WASHINGTON -- The Education Department on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities facing a Title IX investigation for their handling of sexual abuse complaints, including UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California.
The release came two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education. Going forward, the department said, it will keep an updated list of schools facing such an investigation and make it available upon request.
The schools range from large public universities like UC Berkeley, USC, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to private schools like Occidental College and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth are also on the list.
The agency previously would confirm such an investigation when asked -- this newspaper reported on the UC Berkeley investigation last month, and the probes into many of the schools have appeared in news accounts -- but students and others were often unaware of them.
"We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue," Catherine Lhamon, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.
Lhamon said a school's appearance on the list does not mean that it has violated the law but that an investigation is ongoing.
Title IX prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It is the same law that guarantees girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions' handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.
In February, dozens of UC Berkeley students and alumna filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, saying the university mishandled their cases. They said Cal put them and others at risk by inadequately disciplining their alleged assailants. Some said the campus treated them insensitively or kept them in the dark about the outcome of the campus disciplinary process.
Some victims turn to their campuses -- in addition to or instead of -- to the police for protection and justice.
The White House has said that 1 in 5 female students is assaulted. President Barack Obama appointed a task force comprised of his Cabinet members to review the issue after hearing complaints about the poor treatment of campus rape victims and the hidden nature of such crimes.
The task force announced the creation of a website, notalone.gov, offering resources for victims and information about past enforcement actions on campuses. The task force also made other recommendations to schools, such as identifying confidential victims' advocates and doing surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses.
The department publicized guidance on Title IX's sexual assault provisions in 2011 and complaints by students have since increased. The department can withhold federal funding from a school that doesn't comply with the law, but it has not used that power and instead has negotiated voluntary resolutions for violators.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have said noncompliance under the law is "far too common." They say a lack of federal resources is partly to blame, and they've sought more money to ensure timely and proper investigations.
Staff writer Katy Murphy contributed to this story.