A group of students filed a federal complaint Thursday against Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania that claims the private liberal arts school is underreporting sexual violence on campus and discourages victims from reporting.
The complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleges Swarthmore has routinely violated the Clery Act, a federal statute that requires higher education institutions to track and publicize campus crime, including potential security threats and sexual assaults. The students say administrators have intimidated and discriminated against students and staff who have been vocal about Clery Act violations, although specific examples are being kept confidential.
Swarthmore sophomore Mia Ferguson, a sexual assault survivor with the group, said the complaint includes testimonials from 12 students.
In a statement to The Huffington Post, Swarthmore president Rebecca Chopp said the school hasn't received the complaint but will "fully cooperate" with the Education Department, should it decide to pursue an investigation.
"Swarthmore takes extremely seriously all allegations of sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct, encourages reporting of these incidents, and investigates all such allegations," Chopp said. "We strive continually to improve our community and hold ourselves accountable for creating a culture that has zero tolerance for any form of sexual assault or abuse."
The complaint comes after Swarthmore announced it was launching an external review of its sexual assault policies.
In an email sent to students Monday, Chopp announced, "Based on the significant concerns that students have raised about sexual misconduct on our campus, and, in particular, about how sexual assault cases are handled, I have decided to seek an external review of all of our policies, procedures, and sanctions related to sexual misconduct." She went on to say, "This review will begin as soon as possible and will continue into the fall in order to ensure that students have every opportunity for input."
Ferguson said she's excited the college wants to reform its policies "in theory." However, Ferguson said, the testimonials in the complaint include stories of students who tried to report assaults and harassment but faced skepticism from school officials as to whether or not the incidents had actually occurred.
Ferguson said it took her months simply to get an anonymous log of her assault after she reported it to resident advisers and administrators, which she believes suggests that staff members who are supposed to report sexual assaults either didn't understand the Clery Act requirements or ignored them. Ferguson added that she feels the school's claim to be supportive of victims is inaccurate, but "desirous."
"I want the claim of support to be true not just on the face of things, but true behind closed doors, too," Ferguson said.
The college was also recently embroiled in a controversy over a campus referendum on whether or not fraternities and sororities should remain at the college. It escalated when students began chalking reasons to vote to remove Greeks that included accusations that fraternities harbored "serial rapists," according to Swarthmore sophomore Hope Brinn. The chalkings were later erased, but anonymous op-eds in the student newspaper, the Daily Gazette, also included claims that students had been raped by fraternity members.
Students voted down the referendum to remove Greek houses.
Last week, Chopp sent out an email to students in which she addressed the rape accusations against the fraternities, saying "sharp and targeted anonymous postings (of any kind, posted anywhere) are antithetical to building a community of trust."
Chopp's campuswide email, combined with the erasing of the chalking, was the last straw, according to Brinn, who said that certain students felt that the school was more concerned about the word "rape" than the act itself. Over the last week, a group of students worked to put together a Clery Act complaint with help from Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, who were among the group that filed a similar complaint against the University of North Carolina earlier this year.
"Ultimately, the goal is not to throw the college under the bus [and] not to destroy the reputation," Brinn said. "We, as students, love Swarthmore. That's why we're pushing for change, because everyone deserves to feel safe and validated."
Earlier on HuffPost:
University Of Colorado - Boulder
CU-Boulder has two federal complaints against it, and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/18/cu-boulder-sexual-assault-investigation_n_3614277.html" target="_blank">opened one</a> for investigation.
Students at Swarthmore College <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/18/swarthmore-federal-complaint-sexual-assaults_n_3110445.html" target="_blank">filed a Title IX civil rights</a> complaint and a Clery Act complaint <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/23/sexual-assaults-mishandled-dartmouth-swarthmore_n_3321939.html?utm_hp_ref=college" target="_blank">which alleges the college </a>underreports sexual assaults and fails to respond to properly handle reports of sexual misconduct and harassment. The college promised to launch a review of their policies, and began <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/19/swarthmore-sexual-misconduct-reform_n_3624016.html" target="_blank">announcing reforms</a> in the summer of 2013.
After Angie Epifano wrote a lengthy op-ed about her experience trying to report a sexual assault at Amherst College, the school <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/22/amherst-college-sexual-assault-policy-review_n_2002874.html">started an internal review</a> and a revamp of their policies.
University Of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina began looking into their own policies after students and a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/unc-sexual-assault_n_2488383.html">former administrator filed two complaints with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights</a>. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/unc-sexual-assaults_n_2823522.html" target="_blank">university now has</a> three federal investigations launched by the Education Department, including one into whether the university <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/07/unc-investigation-retaliation_n_3555886.html" target="_blank">retaliated against </a>one of the complainants.
University Of Montana
Update: The DOJ found the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/09/university-of-montana-rape_n_3247466.html" target="_blank"> university botched rape </a>reports. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/feds-examine-response-to-_0_n_1470286.html">May 12, 2012 </a>report from AP: MISSOULA, Mont. -- The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into the way Missoula police, prosecutors and the University of Montana have responded to reports of sexual assault and harassment after the agency learned of complaints that cases were not being properly handled. The investigation was disclosed Tuesday after a preliminary examination conducted earlier this year concluded there was enough evidence to move ahead with a full probe, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said. Lawyers from the Justice Department's civil rights division will look at all 80 sexual assaults reported by women in Missoula over the past three years. Eleven sexual assaults involving university students have been reported in the past 18 months. Prosecutors were trying to figure out whether those university complaints were included in the total number of citywide assaults reported.
Oklahoma State Sexual Assault Reporting - Reviewed By University Task Force
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oklahoma-state-sexual-assault-report_n_2317687.html">Dec. 17, 2012</a>: <blockquote>It took nearly a month for Oklahoma State University officials to tell police that a single student had been accused by several others of sexual assault, prompting confusion and outrage over the lengthy delay. On Thursday, OSU President Burns Hargis announced he asked the Board of Regents' task force to review the school's handling of the sexual assault complaints. The task force was formed in July to review school policies and ensure a situation like the Sandusky scandal at Penn State does not unfold at OSU. Hargis said in a statement that OSU "cannot leave any doubt that we are indeed properly and appropriately handling sexual misconduct allegations," Tulsa World reports.</blockquote>
University Of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame Under Federal Review After Second Family Complains About Assault Allegations Mishandle <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/19/university-of-notre-dame-_n_825396.html">Feb. 19, 2011</a>: <blockquote>The University of Notre Dame has been placed under federal review by the U.S. Department of Education following two incidents of reported sexual assault that occurred this academic year.</blockquote>
Two years after the Ivy League school went under a federal investigation, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/yale-sexual-assault-punishment_n_3690100.html" target="_blank">students and alumni once again say</a> the university fails to properly <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/23/yale-sexual-assault-punishment_n_3786885.html" target="_blank">handle sexual assaults</a> and harassment. <a href="http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/06/15/yale-settles-charges-of-sexual-discrimination/#ixzz2Ly8bXen3">June 15, 2012 report from Time magazine</a>: <blockquote>The Department of Education announced on Friday that it had resolved a complaint that Yale University had failed to eliminate sexual discrimination on campus. The complaint, filed by a group of 16 current and former students in March 2011, stemmed from an incident on campus on the evening of Oct. 13, 2010, in which members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity marched across the Yale campus to a dorm where many female students lived and chanted “No means yes! Yes means anal!” A video of the chanting men was posted online and quickly went viral, spurring an uproar at the university and nationwide.</blockquote> Yale <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/15/yale-clery-act_n_3280195.html" target="_blank">was fined $165,000 </a>by the feds.
Southern Methodist University -- Launches Task Force After String Of Sexual Assaults Reported
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/12/southern-methodist-sexual-assaults_n_1959302.html">Oct. 12, 2012 report</a> from HuffPost: <blockquote>Two students in separate cases were arrested last month on sexual assault charges. However, it raised eyebrows as people noted it took eight months to bring charges in one case while only a few days in the other. In response to the controversy, SMU announced a special task force to review how the school handles reports of sexual violence. Administrative action aside, problems persist on the Texas campus. On Wednesday, just a day before the first task force meeting, students received a crime alert warning of another sexual assault; this one allegedly targeting a young woman in her apartment west of campus by an acquaintance and fellow SMU student. The incident became the fifth sexual assault reported this year and the third in the past six weeks to go under investigation by University Park police. At least 40 sexual assaults were reported since 2006, according to the SMU Daily Campus, and almost all of them from SMU students. Over the past 25 years, more than 100 women at SMU reported being sexually assaulted.</blockquote>