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Fifty-five colleges under investigation over handling of sexual violence complaints

By Jason Hanna, Emanuella Grinberg and Eliott C. McLaughlin CNN | 5/2/2014, 1:01 p.m.

Federal investigators are checking whether 55 colleges and universities illegally handled sexual violence and harassment complaints, the U.S. Department of Education said Thursday.

Such investigations have long been known, but this is the first time that the department has released a list of all such probes currently under way.

The list includes colleges and universities in 27 states and in the District of Columbia.

Emory University says it has been cooperating fully with the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR), in a compliance review of the Atlanta university's Title IX policies and processes. This compliance review, which has been pending since December 2013, was not initiated in response to any complaint, but rather, is part of the agency's Title IX compliance and enforcement function.

The review involves an examination of the university's processes and procedures on the handling of complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual violence and assault, to determine whether the university responds immediately and appropriately. It also involves a review of other university efforts, including sexual assault prevention, outreach, support, and education programs, that are in place to address and reduce the incidents of sexual assault.

"We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights," said Catherine E. Lhamon, the U.S. Department of Education's assistant secretary for civil rights.

"We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue. I also want to make it clear that a college or university's appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law."

The investigations center on Title IX, under which a school must ensure that students are not denied or limited in the ability to participate in or benefit from its educational programs or activities on the basis of sex.

The list, which reflect open investigations as of Thursday, does not disclose any details about the cases, other than when the investigation was opened. The list will be updated regularly and available to the public upon request.

In February, CNN's Emanuella Grinberg profiled student and faculty activists from six schools in a report on how sexual violence complaints to the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights had almost tripled since 2009. Thursday's numbers come on the heels of a marked year-to-year increase in complaints the department received, from 17 in 2012 to 30 in 2013.

Five of those six students' universities were included in Thursday's report: the University of Texas-Pan American; Vanderbilt University; the University of California, Berkeley; Occidental College; and Emory University.

In the story, Joanna Espinosa, a student at UTPA who has since graduated, told CNN she would not have come forward without the help of a nationwide network that has been a driving force in bringing attention to the way schools handle sexual misconduct reports. President Barack Obama recently called the nationwide, student-led movement a catalyst for a federal task force to protect college students from sexual violence on campus.