college life

(the photos featured are generally of college life and are not directly tied to any of the college guide articles and do not represent the individuals in the stories.) (Audrey Gatewood / August 19, 2014)

“Nearly 1 in 5 women have reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives,” according to the Center for Disease Control. The freshman fall semester, or first 90 days of a student being at school, proves to be the most dangerous time for sexual assault. This is a time known by school administrators as “The Red Zone.”

In January, the Obama administration created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Spurred on by recent student activism, the group’s main goals are to “provide transparency, broaden public awareness, and facilitate coordination among federal agencies involved with the issue.” For the first time, the U.S. Education Department has released a list of schools currently under investigation for violating Title IX, a law passed in 1972 that “requires gender equity in every educational program that receives federal funding.” According to the U.S. Department of Education, “under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.” The list is only available upon request, does not state the specific reason a school was included, and only means that an investigation is under way, not that the school has been found to be in violation of the law.

There are currently 76 institutions on the list, three of which are in Maryland: Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, and Frostburg State University. The president of Hopkins sent out an email Aug. 12 to announce the Department of Education’s official investigation into the school; the investigation is related to a federal complaint that an advocacy group filed against the university after Hopkins did not inform the campus of Baltimore police’s and the school’s investigation into a reported case of gang rape which is said to have occurred in March of 2013 at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. The advocacy group had obtained emails in which school administrators debated the expediency of making the rape allegation public knowledge. Under the Clery Act, schools are “required to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses.” The fraternity is currently banned, though not for reasons explicitly stated  as relating to the sexual assault charge. The violation allegations came after the White House mandated Johns Hopkins to “lead by example”: The university was one of three institutions in the nation appointed in April to gather information relating to sexual assault by way of surveys and activism from the school administrations and health centers. Ronald J. Daniels, the school’s president, outlined in the Aug. 12 email the school’s new efforts to combat sexual assault and assist survivors: It created a Sexual Violence Advisory Committee as well as a new website containing information on policies, services, and support in the case of a sexual assault, and has also launched its own investigation into the school’s handling of the sexual-assault case, which Daniels says will be completed soon.

At Frostburg State University, the school’s spokesperson, Liz Medcalf, said the university is “aware that [the investigation] involves a sexual assault that occurred off campus in 2013.” In the spring of 2013 a female student claimed she was sexually assaulted by another student and proceeded to report the case to both the school and local police officers. However, the victim was unsatisfied with the results of the case and felt that it had been mishandled by school officials. In the summer of 2013 the student filed a complaint against the school with the Office for Civil Rights. In an unrelated case, FSU suspended a 43-year-old university police officer in May following charges of second-degree sex offense, perverted practice, and second-degree assault prompted by allegations that he had sexual relations while armed and on duty in 2009 with a then-18-year-old student. Upon graduation in 2014 she came forward with the allegations.

Finally, spokesperson Clint Coleman said the current investigation at Morgan State University involves an alleged rape of a Morgan State female student that occurred on Feb. 28 and was reported in March of this year. In July Coleman said the case had been closed without any charges being made. However, the Baltimore Police Department later stated it was still attempting to locate witnesses for the case. Coleman claims that a mix-up is to blame for the mistake, saying that campus police were referring to a different assault case that occurred in the same location.

Hopefully within the near future, with national and local politicians attempting to bring transparency to sexual assault, schools will be forced to address the issue with severity and swiftness. In addition to the task force, the White House created NotAlone.gov in an effort to centralize information and provide tools in dealing with sexual assault. In April of this year, legislation was proposed by Del. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, that would require schools to conduct “climate surveys” which would measure reported cases against the actual occurrence of sexual assault, among other things. When presented with the possibility of these surveys being made mandatory, the University System of Maryland strongly opposed the idea, stating it would be difficult, expensive, and ineffective.

There is also recent national legislation that could change the climate surrounding sexual assault on campuses. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, or SaVE Act, an amendment created in March 2013 to the Clery Act, seeks to assist student victims of sexual assault, stalking, and intimate-partner violence. In conjunction with the act, Campus Clarity was created, a resource which provides training programs for students, faculty, and staff. In addition, there are currently two bipartisan bills that, if passed into law, would increase consequences for any schools not in compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act. The Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency on Campus Sexual Assault Act, a House bill, and the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a Senate bill, would both require annual campus climate surveys, increased penalties for non-compliant schools, increased transparency in cases of sexual assault, and additional on-campus resources for student survivors.