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Audit exposes flaws in Cal State University's handling of sexual assault cases

The California State University system this week got a sobering assessment of the way it handles sexual harassment and discrimination complaints.

The CSU Board of Trustees on Wednesday received the preliminary findings on the Title IX assessment, which found that the CSU lacks the resources to tackle the complaints, among other things.

Last year, the trustees ordered a systemwide audit of the Title IX process at all 23 campuses after several high-profile sexual assault and harassment incidents on its campuses.


"It was evident to us that the issues raised on our campuses demanded a system-wide approach to provide sustainable and meaningful solutions,” CSU Board of Trustees Chair Wenda Fong said at the beginning of the briefing.

The board hired the law firm Cozen O'Connor to conduct the audit.

"The headline is that there is a lot to do in this space and that there are not currently enough people to do it,” said Leslie Gomez, one of the auditors.

She also faulted the assault prevention and education programs. At most campuses, students are only required to complete an online program.

“There's a very high rate of response in the online modules, but that response rate isn't going to be sufficient to help us drive culture and climate change,” she said. "We observe significant gaps in the required primary prevention and awareness programs."


That's the impression that Saskia Lehmann, a third-year student at San Diego State University, got. SDSU requires all incoming freshmen to take an online course on sexual assault and harassment prevention.

"People were not paying attention to what was going on there," she said. "They were not spending the time to sit there and fully go through the course because it was also very lengthy. They were just kind of skipping through it, trying to answer the questions.”

The report also reveals that only a small number of complaints were investigated, and most had no formal resolution. SDSU recently announced that an investigation into three former Aztec football players for the alleged rape of a teenager in 2021 was no longer active. And the university did not provide any other details.

"The unaddressed conduct that's occurring on campuses negatively impacts morale, undermines confidence in the institution and impacts core mission," Gomez said. "And, fundamentally, it may mean that we're losing students and employees who feel that there's a barrier to their education or to their employment because of conduct that we have not addressed."

That's how Lehmann feels about the recent case at SDSU. She said some students were using YikYak, a messaging app that allows college students to create and view discussion threads within a 5-mile radius, to dox the victim.

“The whole situation made me feel more unsafe, not just because of the case, but also because of the way that a lot of students were talking about it,” she said.

The complete Title IX assessment report is expected to be published in June, including individual recommendations for each school.

KPBS is a broadcast service of San Diego State University.