Swarthmore and Occidental Colleges on Thursday joined the list of elite institutions accused of mistreating victims of sexual assault and harassment, and activists say they are preparing similar accusations against other well-known colleges.
Complaints filed against Occidental with the federal Department of Education allege violations of a federal civil rights law known as Title IX, and another federal law, the Clery Act, which requires full public reporting of campus crime. They seek investigations by the Department of Education.
Students filed a Clery Act complaint against Swarthmore and said they were preparing a Title IX action.
The complaints were not made public, standard practice in such cases, but the specifics the authors described echoed those heard elsewhere -- claims that colleges are not tough enough on sexual harassment and sexual assault, suppress the reporting of cases and treat victims callously. In the past two years, such claims made about Amherst, the University of North Carolina, Wesleyan, Yale and others have led to a mix of lawsuits, federal complaints, investigations by the department, internal inquiries by the colleges, and revisions of their policies.
At a news conference in Los Angeles, organizers of the Occidental complaints said they include accounts from 37 current and former students, including a few men, about being victimized there.
"For the entirety of my last year in college, I continued to live every day in fear," Kenda Woolfson, a recent graduate, said at the news conference. "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."
Carly Mee, now a senior, said, "When I told an administrator that I did not feel safe, I was told that I had nothing to worry about, that she had met with my rapist, and that he didn't seem like the type of person who would do something like that." She said that even after the man was found responsible for assaulting her and two other women, he would be allowed back to Occidental, while she was afraid to return.
Occidental released a statement saying that it has already improved its sexual misconduct procedures, adding, "We readily acknowledge that Oxy has more work to do, and are vigilantly ensuring our continual progress."
Hope Brinn, one of those who filed the complaint against Swarthmore, said that a fellow student repeatedly sexually harassed her and broke into her room in the middle of the night. Ms. Brinn, a sophomore, said that college administrators tried to dissuade her from making a formal complaint, made light of what had happened, said that she was partly to blame, and in their official records, inaccurately described her allegations to make them seem less serious.
Rebecca Chopp, president of Swarthmore College, announced this week that it would ask outside experts to review its handling of sex-related cases, a step that Occidental took a few weeks ago. On Thursday, Dr. Chopp 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 address them."We've made changes in policies, we've provided more support and more training, we've changed some personnel," she said.
Ms. Brinn and Dr. Chopp agreed on one point: the problem at Swarthmore is not unusual. "I think it's the same everywhere," Ms. Brinn said.
The Obama administration helped prompt the flurry of complaints against colleges in 2011, when it issued a new interpretation of responsibilities under Title IX, and warned that many colleges were even in violation of the previous, less stringent reading of the law. Other cases, including the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, have drawn attention to lapses in adhering to the Clery Act.
Richard Pérez-Peña reported from New York, and Ian Lovett from Los Angeles.education
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.