Why Grinnell Requested an OCR Investigation of Itself

March 5, 2015

Grinnell College's decision to ask the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to review how it handles cases of campus sexual assault was, in part, a reaction to what the college says is inaccurate media coverage stemming from federal privacy laws that prevent institutions from sharing its side of the story. "This dilemma has fueled a national problem,” Raynard Kington, the college's president, said in a campuswide letter sent this week. “Without access to protected records, recent media coverage of campus sexual assaults has often been one-sided or incomplete. Nationally, we are seeing the impact of reporters’ efforts to build a narrative without access to the full facts."

The college made the request in anticipation of a Huffington Post article about three sexual assault cases the college investigated in 2012. An announcement of the request sent to reporters earlier this week did not mention the article.

"The privacy restrictions, while consistent with our institutional values and the integrity of our processes, place the college in an untenable position, because we cannot provide open and transparent information about the cases," Kington said in the campuswide letter. "In some instances, the protected education records confirm or refute [the Huffington Post's] claims. In others, the criticisms [it] reports on are subjective and cannot be fairly addressed without a full contextual understanding. In order to overcome this dilemma, on Monday, March 2, the college contacted the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to request technical assistance. We have specifically invited OCR to review the cases [The Huffington Post] has highlighted to us."

Dissenting Voices, a group of Grinnell students and faculty who are unhappy with the college's sexual assault policies, called the request an "unprecedented attempt to preemptively control the framing of this issue." Six students have recently filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights, the group said, "so the administration’s request is redundant."

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