As on other U.S. college campuses, Occidental’s response to sexual misconduct has been the subject of great interest, both on campus and off.
Here is a summary of actions taken, data on the disposition and reporting of complaints, and other matters relating to this important issue.
Since March 2013, Oxy has taken a variety of steps to enhance its response to sexual misconduct, ensure survivors get the care and support they need, craft policies and procedures that reflect best practices, ensure complaints are reported accurately, and expand preventative education programs. These include:
Resources for care and support
- Created the position of full-time survivor advocate, available 24/7 for confidential survivor support, and hired Naddia Palacios to fill that role (April 2013). Confidential support also is available from counselors at Emmons Student Wellness Center and ordained clergy in the Office for Religious & Spiritual Life.
- Implemented a new 24-hour, seven-days-per-week telephone confidential hotline: 323-341-4141 (August 2013).
- Doubled the staff of Project SAFE, the College’s student-staffed advocacy and education program (Summer-Fall 2013).
- Applied for and received a $300,000, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to improve on-campus training and better coordinate with off-campus partners, including the LAPD (January 2014).
- Created and distributed new brochures on how to report sexual assault, available resources, rights and responsibilities of complainants and respondents, and an empowerment guide for survivors (September 2014).
Policies and procedures
- Adopted a new interim sexual misconduct policy, which includes affirmative consent (first adopted by Oxy in 2011); use of the preponderance of evidence standard; increased protection for complainants through clearer definitions of prohibited conduct; clearer explanation of all reporting options; refined definitions of coercion and incapacitation (August 2013).
- Adopted a permanent Sexual Misconduct Policy (February 2016). The policy was adopted after community review and feedback.
- Established a policy of notifying the campus community of all policy changes when they occur (April 2013).
- Supplemented our trained campus investigators with external investigators and adjudicators when appropriate (October 2013).
- Created a Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board, made up of faculty, students and staff to conduct an ongoing review of policies and procedures (September 2013). A successor group, the Campus Committee on Sexual Responsibility and Misconduct, was formed in December 2014.
- Hired Margolis & Healy to conduct an independent review of our Clery reporting process (September 2013). Occidental self-reported revisions to its Clery numbers to ensure accuracy (October 2013, October 2014).
- Established an interdepartmental Clery team to ensure complete and accurate reporting (October 2013).
- Retained two of the country’s top experts, Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez, to do an independent review of Oxy’s policy and procedures, and its handling of sexual misconduct cases (April 2013). Their final report is here.
- Made more visible the anonymous online reporting form that has been in place since 2009 (July 2012).
- Signed a memorandum of understanding with the LAPD to spell out, among other issues, how sexual asssault cases will be handled (March 2016).
Resources for policy and procedure administration
- Conducted a national search for a new full-time Title IX coordinator who reports directly to the president. Ruth Jones was hired to fill that role (February 2014).
- Created a hearing coordinator position (November 2013).
- Hired a full-time Clery coordinator - Veronika Barsegyan - in the Campus Safety office (August 2014).
- Purchased new case management software for the Title IX office (August 2014)
Preventative education and training
- Expanded preventative education programs based on the bystander intervention model for all students. Everyone is required to review the sexual misconduct policy (January 2012) and complete an online training course before being allowed to register in the fall (July 2013).
- All first-years are required to participate in four hours of mandatory training at Orientation (doubling the amount of time spent on this issue). Orientation leaders are given additional training as well (August 2013).
- Continue preventative education throughout the academic year through mandatory sessions in residence halls.
- Hired a full-time preventative education specialist to oversee Project SAFE's preventative education efforts. (August 2014)
- Project SAFE and the survivor advocate provide training and educational programming to leaders of all student clubs, Greek organizations, coaches and athletes, and Residence Life and Orientation staff.
- Expanded training for faculty and staff. Since the arrival of Title IX Coordinator Ruth Jones in February 2014, 146 faculty and 605 staff members and administrators have received in-person training.
Awareness and outreach
- Launched an expanded, more visible, and more user-friendly “Sexual Assault Resources & Support" site (April 2013).
- Created and distributed new brochures on how to report sexual assault, available resources, rights and responsibilities of complainants and respondents, and an empowerment guide for survivors. (September 2014)
- Kept alumni and parents informed through regular updates in Occidental magazine and email.
- Administered an anonymous, online Sexual Assault Climate Survey to students in Spring 2015.
- Distributed Annual Title IX Office Reports to the Occidental Community (May 2015; May 2016) with the number of formal complaints and how these complaints were resolved.
A total of 24 complaints of sexual assault and non-consensual sexual touching where a student respondent was identified were filed with Occidental’s Title IX Office from Fall 2009 through December 2013. (Any complaint that didn’t include sexual assault or non-consensual touching was not included in these numbers—for example, allegations dealing solely with harassment, retaliation, inappropriate texting, and so on.)
In two cases, the complainant declined to file a formal report. Of the remaining 22 cases, 21 were investigated and 18 went to hearing. (One case was not investigated because the respondent accepted responsibility for his actions in his initial meetings with the Title IX coordinator; two that did not go to hearing involved respondents who admitted to the conduct; in the other the respondent withdrew from the College before the hearing. The three respondents who accepted responsibility were all cases that involved nonconsensual manual touching; all three were put on probation and required to undergo mandatory education. One was also required to write a formal letter of apology; another was required to step down from leadership positions.)
Respondents in 16 of the 21 cases (76%) were found responsible for sexual misconduct ranging from sexual harassment and non-consensual touching to non-consensual intercourse. In those cases where there was a finding of harassment, it was a lesser, but additional, policy violation. (One respondent withdrew after the investigation concluded but before the hearing. Under Occidental’s current policy, the case would proceed regardless of whether a respondent had withdrawn prior to the resolution of the case.)
The 16 cases involved 12 respondents; nine of the 12 were expelled. One of the 12 respondents was responsible for three events; two others were responsible for two events each.
The other seven cases in which respondents were found responsible resulted in various combinations of suspension, probation, letters of apology, forfeiture of campus positions, prohibition against engaging in campus activities, community service, and educational sanctions. In none of these cases was a respondent required only to complete an educational sanction.
Of these seven cases, four involved sexual assaults. Of those four cases, one respondent returned to Oxy; this respondent has graduated.
No other respondent found responsible for sexual assault and not immediately expelled has returned to Oxy (they either were eventually expelled, withdrew, or had already graduated).
No one found responsible for sexual assault is currently enrolled at Oxy.
NOTE: This data (the 24 complaints) does not match Clery statistics for a variety of reasons, many of which have to do with the differences between Clery reporting and the Title IX process. These include:
- Some of the 24 cases occurred outside the Clery reporting area.
- The period covered for this aggregate data (Aug. 2009-Dec. 31, 2013) doesn’t fully coincide with the calendar year dates used for Clery reporting.
- Anonymous and non-anonymous reports of sex offenses that did not identify a respondent were not included among the 24 cases—without a name, there can be no investigation or sanctions—although they could be included in the Clery numbers.
- Title IX numbers—that is, complaints that go through the college process—are kept by complainant/adjudication; Clery numbers, by contrast, are incident based. For example: a case with a single complainant alleging that a single respondent assaulted him/her on three separate occasions would be handled as a single Title IX case but would show up in the Clery report as three separate incidents (if otherwise Clery reportable).
Further details on sanctions leveled in cases in 2013 and 2014 can be found in the Pepper Hamilton report (see pp. 48-51).
The federal Clery Act requires colleges and universities to issue reports for every calendar year (Jan. 1-Dec. 31) listing seven major crimes: criminal homicide; sex offenses; robbery; aggravated assault; burglary; arson; and motor vehicle theft.
The annual Clery report covers only incidents that occur on campus; on streets and sidewalks immediately adjacent to campus; on property owned or controlled by the College; or property owned or controlled by institutionally recognized student organizations. The Clery Act requires reports to be included in the year in which they were reported, not the year in which the incident actually occurred. (It’s not uncommon for reports of sexual misconduct to be delayed.)
False allegations of underreporting
In December 2013, the Los Angeles Times incorrectly reported that Occidental had underreported 27 cases of sexual misconduct in 2012. The Times subsequently ran an editor’s note correcting the error. To arrive at the number 27, the Times:
- Incorrectly included previously reported cases from the 2011-12 academic year—from late-August 2011 to mid-May 2012—with those that occurred during the 2012 calendar year.
- Incorrectly included cases that involved allegations of sexting, indecent exposure, or harassment—categories not defined as reportable under the Clery Act.
- Incorrectly included cases that took place outside the Clery Act’s carefully defined geographic reporting areas.
Regardless of the complexities of Clery reporting, in each of the 27 cases, Oxy conducted a follow-up investigation when it had sufficient information to do so.
Title IX, a different federal law, requires colleges to respond promptly to all reports of sexual misconduct, among other issues. This is a broader category that includes harassment, retaliation, and domestic violence, conduct that is not reportable under the Clery Act. Title IX also requires colleges to respond promptly to reports of sexual misconduct affecting students or college employees regardless of where they occur. There are no geographic limits for Title IX cases. These differences between Title IX and the Clery Act explain why the number of sex offenses reported in the annual Clery report may not match the number of Title IX complaints to which the College has responded.
Questions have been raised regarding the inclusion of anonymous reports received by the College in its annual Clery reports. It has been the College’s practice to include anonymous reports in its Clery numbers, including for the calendar years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Apart from the 19 Clery-reportable anonymous reports provided to Project SAFE, Oxy’s student advocacy and education group, that were the subject of a self-reported correction in the 2013 Clery report, the number of Clery-reportable anonymous reports received were as follows: 0 in 2009, 1 in 2010, 1 in 2011, 3 in 2012, and 44 in 2013.
An allegation reported in the LA Weekly that the College should have reported 10 anonymous reports in its 2012 Clery report is factually incorrect. Occidental received a single anonymous complaint in 2011 involving unwanted electronic communication between one male student and 10 female students. It was treated by Occidental’s Title IX office as 10 anonymous complaints because it involved 10 different students. However, the conduct complained of was not a Clery-defined crime and thus was not included in the College’s Clery report.
Over the past year, critics of the College’s handling of sexual misconduct have alleged that Occidental is monitoring campus email or other forms of digital communication. This is not true. Occidental has not, does not, and will not monitor faculty, student, or staff email, texts, or other forms of electronic communication.
President Jonathan Veitch sent this Dec. 17, 2013 message to campus to make that clear:
“I am saddened by the claims that the college is tracking the computers of people who report sexual misconduct anonymously. This allegation is false. The College would never authorize such a practice. I can say absolutely and without qualification that the College has not, does not and will not track which computers visit Oxy's sexual misconduct website, or the owners of the computers who submit anonymous reports. We put our system in place to provide a safe way for survivors to report sexual misconduct. Additionally, as I told the Faculty Council in July, we do not monitor or inspect, and have not directed anyone to monitor or inspect the email of any faculty, staff, student or administrator without their knowledge in any way. We share the same values of privacy and free speech that you do."
Faculty and staff computer “seizures"
In light of two pending Department of Education investigations and the then-possibility of civil litigation, Occidental has an obligation under state and federal rules of civil procedure mandate to preserve all potentially relevant information. That responsibility is even more pressing when it comes to email, since the College uses Gmail, over which the College has no control.
On May 17, 2013 President Jonathan Veitch sent a notice to eight faculty and 42 administrators, saying that “a document hold notice from our attorneys at O’Melveny & Myers requires that we retain documents that are relevant to the current investigation being conducted by the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights."
On June 5, 2013, the president’s office sent out a supplemental request from O’Melveny & Myers, saying that “Occidental College has information to suggest that civil litigation may be filed against the College concerning its policies and practices in responding to reports of sexual harassment or sexual violence."
The college coordinated with each of these 50 individuals—which included President Veitch—to arrange for a mutually convenient time to copy the contents of work-related computers and cellphones. That content is housed in a secure off-campus server maintained by a third-party vendor to which the College doesn’t have access. When and if it’s necessary to look through the files, the attorneys—not College officials—will use a program that allows them to search for specific words or phrases to help them identify potentially relevant items. Those items would be vetted by college attorneys, not college officials, for relevancy and privacy issues, among other considerations.
Pepper Hamilton Report (October 2014)
How Oxy policy compares to state and federal legislation (September 2014)
Coverage in Occidental Magazine