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01/12/2015 06:19 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Columbia University Is Under Federal Investigation For Sexual Assault Cases

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Columbia University is under two federal investigations related to how the Ivy League institution handles sexual assault and harassment cases, Education Department officials confirmed Monday.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights began a review on Thursday into Columbia's compliance with Title IX requirements on campus sexual violence. A second investigation is looking into possible violations of Title II involving discrimination by a public entity on the basis of disability, an Education Department spokesman said.

The federal probes both stem from a complaint filed by 28 students and alumni against Columbia. From the original 23 student complainants in April, the number grew over the summer as they waited for the Office for Civil Rights' decision on whether to open an investigation.

The Education Department confirmed last week that it had begun a separate investigation of Barnard College, the all-female institution that is affiliated with Columbia. Students involved with the complaint said that the Office for Civil Rights split their complaint into two to consider the regime at each college. According to Barnard, the investigation there is based on one student's case.

"I am so grateful that the federal government is stepping in to help keep students safe at Columbia," said Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, one of the lead complainants. "For the last two years, I have felt betrayed by my school and didn't know who to turn to. Despite months of protests and many survivors coming forward with painful stories of violence and mistreatment, Columbia is still failing to address sexual and dating violence on campus."

Victoria Benitez, a Columbia spokeswoman, said in a statement, "We are committed to complying with Title IX and have no higher priority than protecting the safety and well-being of all who are part of our university community, and we will fully cooperate with OCR's inquiry."

Benitez also noted, "In light of recent guidance from the White House and OCR and new federal regulations, we have updated our policies, strengthened our procedures, and enhanced our team of professionals dedicated to preventing and responding to sexual assault and other forms of gender-based misconduct. Major additional measures are planned, including a sexual violence prevention initiative involving students, faculty, and gender-violence experts that will be announced shortly. In keeping with University policy, we cannot comment further on the OCR investigation."

The addition of Columbia means that 95 institutions of higher education are currently under investigation by the Office for Civil Rights on how they handle sexual assault complaints. The gender equity law Title IX requires schools to respond to instances of sexual assault on campus and to provide accommodations for victims when needed.

The story has been updated with comment from Columbia University.

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