On Wednesday, students and alumni of Swarthmore College, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Berkeley, and Dartmouth College filed federal complaints against their respective schools for failing to adequately address sexual assault and harassment on campus. If found guilty by the Department of Education, the campuses could be subject to disciplinary actions, including fines and the loss of federal funding for student aid.
The complainants allege that the colleges have violated either the Clery Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, or both. The Clery Act requires all campuses to report crime statistics, including for sexual assault, and Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination at educational institutions.
“We are asking the Department of Education to open an investigation into these complaints and take appropriate actions to force these colleges to comply with the law or risk losing their federal funding,” said Gloria Allred, a civil rights attorney representing many of the plaintiffs.
A growing number of students at major colleges and universities have been stepping up their efforts to combat rape and sexual assault in schools. Last month, Los Angeles’ Occidental College was served with similar federal complaints. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is undergoing a federal investigation for allegedly threatening to expel a student who spoke out publicly about her own rape.
Other elite institutions such as the University of Notre Dame, Harvard University, and Amherst College have also been in the news over complaints that administrators have failed to foster a safe campus environment and contributed to victim-blaming and rape culture. Just last week, Yale University was forced to pay a $165,000 fine after federal investigators determined that it had violated the Clery Act by failing to report instances of rape.
While some colleges have taken small steps towards improving their policies on sexual assault and campus safety, the latest round of federal complaints underscores how entrenched rape culture is in many American campuses.