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MSU's Handling of Sexual Assaults Under Federal Investigation

MSU's Handling of Sexual Assaults Under Federal Investigation

By FOX 47 News. CREATED Feb 26, 2014

Michigan State University is at the center of a federal investigation, accused of possibly mishandling reports of sexual assault on campus.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is looking into two specific complaints and plans to have investigators on campus this week to meet with students, according to Jim Bradshaw, a spokesperson for the department.

Bradshaw, who could not go into detail about the investigation, said the department will hold focus groups Wednesday and Thursday to gauge the climate on sexual assault and violence on campus.

On Wednesday investigators will be meeting with specific student groups and will have open office hours for all students on Thursday.

MSU is one of 41 other post-secondary education institutions currently with pending Title IX investigations involving allegations of sexual violence, including the University of Michigan, according to Bradshaw.

University spokesperson, Kent Cassella, issued FOX 47 a statement Tuesday saying the university was cooperating fully with the investigation.

"MSU takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously and has a process in place to respond to such allegations," Cassella said in the statement.

"While federal law and privacy concerns prevent MSU from fully discussing specifics, we have comprehensive record of the actions we took that support the university's position we acted appropriately."

Sophomore David Zettle, political outreach chair for the university's Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention Team said the probe is worrisome.

"It's definitely alarming that the university might not be responding to certain cases or federal guidelines," Zettle said. "But at the same time I think our university is paving the way for other universities that might not have these resources or even a sexual assault program."

The university is holding events this week, like the Spring Break Safety Fair, to raise awareness of safety and sexual violence on campus.

Lydia Weiss, educational program coordinator with the Women's Resource Center, said events like the Spring Break Safety Fair are key to changing the culture on campus to make people more comfortable coming forward to report sexual assault.

"It's definitely about education, as always, and I think MSU is doing a lot of different things and a lot of different departments on campus are helping to do that," Weiss said.

Compared to previous years, the number of reported forced sexual assaults on campus increased in 2012, the most recent year MSU Police has data.

But Weiss said it's not necessarily a bad trend.

"It doesn't mean assaults are up but that more people are feeling comfortable coming forward to report them, and that's important," she said.