More Ivy League schools face criticism over rape on campus

Columbia University
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Two more Ivy League schools are facing criticism -- and one a federal complaint -- over how they handle rape on campus.

On Thursday, 23 students at Columbia University and its affiliated women's school, Barnard College, filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights alleging that the university mishandles claims of sexual assault by students and mistreats victims.

And at Brown University, many are unhappy because the university is allowing a male student, who was found by the school to have committed sexual misconduct against a female student, to return to campus after a one-semester suspension, according to the Brown Daily Herald.

"The university has said they are committed to making changes, but we haven't felt any difference," Columbia senior Marybeth Seitz-Brown, 21, told CBS News' Crimesider. She said that despite multiple meetings with the administration, the students felt they needed to make a formal complaint in order to make sure their concerns didn't disappear when the complainants graduated.

Columbia and Barnard students are alleging violations of three federal laws, including Title IX, which guarantees equal access to education for women. According to Seitz-Brown, the complaint, which has not been made public, alleges that, among other things, campus counselors discourage victims from coming forward with their complaints, that the people in charge of investigating the complaints and meting out punishment are poorly trained, and that the university does not allow victims to talk about their cases outside of the internal disciplinary process.

Columbia and Barnard are just the latest in a string of universities facing federal complaints over how they handle sexual assault. Students at UNC, UC Berkeley, USC, Dartmouth, Swarthmore and Occidental College have also filed similar suits, in part as a result of a network of sexual assault survivors assisting each other in trying to improve safety on campus. Seitz-Brown told Crimesider that she and her fellow complainants worked closely with Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who wrote the federal complaint against UNC last year.

"We feel like we're part of a bigger movement," said Seitz-Brown.

Annie Clark told Crimesider that although Columbia's complaint is similar in some ways to others she has helped prepare, what makes it unique is that it also alleges a violation of Title II, which is the federal law requiring schools to make accommodations for those with disabilities. Columbia students allege that by not re-arranging a class schedule or moving a student from a dorm shared with an alleged assailant, for example, the university is violating the rights of students diagnosed with depression, PTSD, or other mental health issues in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

In a statement, Columbia said it is currently creating "a series of significant new measures dedicated to preventing such sexual misconduct, supporting survivors, and improving adjudication of these painful cases." According to the same statement, the university has not yet seen the complaint and cannot comment on it.

A spokesperson for Brown told Crimesider that they could not comment on the case because of privacy laws.

  • Julia Dahl

    Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for