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Sexual Misconduct Policies Challenged

By Sherri Kimmel


On May 2, Miriam Hauser ’13 was one of many who attended an event in support of the survivor community. Photo by Sherri Kimmel.

This spring, a flurry of complaints by college students across the nation contended that, with respect to sexual assault policies and practices, their schools are in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. They also filed complaints under the federal Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses.

Students at Dartmouth, Amherst, Rice, Occidental, the University of Southern California, and UC–Berkeley are among those who recently filed complaints.

Swarthmore’s handling of cases of sexual assault also came under fire. In mid-April, following extensive coverage of sexual assault cases as reported in the Daily Gazette, and three days after President Rebecca Chopp announced the need for an extensive, independent review of all issues pertaining to sexual assault and harassment, Mia Ferguson ’15 and Hope Brinn ’15 announced that they and 20 other students and alumni were filing a federal complaint under the Clery Act. In late May, Ferguson and Brinn also participated in a press conference led by Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred in which students from four schools announced they were bringing Title IX complaints forward.

Margolis Healy & Associates (MHA), a firm specializing in campus safety, security, and regulatory compliance, was chosen to review Swarthmore’s sexual-misconduct policies and procedures and to issue recommendations in the fall. President Chopp also announced the formation of a Task Force on Sexual Misconduct that supports the independent review. The Task Force is chaired by Professor of Sociology Sarah Willie-LeBreton and includes faculty, students, staff, and Board members.

Representatives from MHA were on campus in mid-May to begin assessing College policies and meet with community members. Among those who spoke with MHA was Miriam Hauser ’13, a member of the Sexual Misconduct Advisors & Resource Team (SMART)—faculty, staff, and students who are trained to respond to students with concerns about sexual misconduct, under the guidance of Beth Kotarski, director of student health services.

According to Hauser, Swarthmore student unrest around this issue has “been brewing for a long time. Swarthmore is not alone in dealing with these issues. But it’s probably in the vanguard. I expect there to be more schools coming forward in the near future.

“Students have been working within the system for years; now they are louder and more public,” Hauser said. “I’m really glad and thankful that the administration is taking action and has hired an [independent reviewer] and formed a task force.”

Hauser and fellow SMART veteran Lisa Sendrow ’13 agree that concerns over the handling of sexual misconduct on campus is not a Swarthmore-specific problem and is symptomatic of the flowering of a new generation of activists. “We’re definitely part of a national movement. There is a more outspoken group of students aware of the issues,” Sendrow said.

Hauser and Sendrow believe that during the last few years more students have reported cases of sexual misconduct, perhaps in testament to the greater visibility of SMART. “Students feel safer about reporting, and they have someone to talk to,” said Sendrow.

Sendrow noted that Chopp and Dean of Students Liz Braun maintain “an open door to survivors,” of which she is one. “The administration recognizes that change needs to happen,” Hauser said.

Sendrow added that many of the contended policies were established before Chopp and Braun arrived in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

After a 2011 U.S. Department of Education clarification of the legal obligations under Title IX of colleges and universities regarding campus sexual assault, Swarthmore revised its sexual-misconduct policies, communicated these policies more frequently and made several staffing changes. In March, another related federal law passed, the Campus Sexual Violence Act (SaVE Act), which mandates additional provisions for colleges and universities, expanding the information colleges must incorporate into their annual crime reports to include acts of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

Chopp is determined that the students’ concerns be fully investigated and that practices and policies change to address any identified shortcomings.

“The safety of our students, both physical and emotional, is our highest priority, and we will do everything in our power to assure that,” she said. “We are dedicated to not only being in total compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act but to setting the standard for compliance for higher education in this country.”

For more information on Swarthmore’s Sexual Misconduct Resources, click here.

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