JHU failed to notify students of sexual assault

University president calls lack of communication 'unacceptable,' promises reforms

October 01, 2014|By Colin Campbell | The Baltimore Sun

An internal investigation found that the Johns Hopkins University failed to alert students, faculty and staff to what it called "a sexual assault" at a fraternity house in March 2013, the school's president said Wednesday in a letter to campus.

In the letter, which accompanied the release of the university's 2013 annual security report, President Ronald J. Daniels called the failure to report the incident at Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity's house "unacceptable."

"I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm the University's commitment to the safety and well-being of all members of the Johns Hopkins community — a commitment that includes preventing sexual violence, offering support to victims, dealing firmly and fairly with alleged offenders, and keeping students, faculty and staff informed of crimes that represent a threat to our community," he said.

Daniels initiated the internal investigation in May after students protested the university's handling of the alleged rape of a Towson University student at the off-campus fraternity house. Separately, the university suspended the fraternity for a year in May for violating university policies related to underage drinking at an event in April.

In August, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights launched a separate, continuing investigation of the university's actions following the assault after a group of anonymous students filed a complaint arguing Hopkins violated the Clery Act and Title IX, both of which require disclosure of sexual assaults to the public.

Hopkins has since created a multidepartment team to provide consulting on timely warnings; added a 24/7 sexual assault hotline; and established a student advisory committee to give input on sexual violence, among other steps, "to reflect the imperative we place on addressing sexual assault," Daniels wrote. It also hired someone to administer its compliance with the Clery Act, a federal law requiring disclosure of crimes on or near campus.

Further steps the university took include creating a sexual assault prevention and response website; adding a victim's advocate; and making an administrative Title IX working group to review university policies.

Laura Dunn, founder of SurvJustice, a Washington-based sexual assault and harrassment survivors' advocacy group that lodged the federal complaint on behalf of the students, said the university was admitting "what they can't deny anymore."

She said Hopkins "chose actively not to take steps to keep students safe," and she wondered how serious the university is about rooting out the problem.

"It's one thing to say you're going to do something, and it's another thing to follow through," she said.

The success of the university's efforts to help survivors in the future will depend on whether they're led by the same administrators who did not report the complaints in the first place, Dunn said.

"Are they bringing in new blood?" she asked, adding that she wonders whether the student advisory committee will include those who have been victimized or those who "just want it on their resume" and won't make waves.

Dunn did praise Hopkins' plan to implement the federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act before the university is required to do so. The act — which expands Clery Act requirements on reporting and disciplinary hearings — doesn't go into effect until next school year.

Hopkins must work to prove its good intentions, she said.

"It's not just about this one instance," Dunn said. "It's an entire cultural change."

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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