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Feds Find UC Berkeley Botched Some Sexual Harassment Complaints

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A four-year federal investigation found UC Berkeley isn’t meeting all legal requirements when it comes to handling complaints of sexual assault and harassment.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Before the #MeToo movement, college students were promoting a new standard of conduct on college campuses with the Yes Means Yes Campaign to end sexual violence and harassment.

UC Berkeley was often at the center of the storm. There were allegations against high-profile faculty, lawsuits, firings and resignations -- including the chancellor’s.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights conducted an investigation prompted by student complaints, and this week officials announced an agreement that brings that investigation to a close.

UC Berkeley has made improvements to its policies and procedures around sexual harassment and sexual violence, federal officials found, but the school still isn’t meeting all legal requirements.

Investigators spent four years looking into the issues and made nine campus visits. They reviewed more than 200 cases, and found in some instances that the university didn’t provide students enough information about their rights, or took too long to resolve the cases.

Students walk through Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus.
Students walk through Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

UC Berkeley has agreed to a two-year monitoring period. The university will revise its alternative resolution process, which allows some cases to be resolved without a formal investigation, and its policies on handling allegations against faculty or staff.

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The school will also continue providing training to faculty and graduate students, and review eight previous cases identified by the Office of Civil Rights.

The origins of the investigation trace back to 2012, when Sofie Karasek, now 24, was a freshman at UC Berkeley and complained to university officials about a fellow student sexually assaulting her. She was frustrated by what she felt was a seriously flawed university response, so she organized a group of 31 students who’d had similar experiences, and brought a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education.

"We felt like it was a moral imperative for us to do something about this," Karasek said.

The students argued that school officials discouraged victims from reporting assaults, failed to inform them of their rights and led biased investigations that favored perpetrators’ rights over those of their victims.

Karasek said the findings by federal investigators don't bring her the closure she'd hoped for.

"I’m relieved that the department has validated many of the concerns that we were talking about all those years ago," she said. "But at the same time, I am also frustrated because my individual allegation was closed."

In a statement, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ thanked the government for its careful review and said the university is committed to doing more to improve its processes and ensure a safe and supportive environment for the campus community.

The Chronicle of Higher Education tracks investigations by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, and puts the number of cases opened since 2011 at more than 450.

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