Four Major Universities Facing Sexual Assault Claims by Students

By Don Jeffrey and | May 28, 2013

Students from four universities said they filed federal complaints alleging that their schools failed to address campus sexual assault and harassment.

The college students filed actions with the U.S. Education Department against Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, said Gloria Allred, a women’s rights attorney, at a press conference last Wednesday in New York.

Students across the U.S. are filing complaints alleging that their colleges’ policies and procedures violate the Clery Act — which requires universities to report violent acts on campuses, including sexual assault — or Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination on campus. Violations can result in fines or the loss of federal student financial aid.

“We are asking the Department of Education to open an investigation into these complaints and take appropriate actions to force these colleges to comply with the law or risk losing their federal funding,” said Allred, of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg in Los Angeles, at today’s press conference.

Jim Bradshaw, an Education Department spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail requesting confirmation that the complaints were filed.

Rebecca Chopp, president of Swarthmore, said in an e-mailed statement that the college in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, hasn’t been notified of a complaint.

Swarthmore Commitment

Chopp said the college is “committed to supporting our students and to fulfilling both the letter and the spirit of Title IX and the Clery Act. The safety of our students, both physical and emotional, is our highest priority, and we will do everything in our power to assure that.”

Justin Anderson, a spokesman for Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, said in an e-mail that the school has not seen the complaint.

“No educational institution should be complacent about claims of sexual assault and discrimination, and Dartmouth is not,” he said. “In recent years, we have implemented numerous new initiatives and are committed to finding effective ways to make lasting and positive change.”

Eddie North-Hager, a spokesman for USC in Los Angeles, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the filings. Janet Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Berkeley, said the college takes sexual assault very seriously and it hasn’t had an opportunity to review the complaint.

Occidental Complaint

Last month, a group of students at Occidental College said they filed complaints alleging that the Los Angeles school has violated the Clery Act and Title IX. Allred is representing students involved in that case who said they were sexually assaulted.

Swarthmore and Occidental are conducting external reviews of their policies and procedures relating to sexual assault.

Many colleges underreport complaints about sexual abuse and harassment to preserve their reputations, Allred said.

“There’s an economic reason why they don’t want true crime statistics to be reported,” she said. “It will affect their admissions.”

Students at Dartmouth held a protest last month where they accused the school of an inadequate response to sexual assault, racism and homophobia. Carol Folt, Dartmouth’s interim president, shut down the school for a day after the students said they received threatening messages on a college-linked website.

Safe, Inclusive

Dartmouth “has been marketed as a safe and inclusive college, an ideal learning environment, an Ivy League university,” said Rachel Sands, a student involved in the complaint, in an e-mailed statement. “This is not true if you are a woman, gay, transgender, of color, or poor.”

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, already is facing Title IX and Clery Act complaints. The school has said the Education Department is investigating its compliance with the regulations.

Annie Clark, a former UNC student who’s now an administrator at the University of Oregon, said her concerns were dismissed by school officials after she reported her rape.

“A university administrator responded to me by saying, ‘Rape is like football, and if you look back on the game, what would you have done differently in that situation?'” Clark said today at the press conference. “The message was loud and clear — I was being blamed for a violent crime committed against me.”

The press conference was delayed for 20 minutes when two transgender Dartmouth students protested that they had not been included in the presentation. They read statements to the press about “homophobic harassment” on campus while hotel security staff members ordered them to leave. The pair left after the police were called.

Editors: Stephen West, Andrew Dunn

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