Why the federal list isn’t the final word on sexual violence on Colorado campuses

Listen Now

Photo: Campus emergency phone (iStock)Just over a week ago the federal government released a list of schools it’s investigating for violations of Title IX, citing four Colorado universities: The University of Denver, Regis University, the University of Colorado Boulder and CU Denver.

Title IX requires that universities and colleges provide safe places for all students to get an education, and that they respond promptly to incidents of sexual harassment and assault. Upon announcing the list, the U.S. Department of Education said that appearance on it doesn't necessarily mean a school has broken the law, or that more rapes are happening on that campus than any other.

But the White House says one in five women is a victim of sexual violence in college (PDF), and it’s proposing ways schools can crack down on the problem.

Attorney John Clune of Boulder represents victims across the state and the country, including in cases that landed universities on the federal government's list. Clune has participated in several high-profile cases, including the ongoing investigation of Jameis Winston, the Florida State University football and baseball star who is accused of raping a classmate.

Clune says that over the past three years, he's seen a broad change in how some schools are handling these cases, in part because more victims are filing lawsuits, and because the federal government is putting more pressure on them. The release of the list on May 1 is an example of that pressure.

And Clune says a high incidence of reported sexual assaults can actually mean a school is doing more to protect victims. For example, it can mean victims feel more comfortable coming forward, because they feel safe.

Clune says the University of Colorado-Boulder, in particular, has made significant changes over the past decade to try to prevent rapes on campus, and to be more supportive of victims. The university is providing more education for students about unacceptable behavior and on what bystanders can do to prevent sexual violence or stop it when it happens.

But the Department of Education has not yet concluded its investigation into CU-Boulder, and the Daily Camera reported on Saturday that the university settled with the student who filed the complaint, Sarah Gilchriese, in February. The university agreed to pay her $32,500.

Deb Coffin, CU Boulder's vice chancellor for student affairs, says the settlement is not an admission by the university that it didn't handle the situation well. Rather, Coffin says, it was a business decision. Coffin also says she does not know when the U.S. Department of Education will conclude its investigation into the university's handling of the case.

Clune, the Boulder attorney, says there's still a lot of work to do before victims can feel fully supported and safe on campuses--in Colorado and across the country.

As one example, Clune says that based on conversations with "a number of students" at the University of Denver, he believes the school has "a tougher time than most of the schools we've seen in Colorado" when it comes to complying with Title IX and supporting students who report rapes or other sexual assaults.

Clune says he's seen worse issues at schools elsewhere in the country, and says as well that there are staff and faculty at DU who provide valuable services to victims. But he says some of the students he's spoken with report feeling, "a lack of support from the administration" when they report incidents of sexual violence.

The University of Denver declined an invitation to appear on Colorado Matters and provided the following written statement: