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Feds investigating how UB handled student’s sexual assault allegation

The University at Buffalo has been added to a growing list of colleges under investigation for their handling of sexual assault allegations.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has launched an investigation into UB’s handling of a sexual assault allegation lodged earlier this year. UB is one of 202 colleges under review across the nation.

The inquiry into UB’s case began in May. The federal civil rights agency is examining whether the university violated any laws in handling the case of a female student who accused a male student of sexually abusing her in a dorm room. The woman made the allegation to university staff last semester, and the case was referred to the university student judicial system.

Federal officials and university administrators would not comment on the case.

A university spokesman issued a prepared statement acknowledging the civil rights inquiry and pledging UB’s “full cooperation” with the review.

The statement said that UB “takes its responsibilities on the issue of sexual assaults on campus very seriously.  Nothing is more important than the safety and welfare of our students.”

“For the privacy of our students, the University at Buffalo and the Office for Civil Rights will not disclose case-specific facts or details about any ongoing investigation. The OCR also makes it clear that a college or university’s appearance on this list does not indicate that the institution is violating or has violated the law,” the statement reads. “The university is deeply committed to providing an exceptional educational experience for our students and a safe environment for the entire university community, and to fair processes for investigating, resolving and adjudicating any claims of sexual assault.”

Confronting sexual violence has become a major concern on campuses around the country, with federal lawmakers, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., proposing tough fines on institutions for failing to provide support for assault victims and for concealing data about sex crimes on campus. The State University of New York implemented new standards in 2015 requiring all of its campuses to have an “affirmative consent” policy regarding sexual activity between students, as well as a “bill of rights” for victims of sexual assault.

Many colleges and universities have pledged to do more to prevent assaults.

Still, the caseload of civil rights investigations has continued to grow since the agency released its initial list in May 2014.

Canisius College was added later that year, and two separate investigations involving SUNY Buffalo State were initiated in March and April of 2015. Other colleges and universities in New York State under investigation include: Bard College, Barnard College, Columbia University, Cornell University, Corning Community College, Hunter College, Elmira College, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Monroe Community College, New York University School of Medicine, Pace University, Polytechnic Institute of New York University, St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sarah Lawrence College, Skidmore College, St. John’s University, Albany University, Stony Brook University, Brockport State College, SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Purchase, Syracuse University, the Pratt Institute, Union College and the University of Rochester.

UB officials said in their statement that UB provides students with information about how to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, as part of the university’s notice of nondiscrimination policy.

“Under federal law, a student who has reported sexual assault and a student accused of a sexual assault both have the right to file a discrimination complaint with the OCR if either party disagrees with the outcome of a hearing, the process by which the complaint was investigated, or any decisions regarding interim measures and accommodations,” the statement said. “The university strongly supports the right of students to have our decisions reviewed by the OCR when either party to an accusation disagrees with a determination.”

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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