Editorial: Colleges should take aggressive stance on sexual assault

By The Pitt News Editorial Staff

Occidental College has finally reached a settlement with a group of students and alumni who filed a federal complaint stating that officials from the school’s Eagle Rock, Calif., campus mishandled investigations involving multiple allegations of sexual assault.

In April 2013, students and alumni filed a civil-rights complaint with the Department of Education alleging the school failed to protect a group of women from acts of sexual assault. Gloria Allred, the attorney representing the group, noted that 37 students were “raped, sexually assaulted, battered, harassed or retaliated against for speaking out against sexual violence.”

The federal Title IX complaint that was filed included testimonies from the victims explaining that when they approached the school, they were “betrayed by campus administrators and re-victimized.”

The women allege the college discourages reporting sex crimes and pursuing legal action against perpetrators. At the time the complaint was filed, Occidental officials defended the school but noted that the policies needed to be reviewed.

Although Occidental College spokesman Jim Tranquada claimed that the policies were being updated and strengthened with the addition of counseling services and educational initiatives to alert the community about sexual assault, the group of women affected kept their complaint with the U.S. Department of Education intact.

It was not until yesterday that the school was able to settle the civil lawsuit with at least 10 of the women involved in the matter. The amount given to the victims is being kept confidential, along with many of the other details surrounding the settlement. But one fact remains certain: Occidental College, along with institutions nationwide, have an obligation to provide services to protect students and foster their education.

Sexual assault is no exception.

Students ought to have both services available to them to combat sexual assault and an environment that is trusting and responsible enough to give them the guarantee that action will be taken. Universities, at the opposite end of this issue, should provide such opportunities. Not only that, institutions need to enhance these efforts and reach out to students to develop a substantial bond that helps students understand there is support standing by.

Let the occurrences at Occidental College tell the nation how not to handle sexual crimes involving students. Institutions across the country should develop stricter, more reliable standards on such issues in hope of diminishing the number of students who are subject to such crimes.