A Shared Commitment to Women’s Equality and Student Safety

June 24, 2013

This post is courtesy of the Civil Rights Division.

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” –Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972

This week in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 became law. More than four decades later, a recent agreement reached by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the University of Montana underscores how important Title IX still remains.

Under Title IX, when a student enters a college campus, she has a right to live and learn in a safe and nurturing environment, regardless of her gender. Students at the University of Montana in Missoula alleged that the university had failed to protect that right. They came to the Department of Justice and the Department of Education with serious concerns that the university was not responding promptly or adequately to sexual assaults or sexual harassment of female students.

In May of 2012, the Departments launched a year-long investigation in response. Over the course of the investigation, the Civil Rights Division heard from women who had lived through sexual assault and who were unfairly belittled, disbelieved, or blamed for speaking out. Fortunately, the university also listened, and worked closely with the division to reach an agreement under Title IX and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to address students’ concerns. Under that agreement, announced last month, the university will take specific steps to ensure that it responds swiftly and effectively to allegations of sexual assault and harassment by students. In addition to revising its policies, procedures and investigative practices, the university will take action to fully eliminate the hostile environment some women described during the course of the investigation.

Together, these measures will go a long way towards ensuring that the University of Montana is a safe and vibrant community where everyone feels welcome. And under two additional agreements reached by the Civil Rights Division, the university’s campus police force and the Missoula Police Department will also work to improve their response to sexual assault, and to combat sex discrimination and gender bias in the way they deliver policing services – further ensuring that all residents of Missoula benefit from the full protections of the nation’s civil rights laws.

“What is noteworthy about [the agreements] is not the problems our investigation found at the university, but a shared commitment to the equality of women students and their safety,” Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said when the Title IX agreement was announced. “We have worked together to create and implement a blueprint for reform that can serve as a model for campuses across the nation to ensure that women’s educational opportunities are not limited by sexual harassment or sexual assault.”

Education is the great equalizer; for students to have the opportunity to succeed, they must feel safe and have confidence in schools’ demonstrated commitment to protect them. For that reason, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce Title IX – to expand educational opportunities for women, to ensure that sex discrimination does not prevent students from achieving their goals, and to foster safe and nurturing environments where every student has an equal chance to prosper.

 Read more information about the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement efforts under Title IX   .