Federal officials to visit JHU as part of sexual misconduct investigation

U.S. officials to visit JHU campus after complaint over sexual misconduct cases.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Education will visit the Johns Hopkins University this week as part of an ongoing investigation into how the school handles sexual misconduct cases, officials said.

A letter sent to Hopkins students and faculty said the department's Office for Civil Rights has been reviewing the university's polices and practices after a complaint was filed last year under federal gender equity law that prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence.

The contents of the letter were confirmed by Johns Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea.

Hopkins came under fire last year for not disclosing to the campus an alleged rape at a fraternity house in March 2013, leading a group of students to complain to the Education Department. Students were anonymous in the complaint but were represented by SurvJustice, a Washington-based nonprofit that assists survivors of campus sexual violence.

Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, said that since the complaint was filed, five supplements have been filed with the civil rights office.

The letter to the campus said the federal officials will visit Tuesday and Wednesday to conduct group sessions and discuss issues related to sexual harassment. The representatives also will be available for private and individual meetings.

The focus group sessions begin on Tuesday afternoon with general sessions for undergraduate students, broken down into groups such as resident assistants, student organization leaders, female student athletes, fraternity members and university staff.

The letter said officials would take notes on the proceedings, but would not identify individuals by name or collect names of those who attend focus groups.

"Campus sexual violence is an important issue that the Johns Hopkins University takes very seriously," the letter said. "The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is currently reviewing the university's policies and practices related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which is the federal law that prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence. Johns Hopkins is fully cooperating with the review, which is ongoing."

Dunn said such visits are customary when a school is being investigated after a Title IX complaint. "They come to get a measure of the culture on campus," Dunn said. "It provides students and other campus members opportunities to inform the department if there are other areas of concern regarding sex discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual violence...

"The goal is to hear about the other experiences," Dunn said, "because these complaints were started by the few who realized their rights and access to the legal system."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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