A top-ranking official at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has emerged as a potentially key figure in Rolling Stone’s false article, “A Rape on Campus.”
Catherine Lhamon, who heads the Department’s civil rights wing, was identified in a letter sent last month by University of Virginia Dean of Students Allen Groves to Steve Coll and Sheila Coronel, the two Columbia Journalism School deans who conducted a review of the Nov. 19 article, written by disgraced reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
Groves’ letter was included as a footnote to the Columbia deans’ report, which was released on Sunday and cataloged the failures and lies that led to the article’s publication.
In the letter, Groves wrote that he has suffered “personal and professional” damage as a result of Erdely’s reporting and comments Lhamon made about him which were included in the article.
As the Rolling Stone article fell apart, Lhamon’s involvement has gone virtually unmentioned. But a deeper look reveals her ties to Emily Renda, a University of Virginia employee and activist who put Erdely in touch with Jackie, the student whose claim that she was brutally gang-raped by seven members of a fraternity on Sept. 28, 2012, served as the linchpin for the 9,000-word Rolling Stone article.
President Obama nominated Lhamon to become the Education Department’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in July 2013. The Senate approved her unanimously the following month.
She has served as the Education Department’s designee to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault which Obama created on Jan. 22, 2014. Renda served on the same task force.
Besides that link, both spoke at a February 2014 University of Virginia event entitled “Sexual Misconduct Among College Students.”
Lhamon has been invited to the White House nearly 60 times, according to visitor’s logs. Renda has been invited six times. Both were invited to the same White House meeting on three occasions. One, held on Feb. 21, 2014, was conducted by Lynn Rosenthal, then the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. Twenty-one people, mostly activists, were invited to that meeting. Lhamon and Renda were invited to two other larger gatherings — one on April 29 and the other on Sept. 19.
It is unclear if both attended the three meetings. Renda did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Renda and Lhamon also testified at a June 26, 2014, Senate hearing on campus sexual assault. It was at that hearing that Renda cited Jackie’s story that she was brutally gang-raped by five fraternity members — a statement that was inconsistent with Jackie’s claim to Erdely that she was raped by seven men. According to the Columbia report, Renda first told Erdely about Jackie’s allegation on July 8, nearly two weeks after her Senate testimony.
During her testimony, Lhamon claimed that “The best available research suggests that 20% of college women, and roughly 6% of college men, are victims of attempted or completed sexual assault.” That “one-in-five” claim about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus has been heavily disputed.
Lhamon’s and Renda’s coverage of two different aspects to campus sexual assault highlights exactly what Erdely tried — but failed — to accomplish with her article. The reporter used Jackie’s story about a gang-rape to introduce readers to what she asserted was a systemic failure on the part of universities, police, and society to prevent and investigate sexual assault.