The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.
The unprecedented naming of campuses -- which included public and private institutions in 27 states, including four in California -- is meant to increase public awareness of civil rights and the federal government’s enforcement work, said Catherine E. Lhamon, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights.
But she added that colleges and universities on the list "in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law."
The California campuses under investigation are Occidental College, UC Berkeley, USC and the Butte-Glenn Community College District. Others include Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University Law School, University of Chicago, Arizona State University and Swarthmore College.
Activists who have been fighting for such disclosures hailed the action.
"It’s a huge deal," said Caroline Heldman, chair of Occidental College’s politics department who helped file complaints against the campus over its handling of sexual assault cases. "It will inspire more survivor activists to file complaints when they see schools of every stripe in every part of the country have this problem."
Federal officials are investigating whether the campuses violated Title IX of a 1972 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. The law requires campuses to address sexual violence; those found in violation can lose their federal funding, although none ever have.
The Obama administration has cracked down on the problem with greater enforcement and high-profile guidance on campuses' legal obligations to address sexual assault complaints. Earlier this week, a White House task force released several recommendations to strengthen federal enforcement actions and provide additional tools to combat the problem, including a new website and funding for research on promising prevention programs.
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