Occidental College Accused of Covering Up Sexual Assaults
Last Thursday, a group of 36 students, faculty members, and alumni at Occidental College have filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases as well as under-reporting and covering-up charges of rape. Occidental College is now the third university within the US to receive such a complaint regarding alleged cover-ups of sexual assaults and incidents of rape since the beginning of 2013.
The complaint, which spanned 250 pages, claimed that the school administration had created an environment of hostility towards victims of sexual assault and those who attempted to advocate for assault victims, as well as violating Title IX laws regarding sexual discrimination.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that internal handling of sexual assaults at the campus have resulted in light punishment for the accused perpetrators, such as one student who was found guilty of raping a woman and was only required to write a five-page book report.
“I’ve seen some of the outputs of these so-called ‘educational sanctions’ like book reports and apology letters and they’re abysmal,” said Danielle Dirks, a sociology professor and one of the faculty members who signed the complaint. “The fact that Occidental has invited rapists back to campus and even told survivors not to worry because ‘he’s reformed now’ after these types of inadequate sanctions is an abomination.”
On April 1st, Occidental was the subject of another complaint with the DoE in regards to their response to sex crimes on campus under the Clery Act, which a portion of the same women behind this latest complaint also signed. The earlier complaint alleges that, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Swarthmore College, Occidental routinely under-reported the number of sexual assaults on campus, discouraged victims from reporting incidents at all, and neglected to release crime alerts to students in a timely manner.
“Sexual assault on college campuses is a nationwide problem, from which Occidental College (Oxy) regrettably is not exempt,” said Jim Tranquada, director of communications at Occidental. “We take this issue very seriously, and will not tolerate sexual misconduct… We readily acknowledge that Oxy has more work to do, and are vigilantly ensuring our continual progress.”
The report is seen as the culmination of a half-decade long effort to reform the school’s response to sex crimes, with students and faculty members having launched a student organization called Occidental’s Sexual Assault Coalition, which allows victims of rape and sexual assault to anonymously post survivor stories and raise awareness for the true number of assaults at the school.
Caroline Heldman, chair of the Politics Department at Occidental and one of the faculty members who helped draft the complaint, has been actively attempting to elicit a change in the college’s policies regarding sexual assaults for years, saying that she had seen more effort to address these problems “in one hour since filing these complaints than we had in the past six years,” while also pointing out that the complaint details reports from multiple students about an administrator who insulted the Sexual Assault Coalition when speaking to male athletes, allegedly saying ”Fuck ‘em.”
According to Dirks, that kind of response was typical for the school’s administration, and when she attempted to speak out about the college’s policies, she was allegedly accused by administrators of ”actively seeking to embarrass the college.”