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Swarthmore Student Alleges Retaliation for Advocacy on Sexual-Assault Issues

A student at Swarthmore College who accused it of being lax in its pursuit of allegations of sexual misconduct says the Pennsylvania college is retaliating against her by denying her a job as a dormitory resident adviser, The New York Times reports. But college officials deny any retaliation. They say they cannot employ the student, Mia Ferguson, because she refuses to tell authorities the name of the victim of an alleged rape.

Ms. Ferguson, who joined other students in filing two complaints with the U.S. Education Department this year over Swarthmore’s handling of sexual-misconduct cases, was accepted for the resident adviser’s position this past spring. The alleged rape occurred three years ago.

Swarthmore officials say they learned of the rape accusation only last week, after Ms. Ferguson brought it up during training for resident advisers. Under federal laws and guidelines and the college’s own policies, they say, Swarthmore must vigorously pursue all accusations of sexual misconduct. Those guidelines and policies, they say, also require employees—including paid resident advisers like Ms. Ferguson—to report any information they have about such accusations.

Ms. Ferguson argues that the obligation applies only to information she might gain after taking up her duties as a resident adviser, not something she learned about long before.

Advocates for victims’ rights and campus safety told the Times that they think Ms. Ferguson is probably right, but they and a lawyer for the college agreed that the law is silent on the issue. Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, said, “I don’t think there’s any precedent for trying to make the reporting requirement retroactive.”

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