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MSU creating office to handle bias, sex assault cases

The Detroit News

Michigan State University announced Monday it is establishing a new office to handle all complaints involving discrimination, including allegations of sexual assault and relationship violence.

The office will handle complaints made under MSU’s anti-discrimination policies and Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs.

Discrimination complaints have been overseen by the university’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. In a release, MSU said that office’s director, Paulette Granberry Russell, will act as Title IX coordinator until the director of the new office is named.

MSU said a team of Title IX experts from a Philadelphia law firm, the Pepper Hamilton, will work with the new office, university President Lou Anna Simon and a Title IX consultant and investigator, Rebecca Veidlinger, during the transition.

“The issue of sexual assault is rightfully becoming more prominent nationally and on our campus,” Simon said in a statement. “Moving forward, we need to distinguish between nondiscrimination investigative functions and our broader efforts associated with advancing student, faculty, staff diversity and inclusion.”

The announcement comes as MSU receives federal scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault complaints and faces criticism from activists who accuse the school of shielding abusers.

Friday night, the play “The HAZE,” which chronicles a woman’s fight to have her rape properly investigated, was shown in East Lansing.

The next night, the playwright, Heather Marlowe, and MSU student Emily Kollaritsch led a panel discussion on the play and the school’s handling of sexual assault cases.

In an email Sunday to school officials, Marlowe called for MSU to “take immediate action regarding Title IX violations that have been occurring for the past couple of years to numerous survivors who have gone with Office of Inclusion investigations.”

“We demand that you expel all known abusers and rapists from campus,” Marlowe wrote.

Last year, the Obama administation announced investigations of dozens of schools, including MSU, the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University, for their handling of sexual assault complaints. The U.S. Education Department opened two cases at MSU.

Since then, the universities have updated their sexual misconduct policies and taken steps to show they will take violations seriously.

In December, MSU released a report showing that from August 2011 to August 2014, the school received 174 reports of sexual misconduct involving students. Of those, 47 were investigated and 127 did not undergo formal inquiries.

That same month, women’s rights activists protested a commencement speech at MSU by conservative commentator George Will, accusing him of condoning campus sexual assault in a column.

Earlier this month, a task force appointed last year by Simon issued a report on sexual assault and relationship violence policies at the school, including a review of progress implementing the recommendations of a 2004 task force.

Recommendations include:

■Conduct a campus climate survey this month, and a second survey in September. The initial survey was emailed to all MSU students April 6.

■Use the survey results to “identify the greatest campus needs.”

■Increase funding and staffing for services and programs.

■Name a “President’s Council” to oversee and coordinate planning for preventing and investigating sexual assaults and relationship violence.