Swarthmore College changing how it handles sexual assaults

Posted: February 01, 2014

SWARTHMORE Swarthmore College has made - or is working on - virtually every recommendation from an outside consultant to improve its handling of sexual assaults on campus, college officials said Thursday.

The college released a final report from Margolis, Healy & Associates that showed Swarthmore had brought on additional staff, provided training for employees, and adopted an interim policy on the handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints. All are recommendations highlighted in an interim report by the consultant last summer.

"I need your help and your feedback as we continue to refine these new practices and policies," president Rebecca Chopp said in a letter to the campus community.

The college is still awaiting a report from its internal task force, she said.

Swarthmore has been under scrutiny since students began complaining last spring about the college's lack of response to sexual assaults. Students filed two complaints alleging that the college violated the Clery Act, which requires colleges to report crime on campus, and another federal regulation, known as Title IX, that prohibits sexual discrimination. The U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office is investigating the Title IX complaint.

What's happening at Swarthmore is part of a national movement in which women are speaking out about their colleges' handling of sexual assaults. The Education Department has opened investigations at Occidental College in Los Angeles and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Just last week, the department notified Pennsylvania State University that it was starting a review there, citing a spike in cases there following the 2011 indictment of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on child sex-abuse charges.

"Our initial review of Penn State's sexual harassment policy, compounded by a dramatic increase in the number of forcible sex offenses occurring on campus as reported by the university itself, raised legal concerns that compelled us to investigate," Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Education Department's civil rights office, said in a statement, according to published reports.

A Penn State spokeswoman said the school welcomed the review to "promote and protect the safety of the Penn State community, and strengthen Penn State as an institution."

Also last week, President Obama announced a new task force on campus sexual assault, calling the crime a public health epidemic and promising recommendations within 90 days. The White House cited statistics that showed one in five students are assaulted in college, while only one of eight reports the attack.

Chopp said Swarthmore this spring would finalize its new policy on sexual assault, establish a "peer-to-peer" support group, and improve prevention programming. The college will collaborate with Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges on the best model for campus judicial proceedings for students who commit assaults, and publish an annual report on the proceedings, she said.

Among the new hires brought on are an advocate to provide guidance through the system for survivors of sexual assault and a hearing adviser to help the accused through the grievance process.


ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq

www.inquirer.com/campusinq

|
|
|
|
|