At Swarthmore and Other Colleges, Students Say Sexual Assault Is a Persistent—and Often Mishandled—Problem
Written by Annamarya Scaccia
I obviously went through it, but to put [it] into words is harder.
The voice on the other end of the line is unsteady.
Joshua, a 21-year-old Swarthmore College student, is calling from his home in California—three time zones and 2,800 miles away from the prestigious campus 30 minutes outside Philadelphia. He’s back on the West Coast for the summer, tackling unfinished coursework after leaving school a few weeks early.
But, on this late July evening, he’s recalling the night last fall when he was raped, and the details of how Swarthmore mishandled his case. (Joshua is a pseudonym; he spoke to RH Reality Check on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by Swarthmore’s administration.)
Joshua’s story is one of 13 testimonies accompanying the May 22 federal complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) alleging Swarthmore violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972—which prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex, a mandate extended to sexual harassment and sexual violence—by creating a “hostile environment” and discouraging students from reporting or pursuing disciplinary action against sexual misconduct. The same day, students from the University of Southern California, the University of California, Berkeley, and Dartmouth College lodged similar complaints.
In September 2012, after a big fraternity party on campus, Joshua was brutally and violently raped in the bedroom of an apartment rented by a friend of his assailant—a member of one of Swarthmore’s fraternities who, sometime just before the attack, went on a rant about which male students were “‘faggots’ or ‘faggoty’ and if they were ‘so faggy,’ they needed to get slapped,” Joshua recounted.
He was then harassed by his offender through an online forum called (Like) Like a Little, which was created to gossip with and about Swarthmore students. Joshua considers the harassment an intimidation tactic intended to silence him. Under multiple pseudonyms, his rapist called him a “faggot,” “the admission’s mistake,” and “a pathological liar,” but his true identity was discovered after Swarthmore’s Department of Public Safety launched an investigation following a report filed by Joshua. Although the office found evidence of sexual harassment, Joshua said the rapist was at the time not penalized. “That’s … what caused me to really crack, because I watched him get away with something again,” he told RH Reality Check.
After having a long discussion with a fellow student, a graduating senior, who revealed the same offender raped him three times during his college years, Joshua reported the September assault to Department of Public Safety Director Michael Hill and Associate Director Joanna Gallagher, who was also Title IX deputy coordinator at the time.
“I felt angry to hear that somebody else also experienced the same thing and even more graphic, and repeated,” Joshua told RH Reality Check. “It was just a crazy amount of power that [he] exhibited over people on campus, and he has the ability to keep people quiet, so I just decided to break the silence finally.”
The Department of Public Safety, which oversees campus security and handles campus emergencies, launched an investigation. It also opened a case with the College Judiciary Committee (CJC), the judicial body that tries “major infractions of College regulations.” The CJC has the authority to impose punitive sanctions, including fines, community service, suspension, and expulsion.
The handling of his case, Joshua said, was “sub-par,” with red flags at every turn. For instance, he said the case was delayed so the defendant could submit more witnesses, but Joshua was told he wasn’t allowed to do the same. (Joshua also finds it suspicious that the defendant was allowed to use a school administrator as his trial support person; that is permitted under CJC procedure.)
Joshua then had to relive what happened “over and over again” during the four-and-a-half-hour trial. Swarthmore’s dean of students, Liz Braun, who served as convener, repeatedly questioned his state of intoxication the night of the assault, per alleged observations from a defendant’s witness, and the panel worked to determine how sexuality played a role in a male student’s rape—”how a gay person can rape another gay person.” [cont’d.]