(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio State University is creating a new office dedicated to handling gender-based harassment in the wake of several misconduct scandals and a federal investigation into how the school addresses claims of sexual abuse.
The office will help people who have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment, violence and other forms of discrimination on campus, the university said in a statement Tuesday.
The office’s most-immediate focus will be to boost resources for accepting and processing reports made under the federal Title IX anti-discrimination law, according to the statement. Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination, pertains to schools and programs that receive federal funding. The new office has yet to be named.
“The university will continue to focus on advancing our efforts in this vital area,” OSU President Michael V. Drake said in the statement. “The members of our Buckeye community deserve nothing less.”
The announcement comes as the university faces allegations of widespread sexual misconduct against a former campus doctor. Dozens of former students and student-athletes claim the doctor, Richard Strauss, abused under the guise of medical examinations between 1978 and 1988, the year he retired.
Strauss died in 2005, but the school is still battling lawsuits over how it handled allegations against him. The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which oversees Title IX complaints, is currently investigating “whether the university is responding promptly and equitably to complaints and reports by former students,” the school said.
OSU is also grappling with a scandal surrounding its head football coach, Urban Meyer. Meyer was placed on leave earlier this month after a woman claimed he turned a blind eye to domestic abuse allegations levied against an assistant football coach.
The university opened an internal investigation after Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of former Ohio State assistant football coach Zach Smith, claimed Meyer knew about her 2015 domestic violence claim against her then-husband.
Zach Smith was fired from Ohio State this year after he was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass during a dispute with Courtney Smith.
In an interview with ESPN earlier this month, Zach Smith said he’d never hit Courtney Smith.
“There was aggression in the relationship but anything I ever did to her was a defensive action,” Zach Smith said. “All I know is I never hit my wife. I never hit her. I never beat her. Nothing.”
Courtney Smith, however, said in an interview with Stadium, a sports network, that Zach Smith had been abusing her as early as 2009.
“He picked me up by the neck and threw me down on the ground in our bathroom, and screamed at me, ‘Look what you turned me into,'” she said in that interview.
Meyer initially denied knowing about the allegations, but later posted a statement on Twitter saying he had “failed” when he made those remarks.
“My intention was not to say anything inaccurate or misleading,” he said, in part. “However, I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive personnel issues with the media, and I apologize.”
Meyer was placed on administrative leave shortly after the Stadium interview with Courtney Smith was released.
Meyer released a statement about after being placed on leave, but it did not reference Courtney Smith’s claims.
“[Athletic Director] Gene [Smith] and I agree that being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion,” his statement said. “This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
The OSU board of trustees is due to meet Wednesday to discuss Meyer’s future as a football coach, the Associated Press reported.
OSU said it created the new office in based on the recommendations of two experts, Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie M. Gomez, from Cozen O’Connor, the Philadelphia-based law firm it enlisted to evaluate its policies.
“Through this audit, we have observed Ohio State’s strong commitment to fostering increased reporting, coordinating university responses and creating an environment free from sex- and gender-based harassment and violence,” Gina Maisto Smith said in the university’s statement. “We spent several weeks at Ohio State over the spring and summer meeting with a wide range of university administrators, and we look forward to the opportunity to speak with students now that they are back on campus.”
“The actions taken thus far are part of a series of efforts that will continue to enhance the university’s prevention and response programs. Student input and feedback are critical to those efforts,” Gomez added in the statement.
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