A week after the original complaint to the Department of Education was filed following violations of the Clery Act by Swarthmore’s administration, 7 new complainants have now added testimony, according to Mia Ferguson ’15 and Hope Brinn ’15. Complainants now include both current students and alumni from the college dating back to 1992, when the Clery Act was first passed.
The act, a statute that requires colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid to release reports accurately disclosing “campus crime statistics and security information,” protects victims whose assaults have been inaccurately reported, both within the administration and to the campus community. The complaint would require the Department of Education to review the college’s compliance with Clery. A Program Review Report would provide the college with a chance to respond. If the information based on the findings is not appropriate, a fine may be imposed.
A complaint will also soon be filed to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for violations of Title IX which have more to do with “individual student rights,” according to Ferguson, and will therefore seek to handle mismanagement of specific sexual assault cases.
“In sexual assault cases, Title IX mandates, for example, that there’s no mediation between parties. It also mandates that as a victim you are provided with information around what your perpetrator’s punishment is,” said Ferguson. “That’s where the administration has been faltering.”
Although President Rebecca Chopp announced the administration’s intent to hire an independent external review to evaluate the college’s policies and procedures surrounding sexual misconduct, Ferguson and Brinn are not satisfied.
Ferguson met with Chopp on Monday, and presented her with a letter that asked the administration to implement a set of four policies immediately. If these policies were implemented, the group of complainants would feel safe possibly retracting Department of Education complaint.
The first of the changes asked that four administrators be promptly suspended until investigations by the Department of Education are completed.
Students’ rights are being violated consistently by these administrators,” said Ferguson. “There are administrators who have done wrong that we didn’t include on this list. These are people who have been consistent and even today are violating students’ rights and hurting them — emotionally traumatizing them.”
The second demanded more education — making Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) workshops mandatory for every student, not excusing athletes from the workshop, and including Title IX and Clery Act education so that every student will know victims’ rights, the procedure for reporting sexual assault and the resources that are available to them.
The third request was to look at sexual assault management, which includes creating a sexual assault management office, for which one individual would be hired for the express purpose of representing and supporting victims through the reporting process, and another would be hired part-time to represent and protect the rights of the perpetrator. This would allow the very specific legal issues regarding both victims and perpetrators to be accurately regarded and simultaneously preventing the burden of caring for both parties properly to fall on administrators who have other jobs to attend to.
“[Having a person protect the perpetrator] is important because it is hard to decipher these cases. There isn’t a preponderance of evidence,” said Ferguson. “It’s really important to make sure that everyone’s rights are preserved.”
The office would also provide free legal assistance for victims, which according to Brinn, several colleges’ offices already do, the University of New Hampshire among them.
“This is not revolutionary,” Brinn said. “There are other colleges that are already doing it.”
Part of reforming sexual assault management also includes creating an anonymous student group that has funding to provide legal counsel, psychological counsel outside of the college and medical care. The group would also be responsible for autonomously administering a few “emergency singles” for victims. These would provide a safe living space for them after the assault and until new housing is found, if necessary.
The fourth requested that the college publicly admit wrongdoing and reveal steps being taken as it moves forward with the changes.
The letter with these requests was presented at the meeting with Chopp, where Nancy Nicely, secretary of the college and vice president for communications, was also present. According to Ferguson, the letter has already reached a number of the college’s Board of Managers. However, Chopp did not consent to its demands. In an e-mail after the meeting, Chopp told Ferguson that the administration would carefully consider their suggestions and share the concerns with the independent reviewer. She also said that “to further strengthen our efforts,” the college would be “pursuing an independent, external review of all of our sexual misconduct policies and procedures,” which was not news to the complainant. Chopp did mention, though, that the suggestions regarding ASAP training and attendance were already in the process of being implemented.
In an e-mail interview Chopp also said that the college would “[cooperate with] a possible review by the Department of Education.” This review will take place if the department accepts the complaint filed by Ferguson, Brinn and the other 17 survivors.
“These are important opportunities for us to improve our processes in pursuit of a safer, stronger community that will not tolerate sexual misconduct,” she said.
The OCR, which will respond to the complaint under Title IX, is the office with the power to withdraw Swarthmore’s federal aid, often awarded in the form of Pell Grants. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance, if a college being accused of violations under the act has or agrees to disseminate “policy prohibiting sex discrimination under Title IX and effective grievance procedures,” effectively respond to “allegations of sexual harassment,” and take “immediate and effective corrective action responsive to the harassment, including effective actions to end the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects,” the OCR will consider the complaint to be resolved. Essentially, the external review, combined with a few small steps to remedy the situation in violation of Title IX, will prevent Swarthmore’s funding from being taken away. The external review, in fact, would be deemed like an appropriate solution by the Department of Education. The OCR will, however, monitor compliance with the agreement about proper courses of action between the office and the college.
“If the college works with the external review board alone, Swarthmore then can choose to implement the policies it wants without the same pressure from the government to strictly adhere to the law,” said Brinn.
According to the Huffington Post, Occidental College, which is facing similar accusations for Title IX and Clery Act violations, has hired Gina M. Smith and Leslie Gomez of the Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton to review the college’s sexual violence policies. Smith worked with Amherst College and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) for similar reasons. At Amherst, policies are already going into effect based on the reports that surged from the review.
Ferguson doesn’t think that a review is necessary to identify some basic and very obvious violations of both Title IX and the Clery Act.
“What is the motivation? What is stopping them from taking action now?” she asked. “There’s no denying that [Swarthmore] broke the law … I don’t understand why the administration won’t act now to protect our safety because I thought that was their priority.”
If there’s a legal reason for waiting to act, Brinn and Ferguson would like to hear it. Unless they do though, the students stand by their proposal.
Sarah Coe-Odess ’15 contributed reporting.