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Office for Civil Rights

Office for Civil Rights
Agency overview
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Agency executive
  • Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Parent department U.S. Department of Education
Key documents
  • Department of Education Organization Act
  • 20 U.S.C. § 3413, § 3441
Website /ocr/list/offices/about.goved

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education that is primarily focused on protecting civil rights in federally assisted education programs and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.


  • Mission 1
  • Leadership 2
  • Sexual violence investigations 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


OCR is one of the largest federal civil rights agencies in the United States, with a staff of approximately 650 attorneys, investigators, and staff. The agency is located in twelve regional offices and in Washington, D.C., headquarters. The Office for Civil Rights is responsible for ensuring compliance by recipients of federal education funds with several federal civil rights laws, including:

In the case of school bullying school districts may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department of Educations’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees. Under these federal civil rights laws and regulations, students are protected from harassment by school employees, other students, and third parties.[1]


The United States Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights is the head of the OCR. The Assistant Secretary is also the primary civil rights adviser to the United States Secretary of Education.

Currently, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights is Catherine Lhamon (August, 2013-present). Former Assistant Secretaries were Cynthia G. Brown (1980), Clarence Thomas (1981–1982), Harry M. Singleton (1982–1985), LeGree S. Daniels (1987–1989), Michael L. Williams (1990–1993), Norma V. Cantu (1993–2001), Gerald A. Reynolds (2002–2003), Stephanie J. Monroe (2005–2008), and Russlynn Ali (2009-2012).

Sexual violence investigations

On May 1, 2014, the Office for Civil Rights released a list of higher education institutions with open Title IX sexual violence investigations.[2] As of 16 March 2015, nearly 100 colleges and universities were under investigation.[3]

This list constitutes the first time the federal government has announced ongoing sexual violence investigations; previously investigations were known only to members of university and college communities.[4] When announcing the schools under investigation, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon suggested that "increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue... and foster better public awareness of civil rights."[2]

The decision to release the names of universities and colleges under investigation was due to pressure from both the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the New Campus Anti-Rape Movement.[5] Importantly, Lhamon continued, "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."[2]

There are critics of the list on both sides of campus anti-rape politics. Andrea Pino, a complainant against Dear colleague letter—violates the rights to due process for both institutions and individuals.[7]

On July 2, 2014, the Office of Civil Rights added 12 colleges and universities to its list,[8] on July 10, 2014 one more was added,[9] and four more were named on July 30, 2014.[10]


  1. ^ Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (October 26, 2010). "Letter to a Colleague" (PDF). Letter to a Colleague. United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. Retrieved November 9, 2011. The statutes that [The Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education] enforces include  
  2. ^ a b c "U.S. Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations". U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 6 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Carroll, James (March 16, 2015). "By making war, US unleashed mass rape".  
  4. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer; Joachim, David (1 May 2014). "55 Colleges Named in Federal Inquiry Into Handling of Sexual Assault Cases".  
  5. ^ Newman, Jonah; Sander, Libby. "Promise Unfulfilled?".  
  6. ^ Kingkade, Tyler (1 July 2014). "55 Colleges Face Sexual Assault Investigations".  
  7. ^ Smith, Robert (30 August 2014). "On Sexual Harassment and Title IX".  
  8. ^ "US Ed Dept adds 12 Schools to Title IX List".  
  9. ^ Lamb, Katherine (23 July 2014). "Education Dept. opens Title IX investigation of Brown".  
  10. ^ "30 July 2014 List" (PDF). Retrieved 9 August 2014. 

External links

  • Office for Civil Rights Website
  • Oral History Interview with Peter Holms (Director, 1973) from Oral Histories of the American South
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