Swarthmore College this week announced it will commission an external review of its policies and procedures for handling sexual misconduct on campus.
Its decision comes the same week as the student newspaper, the Daily Gazette, launched a series exploring problems with the college’s handling of sexual assault on campus. The newspaper’s story on Monday showed that few cases ever make it to the judicial committee and featured the story of a survivor from a 2011 case whose attacker withdrew from college before the process could be completed.
The paper said her story “reveals serious flaws in the college’s procedures for handling sexual assault. In the four months it took to resolve her case, (the student) faced a disorganized and unsympathetic administration. Deans made mistakes regarding confidentiality, questioned her experience, and couldn’t, ultimately, hold her perpetrator accountable.”
Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp issued her email to students the same day the story published, but in an interview with the Inquirer Chopp said that was a coincidence. The college has had the issue on its radar for a while, she said.
“Based on the significant concerns that students have raised about sexual misconduct on our campus, and, in particular, about how sexual assault cases are handled, I have decided to seek an external review of all of our policies, procedures, and sanctions related to sexual misconduct,” Chopp wrote in her email to students. “This review will begin as soon as possible and will continue into the fall in order to ensure that students have every opportunity for input.“
While the college has made improvements in its practices, Chopp said, “it is very clear to me based on the continuing concerns expressed by our students that much more work is needed.”
Chopp said she is “deeply troubled” by the lack of trust some students have in the college’s reporting procedures, judicial process and other practices for handling sexual assault.
In the interview, Chopp said she has heard concerns from students directly and through the student newspaper and is aware of the challenges that colleges across the nation face in handling sexual misconduct cases.
“I have been working on these issues for the last several years,” Chopp said, noting that she has made personnel changes and modifications in policy.
The college has hired a new campus safety investigator, among other changes. There are also plans to bring on a new associate dean for diversity, inclusivity and community development and an assistant dean who will oversee disciplinary procedures and is trained in that area.
The college on Wednesday will go live with a website that includes information on sexual assault policies and resources, she said.
An internal task force also will be named to work with the external consultant or consultants who will be hired to review procedures, Chopp said.