Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges under investigation throughout the country for their handling of sexual violence and harassment. Since then, the number has jumped to 67.
The widespread problem prompted a sexual assault summit this week at Dartmouth College, one of the schools under investigation, focusing on prevention, awareness and response. However, the summit has not just addressed solutions, but is rightfully refocusing the conversation on the consequences universities may have to face if they do not comply with Title IX, which protects against sexual harassment.
During the summit, according to the Huffington Post, the Education Department’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catharine Lhamon explained to college administrators she isn’t afraid to keep federal funding from a university if it has a habit of mishandling sexual assault cases.
Of course, universities shouldn’t only become motivated to follow through with sexual assault crime investigations because something they need is being withheld from them, but the reality is that an overwhelming number of universities might not do so of their own accord.
While the number of universities under Title IX investigation is already difficult to swallow, a recent survey by Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri found 236 colleges throughout the country with similarly shocking results.
As it turns out, over 40 percent of these colleges haven’t conducted a sexual assault investigation in the past five years. Over a fifth of schools didn’t even bother to investigate all cases of assault reported to the Education Department.
In spite of this, no school has ever been completely stripped of funding for a Title IX violation. As stated in the Huffington Post article, critics believe it’s unlikely all federal funding, which includes student loans and Pell grants, will be taken from a school as punishment.
However, with the prospect of this being reaffirmed instead of laying dormant as a known but unused possibility, schools might be driven enough to ensure it never happens to them.
But so far, there is still much to be done. The survey found many universities are at fault for not training both staff and students on how to react to sexual violence and for not providing enough support for victims.
Ultimately, the necessity of universities to take responsibility for handling sexual assault is to provide a safe and comfortable environment for students. Though the prospect of the Office of Civil Rights putting a school’s funding on the line has been criticized as a means of punishment, some reforms have been proposed to get a better grip on campus safety.
Some measures include making federal investigations more transparent, since they are usually kept under wraps until a conclusion is made, and the expansion of resources for schools to enforce violence laws.
But until then, if threatening to withhold an asset as valuable as federal aid from a university in order to promise students a safe place to get their education is the only option, then so be it.
Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.