Students at Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Southern California announced on Wednesday that they had filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education over the institutions' alleged mishandling of sexual-misconduct cases.
The students made the announcement at a news conference in New York with Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles lawyer who is advising the Southern California students. Also present were students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and from Occidental College, where similar complaints have recently been filed. (Ms. Allred is also helping the Occidental students in their complaint.)
Some of the new complaints were filed under the Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges to provide accurate reports of their campus-crime statistics, and others under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funds.
Nastassja Schmiedt, a Dartmouth student who attended the news conference, said the students had filed the complaints because they wanted "to tell everyone that we were not OK with sexual assault and violence happening on our campuses, and we were going to pursue legal justice."
Officials at the four colleges said they had not yet seen the complaints and could not comment on the allegations. But they stressed that their institutions took seriously students' concerns about sexual assault and sexual misconduct, and pledged to strengthen their efforts to deal with those problems.
"The safety of our students, both physical and emotional, is our highest priority, and we will do everything in our power to assure that," Swarthmore's president, Rebecca S. Chopp, said in an e-mail to The Chronicle. She added that the college was dedicated to "total compliance" with the Clery Act and Title IX, and had asked an outside firm to review Swarthmore's policies.
The new complaints are the latest salvo in an increasingly charged debate over sexual violence on campuses. As the Department of Education has signaled greater interest in investigating colleges' policies for responding to and reporting cases of sexual violence, survivors of sexual assault and student activists appear to have found a louder voice.
Last month students at Occidental filed a complaint alleging that the college did not take reports of sexual assault seriously and failed to protect women from sexual violence. At North Carolina, a Title IX investigation is already under way into a complaint filed by five women—including three current students—that the university created a hostile environment for victims of sexual assault. And at Amherst College, student outrage over a former student's harrowing account of rape prompted widespread changes in campus policies.
The student activism has dovetailed with increased attention from federal officials. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education reached an agreement with the University of Montana at Missoula following an investigation of its alleged mishandling of sexual assault and sexual harassment. And last week, the Education Department hit Yale University with one of the largest fines ever for Clery Act violations for failing to report two forcible sex offenses that occurred on its campus more than a decade ago.
Annie E. Clark, a 2011 graduate of North Carolina who is one of the complainants in that university's pending Title IX complaint, attended Wednesday's event. In written remarks obtained by The Chronicle, Ms. Clark, now a college administrator in Oregon, described the students gathered in New York as the "Title IX Network." She said that since filing the complaint against her alma mater this year, she has heard from hundreds of students who have experienced sexual violence.
"We are here to put a face to our national movement," Ms. Clark wrote. "We have reached a critical mass where we can no longer be ignored."