Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Early this morning, Mia Ferguson ’15 and Hope Brinn ’15 filed a complaint with the federal government against Swarthmore College for violating the Clery Act. Their complaint was filed with testimonies from 10 other students, the most they know of a college ever having submitted in one complaint.
They say they were motivated by growing concerns among students that the College was not adequately addressing reports of sexual assault. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act, requires colleges and universities receiving federal funding to document and disclose information about crime committed on or near campus. In their complaint, Ferguson and Brinn bring six allegations of misconduct against the college:
1. Discouraging students from reporting crime to local law enforcement and from going through formal judiciary proceedings
2. Persistently underreporting incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape in the Annual Clery Security Report
3. Persistently underreporting incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape in the daily crime log
4. Failing to issue timely reports of incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape
5. Failing to publicly report potential sanctions for sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape
6. Intimidating, discriminating, and retaliating against sexual assault and rape survivors and their advocates
Their complaint will be reviewed by the Department of Education and may be granted an investigation in as soon as two weeks. During an investigation, the Department of Education will collect documents and statements to determine if the College’s policies systematically mishandle students’ reports of sexual assaults.
Their complaint comes three days after President Rebecca Chopp announced the College would seek an independent review of its policies regarding sexual misconduct.
Brinn says an external review is insufficient.
“We have a huge history of not complying with the law, and I think that needs to be addressed,” Brinn said. “We have 12 individuals coming forward which demonstrates clearly a systemic issue that needs to be addressed with policy changes.”
Ferguson says it is important to frame this action within a national movement. Ferguson said they have been working closely with Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who act as informal consultants to students seeking to file complaints with the federal government. Pino and Clark made headlines when they filed a Title IX complaint against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spurring a national movement for sexual assault policy reform in higher education.
Since then, they have formed an underground network of survivors at colleges across the country including Amherst, Yale, Occidental, and Princeton. They say they have already provided advice to students from some three dozen colleges and universities.
Ferguson says the complaint does not mean she does not like Swarthmore. Rather, she says, Swarthmore needs to go through this process to help it improve its sexual assault policies. By doing so, she says, Swarthmore can be a leader to other colleges across the country.
“I love this school. If it weren’t for what this school taught me I would not be doing this,” Ferguson said. “It’s not against the school. It’s against a whole larger institution.”
There will be more on this story tomorrow with interviews with with Andrea Pino and Annie Clark from UNC, experts on the Clery Act, and students who submitted testimonies.
Photo by Max Nesterak/The Daily Gazette