Editorial: The importance of the Department of Justice investigating CWRU

The university needs to be held accountable for its actions

Editorial Board

It is no secret that Case Western Reserve University has a problem with rape culture and not supporting sexual assault survivors. In the summer of 2020, the social media spotlight was shone on the vast amount of awfulness within the university, and some of the shared incidents date back to the last century. CWRU’s administration has refused time and time again to take substantial action and fundamentally change their actions—or lack of action—toward supporting its community. Sexual misconduct is something that affects the entire university, and the administration’s apathy towards survivors and, instead, prioritization of maintaining a positive reputation is exactly the reason why we are at the point where the Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating CWRU.

A couple of weeks ago, @metoocwru on Instagram posted an email detailing that the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ would be investigating CWRU and its Office of Equity, which conducts the Title IX process. The Title IX process begins by reporting sexual misconduct to the university; depending on what route you, the complainant, want to go—either don’t proceed, proceed informally or proceed formally—the process can vary. Although, if you decide to move forward with the complaint, there are several steps to the process, including a long investigation, and the complaint can be resolved with a formal or informal resolution. However, the process can be confusing and difficult, and students even hire lawyers to help them. 

Léa Cazaudumec Lucas, a fourth-year student and one of the presidents of the #MeToo organization at CWRU, helped found the club to combat sexual violence on campus. The club is open to anyone; it not only provides support and resources to survivors, but also supports anyone going through the Title IX process, since Lucas knows “how defeating the Title IX process is” and “how alone you can feel.”

One aspect that Lucas wants to see addressed in the Office of Equity is the lack of clarity about the process for complainants. “It’s extremely confusing,” she notes, and even though resources are posted on their website and anyone can read the Sexual Misconduct Policy, the process is still not completely clear. Alongside the complicated process, the Office of Equity states that it can take somewhere between 60 to 75 business days to resolve a complaint; however, in reality, the process can take much longer than that, and in Lucas’ case, the process took nine months. The Title IX process is not a timely one and on top of the hectic schedules of students and professors, this process can be an added stressor for months. And if the office is not handling your case properly, it can feel frustrating.

The @cwru.survivors Instagram account detailed many instances where the Office of Equity handled survivors’ cases poorly. Some of those offenses include failing to enforce no-contact orders, discouraging students from pressing charges and even pressuring students to report incidents against their will. Repeatedly, students have said that they don’t feel supported by the university when they do decide to report incidents, but other students do not feel safe to report incidents because of others’ experiences. It is clear that not only does rape culture needs to change, but also CWRU’s Office of Equity and Title IX process.

Due to official complaints, negative media attention and @cwru.survivor’s posts, the DOJ is now currently investigating if CWRU is following the law. Hundreds of concerns have been clearly raised through social media surrounding CWRU and its Title IX process, and we now have the opportunity to officially voice our concerns “if [we] don’t feel necessarily safe and are unhappy with [our] institution.” Students and alumni can share their experiences with the university and the Title IX process, but also any thoughts about campus culture. Students have the ability to contact the DOJ by emailing outreachcwru@usdoj.gov or calling 1-866-434-0339. Interviews are not recorded. Lucas vouches for the DOJ, explaining how the interviewers have received trauma training and want to make students feel comfortable, plus it’s completely up to students how much they want to share. 

Investigations can sometimes take up to a few years, and even though they may be a long process, it is necessary for this investigation to happen and to hold CWRU accountable. At the end of the DOJ’s investigation, it is possible that it can lead to several actions, including lawsuits. Recently, a Title IX investigation at San Jose State University (SJSU) led to $1.6 million distributed among sexual assault victims; SJSU also agreed to improve and reform their Title IX process. If we have any hope to hold the administration accountable, it’s crucial for students and alumni to contact the DOJ.

The multiple experiences that were brought to everyone’s attention last year have allowed for more potential for change at CWRU. Rape culture and sexual misconduct have been happening for decades at universities across the United States, but it’s horrendous to see how prominent it is at CWRU. The administration not only provides little to no support for complainants but actively have proven that they do not care about CWRU’s community, including previously hiring a law school dean with knowledge of his prior sexual misconduct allegations. We now have hope of finally holding CWRU’s administration responsible for its wrongdoings, so if you have any concerns, take advantage of this opportunity and contact the Department of Justice.