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Swarthmore Lays Out Sexual Misconduct Reform Plans

07/19/2013 05:47 pm ET

Swarthmore College will hire two administrators to help reform its handing of sexual assault as the federal government investigates the college's response to previous cases.

A group of students and faculty at the suburban Philadelphia college will begin a nationwide search for a new full-time Title IX coordinator, in charge of making sure the school complies with federal gender equity law. The college also will hire an advocate to guide victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment through its reporting system, and will develop workshops to discuss issues related to consent with students.

Swarthmore president Rebecca Chopp told The Huffington Post the college has "a window of opportunity" to change the campus culture and combat sexual violence. "I study cultural change, and I'm a feminist scholar myself," Chopp said. "These things inch forward, but these are windows of opportunities. I think we're facing one of those."

The school's announcement on Thursday came on the same day as the release of an interim report by security consultant Margolis Healy & Associates, hired in May to review Swarthmore's sexual assault policies, and less than a week after the federal government decided to investigate the college's response to sexual assaults and harassment on campus.

Swarthmore, one of the most selective U.S. liberal arts colleges, is among a growing roster of prominent colleges and universities under federal scrutiny for their handling of sexual assault, including University of Southern California; University of California, Berkeley; Dartmouth College; and University of Colorado Boulder.

A group of Swarthmore students filed a federal Title IX complaint in May claiming the college fails to properly adjudicate sexual violence on campus. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation on July 12.

A separate federal complaint in April alleged Swarthmore underreports instances of sexual assault in violation of the Clery Act, which requires accurate tracking and disclosure of crime on campus. the Department of Education hasn't yet announced whether it will investigate the Clery complaint.

Chopp said the federal review will be helpful, because so many schools' sexual assault procedures are under investigation.

"One of the advantages of the DOE investigation is we will get to hear from them what they think of our practices," Chopp said. "We are very much building for the future. We will try to anticipate best practices and what the looming changes might be."

Swarthmore's move to revise its procedures may speed the resolution of the federal probe.

“These are things that should have been in place at colleges and universities across the country for a long time, but commonly have not been," S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative for the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, told Inside Higher Ed.

Swarthmore will begin comprehensive training sessions for faculty and staff, as well as student residential advisers, in how to handle sexual violence, requirements under the Clery Act and Title IX, and to understand the "implications of their remarks" to victims. In addition, Swarthmore is developing a smartphone phone app that will provide quick access to relevant public safety resources, contact information, and other Clery Act information.

The reforms follow Swarthmore's separation of the roles of drug and alcohol counseling and fraternity advising, which removed a staff member named in the federal complaints against the school.

Margolis Healy & Associates will release a full report after further discussions with students and staff in the fall.

“It gives me high hopes," Mia Ferguson, a Swarthmore student who filed the complaints, told Bloomberg Businessweek. "It seems like a lot of good questions are being asked."

Read Rebecca Chopp's letter to the Swarthmore campus community:

Chopp Letter to Swarthmore Community 07-18-2013

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 77054 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.

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