Occidental and Swarthmore Colleges Are Accused of Mishandling Assault Cases

A lawyer who represents a number of Occidental College students and alumni announced on Thursday that she had filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the college has failed to protect women from sexual assaults and has not taken reports of sexual assault seriously. According to the Los Angeles Times, the lawyer, Gloria Allred, said the complaint outlines violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a law that bars sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funds.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that students at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, had filed a complaint with the department alleging violations of the Clery Act, which requires full public reporting of campus crimes.

In Los Angeles, where Occidental is located, Ms. Allred said the complaint alleges that 37 Occidental students have been “raped, sexually assaulted, battered, harassed, or retaliated against for speaking out against sexual violence” since 2009. The complaint also alleges that the college discourages reporting of sex crimes and proceeding with criminal and administrative action against perpetrators.

Occidental officials defended the college on Thursday. The college has updated its sexual-misconduct policy, put training in place on how to respond to reports of sexual assault, and taken steps “to better educate the campus community and foster a culture that rejects sexual violence,” a university spokesman, Jim Tranquada, said. He added: “We readily admit that Oxy has more work to do, and are vigilantly ensuring our continual progress.”

According to The New York Times, one student who filed the complaint against Swarthmore said the college had made light of her complaints about a fellow student who repeatedly sexually harassed her and broke into her room in the middle of the night. Rebecca Chopp, Swarthmore’s president, declined to respond directly to the complaint, which she said she had not seen, but she said that Swarthmore has acknowledged flaws in its record and has been trying to respond to them.

Ms. Chopp also announced that Swarthmore would ask outside experts to review its handling of sex-related cases. Occidental said it had already retained two former sex-crime prosecutors to conduct an independent review of its policies and practices. Many other institutions have taken similar steps since the Education Department sent out new guidance two years ago that laid out colleges’ responsibilities on sexual assault and signaled stepped-up enforcement of Title IX.

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