L.A.’s Occidental College confirmed Friday that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation this week into whether the private institution properly handled complaints of sexual harassment and rape.
The investigation was sparked by a complaint filed by the campus group Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, a student and faculty group that alleges that dozens of female students have been sexually assaulted in the past four years and that college administrators have done little to address the complaints.
Occidental spokesman Jim Tranquada on Friday said federal investigators have requested documents, such as the college’s harassment policies. Occidental, he said, hired consultants last month to look into how administrators handled sexual assault complaints in the past two years.
He said the consultants were retained, “With the intent of trying to find out what we did well, what we did badly and what we might need to change to make sure that we are providing survivors with resources and the appropriate process that they need."
The consultants’ findings should be completed this summer, Tranquada said.
Tranquada said he doesn’t have this year’s tally of reported sexual assaults. There were 14 reports of sexual assault in the previous three years, he said. The Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition said the number is much higher.
A statement on the group’s web site welcomed the federal probe:
“We are grateful to the original 37 (now 42) individuals who bravely shared their experiences of sexual harassment, sexual battery, sexual assault, rape, and retaliation at Occidental College with OSAC in order to seek justice when the institution failed them.”
The 126 year-old college is a nationally respected liberal arts college and one of Southern California’s most venerable institutions of higher learning. Its bucolic campus in L.A.’s Eagle Rock neighborhood enrolls 2,100 students; 56 percent are women.