Swarthmore College Faces Federal Investigation for Allegedly Under-reporting Sexual Assaults
Swarthmore College, which recently topped The Princeton Review’s list of best value private colleges in the nation, has been the subject of a complaint to the Department of Education for allegedly under-reporting sexual assaults on campus and discouraging victims from formally reporting incidents at all.
The complaint states that the school has frequently violated the Clery Act, a federal law that mandates accurate and immediate reporting of all incidences of crime and potential security threats, as well as requiring all students to be notified of each occurrence. Failure to do so results in a $35,000 penalty per violation. The 12 students who filed the complaint have stated that the school administration has routinely “intimidated and discriminated” students who have spoken out about the violations to the Clery Act.
Swarthmore president Rebecca Chopp has said that the school has yet to receive the complaint from the Department of Education, which was filed on Thursday, but will “fully cooperate” with the Clery Commission should they choose to investigate the school.
“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.”
On Monday, prior to the filing of the complaint, Swarthmore announced it had launched their own external investigation of their sexual assault policies.
“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,” wrote Chopp in an email to students. “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.”
Sophmore Mia Ferguson, who is one of the 12 students who helped file the complaint against Swarthmore, has said that she’s happy to see Swarthmore attempt to change its policies “in theory,” but points to testimonials in the complaint which detail skepticism from the school in regards to whether the incidents had actually taken place.
In Ferguson’s case, her attempts to get an anonymous log to simply report her assault at all took months after originally speaking to resident advisers and administration officials, leading her to believe that the school’s faculty and staff either did not understand the requirements of the Clery Act or ignored them completely.
“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 complaint also comes after the recent controversy at the school on the alleged atmosphere surrounding sexual misconduct within the school’s Greek system. A number of anonymous chalkings began appearing at the school that accused fraternities of harboring “serial rapists,” as well as anonymous op-eds in the school’s student newspaper from students claiming to have been raped by fraternity members. The controversy culminated in a campus referendum on whether or not to remove fraternities and sororities from the college entirely, which ultimately failed to pass.
Last week, Chopp sent out an email in regards to the anonymous accusations against the fraternities, saying ”sharp and targeted anonymous postings (of any kind, posted anywhere) are antithetical to building a community of trust.”
According to sophomore Hope Brinn, this response to the rape accusations was a step too far, saying that it showed how the school was more concerned over the negative publicity caused by the word “rape” rather than dealing with incidents of rape, leading to the 12 students enlisting the help of Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, the students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who filed a similar Clery Act complaint with the DoE earlier this year.
“Ultimately, the goal is not to throw the college under the bus [and] not to destroy the reputation,” said Brinn. “We, as students, love Swarthmore. That’s why we’re pushing for change, because everyone deserves to feel safe and validated.”