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Students Accuse Occidental and Swarthmore Colleges of Mishandling Sexual Assault Reports

April 25, 2013

Occidental and Swarthmore Colleges joined a growing group of elite schools accused of being indifferent to student allegations of rape and sexual harassment, according to The New York Times. Frustrated students recently began the process of filing formal complaints accusing faculty at both schools of dismissing student rape allegations and failing to report student incidents. Due to alleged violations of the Clery Act, a federal law requiring educational institutions to make a full report of all campus crimes, as well as Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination at federally funded institutions of higher education, students are now demanding that their complaints be heard and investigated by the U.S. Department of Education.

The New York Times reports that both current and former students are named in the complaint filed against Occidental College, located in Los Angeles. Kenda Woolfson, a recent Occidental graduate named in the complaint, explained her frustration at a news conference in L.A.

"For the entirety of my last year in college, I continued to live every day in fear," Woolfson told The New York Times. "In May, I watched as my rapist shook the hand of our college's president and received his diploma, and I wished I had not been discouraged by a dean from reporting the rape."

Famed attorney Gloria Allred represented Woolfson and other Occidental students as they filed their complaint, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The women maintain that Occidental faculty tried to suppress student complaints by downplaying reported incidents and discouraging students from reporting crimes to local authorities. Allred claims that 37 Occidental students, including men, have been victims of sexual crimes since 2009.

In at least one case, a college staff member has come forward to confirm school mismanagement of reported sexual crimes. According to the Los Angeles Times, Occidental professor Caroline Heldman sided with Allred and the accusers.

"Some students were discouraged from filing a formal complaint, while others were not informed of their rights," stated Heldman, who serves as the chairwoman of Occidental's politics department. "In some cases the college chose to let perpetrators back on campus after they had been found responsible for non-consensual sexual intercourse."

Student victims at Swarthmore College, located in Swarthmore, Pa., were busy filing similar complaints, citing clear violations of the Clery Act. Hope Brinn, a sophomore at Swarthmore, accused the school of advising her against making a formal complaint after a fellow student sexually harassed her and broke into her room. Brinn also accused Swarthmore of inaccurately characterizing her complaints on record in order to make them seem less severe. The Chronicle of Higher Education states that Swarthmore's president, Rebecca Chopp, refused to comment on the reports but did acknowledge a problem with schools' records.

Occidental and Swarthmore aren't the first schools to be accused of suppressing campus crime reporting. According to the New York Times, similar complaints have been filed at several other elite institutions in the last few years. In those cases, comparable allegations against the schools lead to variety of lawsuits, investigations, and school policy changes. In response to the formal complaints, both Occidental and Swarthmore called in consultants and investigators to review the allegations.


Compiled by Holly Johnson

Sources:

"2 More Colleges Accused of Mishandling Assaults," nytimes.com, April 18, 2013, Richard Perez-Pena and Ian Lovett

"Occidental and Swarthmore Colleges Are Accused of Mishandling Assault Cases," chronicle.com, April 19, 2013, Charles Huckabee

"Sexual assault policies under fire at Occidental College," latimes.com, April 18, 2013, Richard Winton

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