The University of Hawaii Manoa did not fully comply with Title IX, a law that prohibits gender discrimination in schools that receive federal dollars, over much of the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Specifically, the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights found UH Manoa bungled complaints and didn’t follow grievance procedure requirements.
UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said the Manoa campus has addressed four of five issues identified by the feds: revising Title IX sexual harassment policies and procedures; staff training on matters such as reporting requirements and determining the existence of a hostile environment; record keeping for reports, complaints and investigations; and conducting a campus climate survey of all students.
The campus climate survey was released in January. It found UH students are more likely to be victims of stalking and domestic abuse than other colleges surveyed, but less likely to face nonconsensual contact or sexual harassment.
A random investigation initiated by OCR reviewed 89 complaint files from 2010 to 2016.
In almost 60 percent of those complaints, UH Manoa determined that “it could not investigate the report.” Some cases that took an unusually long time to be resolved did not contain information explaining the delay.
“Based on the evidence contained in the files provided by the University, OCR has a concern that the University may not be completing its investigations in a reasonably prompt timeframe consistent with the requirements of Title IX,” investigators wrote.
In one case, a student athlete reported that she was raped by another well-known student athlete. He was banned from entering student housing and prohibited from contacting her. Records showed that he violated the trespass ban four times within three months and entered the dorm building where the complainant lived.
The university sent letters to the student and met with him, but he continued to violate the trespass ban. The complainant’s grades suffered and she considered dropping out of school because of the respondent’s violations of the trespass ban, according to investigators’ interviews with staff.
“It’s a sad read, but a familiar one. I’m not surprised.” — Meda Chesney-Lind, chair of UH Manoa’s Women’s Studies department
UH Manoa took 159 days to determine that the student was responsible for the assault and he was dismissed from school. Investigators determined that the university failed to enforce its interim measures and didn’t appropriately respond to a sexual assault report.
“Based on these facts, OCR finds that the University’s own inaction perpetuated the hostile environment experienced by the student,” investigators wrote.
In almost every case file reviewed by the feds, investigators found that the decision letters explaining UH’s findings that were sent to complainants were much shorter than those sent to respondents. The accused received more details such as witness statements and evidence. Complainant’s letters included the determination without elaboration.
In two related sexual harassment cases reported by the same student, the university’s decision letters were sent to the accused two months before the complainant.
Investigators identified several cases where respondents but not complainants were provided with information on how to appeal the university’s decision.
In some cases, the university may not have properly responded to retaliation complaints.
One student who complained she was sexually harassed by her advisor was told several times that he would “retaliate against” her and “ruin” her career, according to records in her complaint file. No information in the file reviewed by investigators suggested that university staff responded to those threats.
‘Conflicting and Confusing’ Policies
During the time of the office’s review, the university had three grievance procedures which investigators deemed “potentially conflicting and confusing.”
Students in certain graduate programs, such as the law school, may not have been notified that they could file complaints with the Title IX office, investigators wrote. One library sciences graduate student told investigators that she was raped off campus but did not know how or where to report the incident because that information wasn’t disseminated to students in her department.
Investigators determined that the medical school’s Title IX homepage contained a reference and link to an outdated UH sexual harassment procedure.
UH cooperated with investigators and provided all requested information, according to the feds.
The feds also required the university to contact all complainants and respondents from 2013 to 2017 and give them the chance to ask UH to review specific concerns about the handling of their reports or complaints.
Meda Chesney-Lind, chair of the university’s Women’s Studies department, said it’s good that the system now has more resources to address sex discrimination issues. But she feels changes made to address those issues came from the administration down instead of bottom up — like “lawyers sitting in a room, checking boxes” to ensure they’re in compliance.
The Manoa campus should have more resources to handle complaints and educate students, Chesney-Lind said, adding the campus hasn’t done enough to initiate a conversation around these problems.
“It’s a sad read, but a familiar one. I’m not surprised,” Chesney-Lind said. “We’ve long felt that the university didn’t take these complaints seriously and all this investigation does is give us exact details about how poorly the system used to function.”
The system’s policies on sexual violence came under increased scrutiny after its flagship campus was identified in 2014 as one of 55 colleges under investigation for potential violations of federal law. The list included schools selected for compliance reviews, such as UH, and those under investigation for specific complaints.
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