WASHINGTON—Senators on Capitol Hill pressed Department of Education employees last month about how to ensure student safety, decrying the number of sexual assaults on college campuses and the lack of clear reporting to help guide prospective students and their parents.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said lawmakers should react to sexual assault on campuses “with a sense of outrage.”
“This is the ultimate betrayal of a woman who attends college,” he said during the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on July 26.
John Kelly, a student at Tufts University, was sexually assaulted his freshman year. He didn’t learn Tufts was under investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases until after his attack.
During the committee hearing, he pressed Congress for more clarity in the way schools report data.
“Had I known, I can hope I would have chosen another school to begin with,” Kelly said.
Jeanne Clery was raped and killed in 1986, her freshman year of college. Clery’s parents pushed for legislation so that their daughter’s death wouldn’t be in vain. In 1990 Congress passed the Clery Act, which requires public universities to report crime statistics that occur on and off-campus, including data on sexual assault.
Clery’s parents planned to send her to Tulane University until they learned a student was murdered off campus. Clery eventually chose Lehigh University. Only after her death did her parents learn that 38 violent crimes on Lehigh’s campus occurred in the three years before their daughter’s murder.
One in five women is a victim of sexual assault at college, according to a 2007 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice. But that statistic is controversial, with skeptics saying only women with strong opinions on the subject participated in the study. Recently, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped George Will’s column after he wrote about the “supposed campus epidemic of rape” and claimed some colleges make victimhood a “coveted status.”
Senators have been holding hearings while trying to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he planned to include a provision intended to allocate federal student aid based on how schools handle sexual assault. He and others hope that when money is on the line, colleges will be more compliant with Title IX and the Clery Act.
Both panelists and senators agreed that universities need to face greater punishment, in the form of a reduction of financial support.
“I realize institutions tend to feel that they’re overwhelmed with rules, but this is one they’ve got to comply with,” Casey said. “You can’t really call yourself a university or college if you’re allowing this problem to exist.”