Sexual assault gained attention on the campus as several football players were suspected or indicted from 2013 to 2015 in connection with alleged rapes.
In 2014, the university noted, students’ reports of sexual assault increased markedly over the previous year, which many see as a sign that victims feel more comfortable coming forward.
An alleged victim of sexual assault has spokenpublicly about what she sees as an inadequate response by the institution.
In February 2016, six unnamed women filed a federal lawsuit against the university, alleging it violated Title IX by showing "deliberate indifference and a clearly unreasonable response after a sexual assault that causes a student to endure additional harassment," The Tennessean reported. Specifically, the lawsuit claims the university's process for handling reported sexual assaults is biased in favor of athletes who are accused. In a statement, the university denied the allegations. "To claim that we have allowed a culture to exist contrary to our institutional commitment to providing a safe environment for our students or that we do not support those who report sexual assault is just false," the statement read, in part.
News outlets in Tennessee reported in July 2016 that the university had agreed to pay $2.48 million to settle the plaintiffs' lawsuit. Administrators agreed to the appointment of an independent commission to review how all universities in the Tennessee system respond to sexual assaults, but admitted to no wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The plaintiffs agreed to withdraw two complaints to the Office for Civil Rights over the university's handling of sexual violence, though that doesn't necessarily mean that the office's investigations would be resolved immediately.
The institution has affirmed its commitment to victims of sexual assault, collected resources online, updated its sexual-misconduct policy, held a summit, and promoted sexual consent and bystander intervention. The university system appointed an independent commission in September 2016 to examine all campuses' Title IX efforts.
Letter from the U.S. Department of Education to the institution informing it of the investigation and requesting data.
Campus officials have said that this investigation is based on a federal Title IX complaint in May 2015 alleging that the flagship university mishandled a report of sexual assault.
As part of the investigation, federal officials listed 20 requests of the institution, including a spreadsheet documenting all formal and informal student reports, an “explanation of the university’s system for tracking and maintaining information on incidents,” and “procedures for referring criminal matters involving sexual violence to law enforcement authorities.”
A report of an alleged sexual assault by a female student set in motion the investigation process the University of Tennessee and colleges around the country are constantly revising to meet changing federal standards.