Bloomberg News

Swarthmore to Boost Sexual Assault Response Measures Amid Probe

July 18, 2013

Swarthmore College, under federal investigation for its handling of rape and sexual assaults, said it will increase its staff, prevention and training programs to address campus sexual misconduct and gender bias.

The college will add a full-time coordinator to ensure compliance with Title IX, the law that forbids gender discrimination in education; two members of an assault response team; and a trained investigator, Rebecca Chopp, president of the Swarthmore, Pennsylvania-based school, said today in a telephone interview.

Swarthmore students filed complaints with the U.S. Education Department this year, claiming that the college underreports campus crime and has failed to respond to sexual assaults as required by Title IX. The measures are based on recommendations of an interim report released today on the college’s policies and practices by campus-security consultant Margolis Healy & Associates LLC, Chopp said in a letter to the campus community.

“We’ve got a window where everyone’s consciousness of this issue is heightened, and there’s incredible energy,” Chopp said in the interview. “It’s a time when we can look at every aspect of our culture and policies and how to improve them.”

Students and faculty at schools across the U.S. have filed complaints similar to Swarthmore’s, saying their colleges fail to prevent, address and report sexual assaults. Colleges that have had complaints lodged against them include Yale University; University of Southern California; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of California, Berkeley; and Occidental College. Penalties may include fines and the loss of eligibility for federal student financial aid.

National Search

Swarthmore will conduct a national search to find a full-time Title IX coordinator, which had been a part-time position, Chopp said. The school will expand training of security personnel to ensure compliance with the Clery Act, which requires that campus crime, including sexual assaults, be reported to the Education Department, she said. The college is also looking to increase prevention measures and may add educational programs for new students before they arrive on campus, she said.

“This is about creating a culture,” she said. “Part of what a college does is train people to practice respect for themselves and others.”

The report and the changes at Swarthmore represent progress, said Mia Ferguson, a rising junior engineering student who helped file the complaints and found Swarthmore Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Advocacy, a campus support and watchdog group.

‘High Hopes’

“It gives me high hopes,” she said today in a telephone interview. “It seems like a lot of good questions are being asked.”

How the school’s new policies and improvements are implemented will be key, Ferguson said. She noted that many students still say investigations of their assaults drag on longer than 60 days, the maximum timespan recommended by the Education Department.

“We’re looking at everything,” Chopp said. “Adding investigators will help. We’re addressing what happens when reports are filed late in the semester,” when many faculty and administrators leave for weeks or months.

Chopp said the school is complying with the Education Department’s investigation.

“The more eyes on how to address these issues on college campuses and the culture at large, the better,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net


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