Feds: SMU violated law on gender, sex harassment

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DALLAS (AP) — Southern Methodist University violated federal discrimination laws and has agreed to provide a safer environment for students who allege sexual assault or other gender-based violence, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday.

SMU violated Title IX, a 1972 law that bars discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities.

The Education Department earlier this year released the names of dozens of schools, including SMU, facing Title IX sexual violence investigations. Some have reached similar agreements. About 90 schools still face reviews, among them two other Texas schools — the University of Texas-Pan American and Cisco Junior College.

Between June 2011 and March 2013, the agency received three complaints alleging SMU did not promptly or equitably respond to reports of gender harassment, sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, according to a letter Thursday to SMU President R. Gerald Turner.

The private university in Dallas with about 11,000 students agreed to take specific steps to comply, the agency said. The investigation was conducted by the department's Office for Civil Rights.

"This voluntary resolution agreement with OCR confirms SMU's commitment to provide a safe and supportive campus environment and to follow the Department of Education's Title IX guidelines as they continue to evolve," SMU said in a statement Thursday.

SMU also has implemented new policies and procedures with the well-being of students the highest priority, it said.

The school pledged to improve staff training, set up clearer protections against retaliation and develop better reporting procedures with campus police, the federal agency said.

SMU will review sexual harassment and violence complaints to determine whether the school properly investigated and responded, and agreed to create a pocket-size card for all employees with information about how to support students who report sexual misconduct.

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