President Rebecca Chopp Affirms Commitment to Improve Policies, Support Services, Programming, and Judicial Processes Related to Sexual Misconduct

Today, President Rebecca Chopp announced in a message to the campus community that Margolis Healy & Associates, a firm specializing in campus safety, security, and regulatory compliance, will conduct a careful and thorough review of all of the College's sexual misconduct policies and procedures. The independent external review team will consist of Linda Langford and Anne Munch, in addition to the firm's principals, Gary Margolis and Steven Healy. Together, they bring an impressive amount of directly relevant experience and expertise, in particular regarding the Clery Act, Title IX, and campus and community-based prevention. Margolis Healy's team will review all practices and procedures in order to make recommendations to improve the prevention of sexual misconduct and provide further support for survivors. They will begin their work this spring and summer and will continue into the fall, allowing time for community members to contribute to their investigation. Additional members may be added to their team as necessary.

President Chopp also announced the members of the College's Sexual Misconduct Task Force that will support the independent review. They are: Sarah Willie-LeBreton, professor of sociology, who will also serve as chair; Gwynn Kessler, associate professor of religion; two members of the Board of Managers, Rhonda Cohen '76, a civic leader in the region and former partner at Ballard Spahr Andrews Ingersoll, and Janet Dickerson H'92, formerly Princeton University's vice president for campus life who served as dean at Swarthmore from 1981-91; Maurice Eldridge '61, vice president for college and community relations; and Eric Behrens '92, associate chief information technology officer. The Task Force's three student members, whose nominations were supported by Student Council, are Gabby Capone '14, Kenneson Chen '14, and Nora Kerrich '16.

As President Chopp noted in a message to the community on April 15, Swarthmore has been revising its policies and protocols, increasing communication about its policies, and adding new resources and programs for students to both prevent sexual assault and to support the victims and survivors of sexual misconduct, among other changes, over the last three years.

"We have been working hard to improve our response to sexual assault in the last several years, and this review will help us further prevent sexual misconduct in our community and, when needed, help us better support survivors," said Chopp. "The review will enable us to create a culture of safety, respect, support, and due process."

The Sexual Misconduct Task Force will assist Margolis Healy in making recommendations to President Chopp in order to strengthen and enhance the College's efforts to prevent sexual assault on campus, and advise the College in making immediate and long-term changes. Guided by the Task Force, the external review will broadly assess Swarthmore's sexual misconduct policies, staff resources, programs, support services, and judicial process.

In recent years, Swarthmore College and other institutions around the country have begun to actively address their sexual misconduct policies. Colleges and universities are adopting expanded approaches to the prevention of sexual abuse and to the support of those who experience any form of sexual misconduct.

At the same time, students at college campuses across the country are advocating for change in prevention and in support of survivors. As has been reported in the news, two Swarthmore students filed a Department of Education (DOE) complaint on April 17, alleging that the College underreports sexual misconduct on campus and discourages victims/survivors from reporting. The students last week announced that they have also filed a complaint against the College with the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights for Title IX violations. The College has not received copies of the complaints and cannot comment on them.

The DOE will decide whether or not to conduct an investigation of Swarthmore's compliance with Title IX and what is known as the Clery Act. The students' complaints follow similar actions taken on other college campuses around the country, including, most recently, Occidental College. Others are anticipated to follow. If the Department of Education decides to pursue an investigation, Chopp has pledged the College will cooperate fully.

"I am deeply concerned by the reports and stories of those who have suffered sexual assault that have come to the surface in the last several weeks," Chopp said. "I understand how painful surviving a sexual assault can be, and I promise you that I will do all I can to prevent assaults from occurring and that I will do all I can do so that, when there is an assault, abundant support for the survivor and fair systems of adjudication are in place. I will work ceaselessly to ensure that our whole community is well educated about consent, about support systems, and about how to access quickly a fair and respected judicial system. I will push until we develop a clear and accessible communication system so people can find help when they need it. I want to ensure that each student, staff, and faculty member is safe on this campus and that individuals are treated with dignity and respect by all members of our community."

A candlelight moment of silence co-sponsored by the student-led Sexual Misconduct Advisors & Resource Team (SMARTeam), the President's Office, and the Dean of Students' office will take place on campus later today, beginning at 8:30 p.m. in front of Parrish Hall. The moment of silence is meant to express solidarity on behalf of the Swarthmore community and especially survivors of sexual assault and violence.  

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The following story was posted on Fri., April 19:

In a message to the campus community earlier this week, President Rebecca Chopp announced that an independent review of the College's policies, procedures, and sanctions related to sexual misconduct would begin as soon as possible. There has been an active dialogue among students who have raised significant concerns about sexual misconduct and, in particular, about how sexual assault cases are handled.

"Swarthmore takes extremely seriously allegations of sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct," Chopp said. "We have worked hard in recent years to improve our policies and procedures to ensure that all allegations of sexual violence are fully and fairly investigated. We strive continually to improve our community and I hope we can all work together to create a culture in which students can flourish."

The external review will commence this spring and continue into the fall to ensure that students have every opportunity for input. It will be guided by a new Task Force on Sexual Misconduct composed of two students, two faculty, two staff members, and two members of the Board of Managers. Selection of representatives to the Task Force is currently underway, with student applications due Wed., April 24, to Student Council Appointments Chair Yuan Qu '14. The work of the external review and Task Force would further strengthen efforts in recent years to improve education, clarify policies, and provide support to students who have been affected by sexual assault at any point in their lives.

"By working together as a community," said Dean of Students Liz Braun, "we will continue to strive towards creating a harassment-free environment for everyone." 

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Swarthmore is one of several institutions at which students have filed Department of Education complaints that allege, among other issues, that survivors of sexual assault and harassment have not received the proper support and guidance on their campuses. These schools include Occidental College, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Yale University, among others. The Times also noted that activists are preparing similar complaints against other well-known colleges. The Times story follows student press coverage of these issues, including an ongoing series in the Daily Gazette and a report in The Phoenix on a campus community conversation in which these issues were the focus.

"It is important to recognize that these issues are not unique to Swarthmore; campuses all over the country are grappling with them," said President Chopp. "Sexual misconduct is a grave issue in our culture as a whole as well as on our campuses and it demands our full attention. We're all in this together. And it's important we now find more ways to partner together to truly get to zero tolerance."