How Some Christian Colleges Are Getting Around The Federal Laws That Help Address Campus Rape

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"How Some Christian Colleges Are Getting Around The Federal Laws That Help Address Campus Rape"

rape culture

CREDIT: Matt Radick via Flicker Creative Commons

In 1991, Congress passed the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law that requires all colleges in the United States to accurately and effectively collect and disclose reports of sexual crimes that occur on their campuses and help end sexual violence on college campuses. Today, as college activists work to hold their administrations accountable for their sexual assault policies, the Clery Act is one of the federal requirements that allows them to demand change. But not every campus is required to follow it.

Two institutions that do not comply with the Clery Act are Pensacola Christian College (PCC) and Patrick Henry College (PHC). The colleges are two of 65 candidates and members of TRACS, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. And like many other colleges across the country, these institutions have been accused of mishandling rape cases.

Pensacola Christian College came under serious scrutiny after former student Samantha Field published the events of how PCC responded to her when she tried to seek counseling after a sexual assault. At one point, she was told by one of the five guidance counselors PCC has on staff to forgive her assailant because “bitterness will take seed and that bitterness will be so much worse than anything he could have done.”

At Patrick Henry College, a student tried to go to the office of Dean of Student Life to report harassment from a male classmate who had sent her an email that stated he “wanted to forcibly take her virginity.” As reported in the New Republic, the student was told that “the choices you make and the people you choose to associate with, the way you try to portray yourself, will affect how people treat you” and that she should “think about her clothing and ‘the kinds of ideas it puts in men’s minds.’”

College administrators at PCC and Patrick Henry have denied the students’ claims. But the alleged reactions of both institutions are classic examples of victim-blaming, and are indicative of the continuing rape culture epidemic that is exposing itself in colleges throughout the United States. The toxicity of rape culture extends extends even farther than victim blaming and reducing the agency of an individual. In some cases it has young women convinced that sexual harassment and violence are normal behaviors, which discourages so many from reporting these crimes.

Although student activism has been a driving force in seeking to address rape culture at universities, this activism is yet to be seen at Pensacola Christian College or Patrick Henry. When your student handbook cites Ephesians 5:22, which reads, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,” it is not difficult to see how these college may view a woman’s autonomy. In fact, as one student told the New Republic, “Patrick Henry girls who are too loud, too eager for leadership roles, too political—no matter how appropriately they dress — are always kept at arm’s length. Boys refer to them as the ‘red leather stiletto girls’ or ‘political animals,’ and all but declare them unmarriageable.”

That right-wing environment may explain why students aren’t pushing for change. But why aren’t these colleges required to follow federal law in the first place?

A spokesperson for the Pensacola Christian College, Amy Glenn, told Think Progress that “though Pensacola Christian College applies [the] best practices in student services and care, we are not mandated under Clery Act and Title IX” because the school does not take federal funding. Patrick Henry College also maintains that it does not have to comply with the Clery Act for this reason, although a spokesperson from Patrick Henry was not available to answer Think Progress’s follow-up questions on the subject.

Abigail Boyer, a spokesperson from the Clery Center For Security on Campus, confirmed this exemption, explaining that all “public and private postsecondary institutions that participate in federal Title IV student financial assistance programs must comply with the Clery Act.” Title IV funding is any form of federal student aid, like Pell Grants or the Veteran’s GI Bill. The financial aid pages of both PCC and PHC state that they do not accept federal forms of financial aid in order to uphold their Christian values. The financial aid websites do not disclose that these sources of federal aid are from Title IV and, therefore, that this position exempts them from the Clery Act.

This could be a miscommunication between the schools and their accreditation and oversight agency, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. The president of TRACS, Dr. T. Paul Boatner, told ThinkProgress that “anything that is required by the federal government” is required of his member institutions, which includes abiding by all “standards set to federal regulations” like the federal regulation known as the Jeanne Clery Act.

Other TRACS institutes have worked to improve their sexual assault policies in recent years. For example, Bob Jones University (BJU) — which accepts Title IV funding, unlike PCC and PHC, and therefore complies with the Clery Act — self-initiated an internal investigation with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to make sure the institution was correctly complying with every aspect of the law. Now, Bob Jones University’s website features a page that details all available resources for students that have to report a sexual assault in compliance with the Clery Act. These resources are available in part due to a partnership with MinistrySafe, an organization that assists ministries and religious colleges in ensuring a safe environment and helps educates students and faculty about the issues regarding sexual violence.

While it is still legal for schools like Pensacola Christian and Patrick Henry to not comply with the Clery Act, the improvements made at Bob Jones University suggest that it is possible to maintain a Christian message while following federal regulations. And it would appear that leaving the address of sexual assault and rape to their own “best practices”, as PCC Spokesperson Amy Glenn put it, may not be the most effective course of action.

Update

This original version of this article incorrectly stated that Bob Jones launched an investigation because the university was found to be in violation of the Clery Act. In reality, the university was already in compliance. ThinkProgress regrets the error.

Mason Atkins is an intern for Think Progress.

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