Investigation of FSU for Title IX violations begins

Another sexual assault case has risen to national media, but this time a college might be involved.

A first-year student at Florida State University accused redshirt first-year Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of sexual assault on December 7, 2012.

Deadspin.com reported that FSU officials met with Winston in January 2013 to discuss the incident, but did not openly act until January 2014. The university might have violated federal law by postponing its investigation and meeting with Winston in private.

“Athletes are very protected by their schools,” said junior Kristy Lapenta. “They are valuable assets to the school, and they don’t want negative publicity.”

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether FSU met its obligations as a Title IX funding recipient.

Title IX is a law that prohibits sexual discrimination, such as acts of sexual violence in universities that receive federal financial assistance.

Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Aaron Fetrow said, in the Title IX sense, all you have to do is make a report to a college official, a coach, a teacher, somebody in campus life, resident life or judicial life

“At Guilford, any time a student comes forward — unless to a counselor which is protected — we do everything we can to funnel that person to the judicial process so we can take statements … (and) start investigating any complaints of harassment or sexual violence.

“I hope, and assume, that all colleges in America run their operations in a respectful manner.”

But in FSU’s case, things may not be running the way others may hope.

The main concern was the school’s lack of timeliness in response to the event.

“One thing that we see nationwide is that a lot of these incidents aren’t reported, period,” said Director of Public Safety Ron Stowe. “A lot of them are reported a long time after the fact, which don’t change what happened.

“The fact that it is reported a long time after makes it more difficult to investigate and makes it more difficult to reach a determination.”

In terms of consequences for violating Title IX, multiple things can happen to FSU if found guilty.

“If the school messed up, then OCR will hold them accountable,” said Stowe. “It will probably not be pretty because they have some pretty significant sanctions that they can impose.”

Consequences can include cuts from federal funds, or the OCR may hand the case over to the U.S. Department of Justice if FSU refuses to negotiate a resolution with OCR.

“It’s not like the law then says, ‘they get no funding now,’” said Bob Malekoff, associate professor of sport studies. “For them to be significantly damaged as an institution, it would have to be shown that they tried to protect somebody who did something that they shouldn’t have done.”

While it seems Winston will continue to play football with no criminal charges, the case goes on into investigating the school’s involvement with Winston, and whether FSU defended him due to his high status as an athlete or not.

“I think if someone gets accused of sexual assault here (at Guilford), they just get suspended straight off the bat, regardless of whether you are a student-athlete or not,” said Lapenta.

Little can be predicted on how long the investigation will take and whether or not the school will be found guilty.

While thinking of Guilford, Malekoff concluded, “We are the local parents while you’re away here.

“To me, in a case like this, we want to make sure people are okay. If they are a victim, you do everything in your power to make sure they are okay.”

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