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Canisius College is subject of federal sexual assault investigation

Canisius College has been added to a growing list of colleges and universities being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for its handling of sexual assault allegations.

A complaint submitted to the Office for Civil Rights triggered the investigation of Canisius, one of 95 colleges in the nation currently under review.

The inquiry began in December. The agency will examine whether the college violated any federal laws in handling a complaint of sexual violence or harassment.

A Canisius spokeswoman responded to a Buffalo News request for comment by emailing a prepared statement which said that the college followed federal and state laws in addressing a student misconduct case that led to the complaint to the federal office.

“The investigation of Canisius College by the Office for Civil Rights arises out of a single incident that occurred out of the country involving two students that has already been fully investigated and adjudicated through the college’s disciplinary processes,” according to the statement. “A party to that proceeding initiated the complaint with the OCR after the college’s adjudication. Canisius has very stringent student conduct codes and processes for investigating and adjudicating all claims of student misconduct. The college’s processes have been developed in consultation with legal counsel and fully meet the requirements of federal and state law. The college is satisfied that it has followed its procedures in all cases, including the incident that is the subject of this investigation.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education confirmed on Thursday that Canisius is being investigated but would not say whether it was due to a complaint to OCR or part of the office’s regular compliance reviews of postsecondary schools.

Eleven other New York schools besides Canisius are being investigated: Barnard College, Columbia University, CUNY Hunter College, Elmira College, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Pace University, St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sarah Lawrence College, SUNY at Stony Brook and SUNY College at Purchase.

With awareness of sexual violence on campuses increasing in recent years, state and federal governments have started taking a more activist approach in dealing with it.

A few years ago, the Office for Civil Rights investigated four State University of New York campuses, including SUNY Buffalo State, which led SUNY to implement a series of reforms. This past fall, SUNY also adopted uniform standards for handling and preventing cases of sexual assault – including a victims’ “bill of rights” and a systemwide definition of “affirmative consent” with regard to sexual activity between students. The standards apply to all 64 SUNY colleges and universities.

The statement from Canisius said its officials would not comment further.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com