Facing scrutiny over its practices for responding to sexual assault, a liberal arts college in Iowa has taken the unusual step of asking federal investigators to review whether three cases were handled appropriately.
Grinnell College President Raynard S. Kington asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to determine whether the college complied with Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in education.
The office praised the request Tuesday as a sign of progress toward addressing campus sexual violence. However, student activist group Dissenting Voices called it a public relations move to get ahead of negative publicity and a Title IX complaint that some current and former students filed Feb. 19.
Rebecca Stout, a lawyer representing the complainants, said her clients feel they were not supported after they reported sexual violence and want to see significant change to the college’s practices. She declined to provide specifics of their complaint but reacted positively to Grinnell’s request for the review.
“If this is something they feel like was necessary to make sure their policies and procedures were in compliance, then I am supportive of that,” she said.
National experts agreed the college’s request was noteworthy, even if its motives were open for debate.
“This is absolutely unprecedented,” said Colby Bruno, a lawyer who represents college rape victims with the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston. “A big part of me wants to say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is terrific. This is a school that really wants to get ahead of the game and help its students.’ Then there is a side of me saying, ‘No one else has ever done this, so what are they doing?’ Something as unusual as this definitely throws up some red flags.”
Kington said a reporter for the Huffington Post last week asked Grinnell, a private school of 1,600 students in central Iowa, to address concerns raised by students about the way the school handled three cases dating back to the 2011-2012 academic year.
He said he was prevented by privacy laws from confirming and rebutting some of the allegations, and asked for the federal review in the hopes of obtaining a neutral fact-finding. Kington acknowledged that the college had some shortcomings related to its handling of the prior cases, has made several changes to address them and is ready to confront any other lapses identified