not to participate in Westminster's investigation or file a school complaint.
• In an additional three reports, one student was found responsible for each assault and was suspended for 2½ years.
2013-2014 academic year: 2
• In one report, victims elected not to participate or file a complaint, so no conclusion was reached.
• In another, the disciplinary committee found the alleged perpetrator was not responsible.
Start of the 2014 academic year through Nov. 10, 2014: 7
• In three instances, alleged victims elected not to participate or file a complaint.
• In another, the assailant could not be identified.
• One complaint was made by a non-Westminster student against another non-Westminster student. The school forwarded the case to the alleged offender's college.
• In two more reports, Westminster administrators found there was not sufficient information to conclude whether a student violated the school's policy..
Source: Westminster College.