Swarthmore Students File Federal Complaint Due To Unreported Sexual Assault

Content Warning: This article addresses sexual assault and rape.

Twelve Swarthmore College students have filed a federal complaint against the school, stating that the college has violated the Clery Act and Title IX. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires colleges which receive federal financial aid to record and report information on criminal activity on and near their campus.

Students Mia Ferguson and Hope Brinn, who led the initiative to file the complaint, said that Swarthmore administration has repeatedly under-reported incidents of sexual violence on campus, discouraged students from reporting crimes to off campus law enforcement and going through criminal proceedings, and that a staff member reported evidence of sexual assault being purposefully undocumented or destroyed. One of the twelve testimonials within the claim came from a student who was raped at a house party, and then urged to not report the incident. She reported that a school counselor told her that her drinking and clothing indicated that she consented to sex.

In an article on sexual assault on campus, the Swarthmore College Daily Gazette reported that in the history of the school, there was no record of a student being expelled or officially disciplined for sexual misconduct. The college has records from the Campus Judiciary Committee which date back ten years, and within the past ten years, there have been two cases heard pertaining to sexual assault. In one case, the perpetrator was found not guilty, due to insufficient evidence. In the second case, the perpetrator was found guilty, but there was no record of specific sanctions placed on them. A student who was sexually assaulted told the Daily Gazette that two of her friends dropped charges against their attacker because they were afraid to be in a room with him during the judicial trial.

Hope Brinn told the Daily Gazette that she was sexually harassed by a fellow student, and upon taking her concerns to administration, she was laughed at, trivialized, and told that what she was experiencing was a “misunderstanding.” Mia Ferguson said that she told her RA that she was sexually assaulted,but later learned that the RA did not file a report on the incident, in violation of the Clery Act.

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The federal complaint, which will be reviewed by the Department of Education contains six claims of misconduct by Swarthmore.

1. Discouraging students from reporting crime to local law enforcement and from going through formal judiciary proceedings

2. Persistently under reporting incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape in the Annual Clery Security Report

3. Persistently under reporting incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape in the daily crime log

4. Failing to issue timely reports of incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape

5. Failing to publicly report potential sanctions for sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape

6. Intimidating, discriminating, and retaliating against sexual assault and rape survivors and their advocates

Swarthmore College President, Rebecca Chopp, said that the school is seeking out an external review of their sexual assault policies. However, one of the twelve students who testified in the complaint questioned if the recommendations of an outside group would create actual change in Swarthmore, and said in a letter to the Daily Gazette, “I want a review of the way sexual assault has been treated to be based on the voices of students and survivors, not the findings of the CJC [College Judiciary Committee] or the testimony of accused assailants.”

If the Department of Education investigation determines that the complaints made against Swarthmore College are legitimate, the college could face multiple fines, according to the Daily Gazette.

In response to the allegations of mishandled sexual assaults, the organization Swarthmore Assault Prevention and Survivor Advocacy was formed. The organization is “[A] coalition at Swarthmore College seeking accountable administrative reform around sexual assault prevention and sexual assault response.” On Thursday, May 2nd, Mia Ferguson and Hope Brinn are holding a question and answers event at Swarthmore on the complaint and student rights under the Clery Act and Title IX.

Founded in 1864, Swarthmore College is a small liberal arts college with 1,500 students in Delaware County. Known as one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation, Swarthmore has one of the largest endowments of any college in the United States.

Image of Mia Ferguson and Hope Brinn  from Swarthmore College Daily Gazette

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