Federal Complaints Say Occidental College Failed to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

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A group of Occidental College students and faculty are turning to outside forces to impel their college to reform its policy and process for addressing sexual assault.

The Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition – having spent years documenting an unjust and illegal process – has submitted two complaints to the federal government: (1) a Title IX complaint with the Office for Civil Rights arguing that Occidental is a hostile environment for women and (2) an argument that the college is in violation of the Clery Act, which requires timely and accurate reporting of crimes on campus.  In addition, civil rights attorney Gloria Allred has agreed to represent several students in a lawsuit against the college.  

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Students at UC Irvine attending an annual event to raise awareness about sexual violence and to honor survivors of sexual violence and assault. (Image: © Christine Cotter/The Orange County Register/ZUMAPRESS.com/

I am a faculty member at Occidental College.  In this post I describe what’s happening, why, what I expect the backlash to look like, and what I hope will come of this.

What’s happening?

One in four college-age women will experience rape or attempted rape. In the U.S.,college attendance is a risk factor for sexual assault.  The majority of sexual violence – against both men and women — is committed by a small group of men.  Accordingly, it is imperative to identify men responsible for sexual assaults and remove them from their “target-rich” environment.

Institutions of higher education, unfortunately, have a perverse incentive to suppress reports of sexual assault and discourage adjudication.  Administrators know that students may be dissuaded from attending schools that have a reputation for a high rate of sexual assault, so these numbers are suppressed all across higher education in America.

Occidental College is no exception.

After nearly five years of attempting to work with the administration, and facing deliberate indifference, the coalition decided to turn to the federal government for help, hence the complaints.

In the meantime, and separately from the coalition’s efforts, sexual assault survivors and their families decided to seek legal counsel. 

Why is Occidental College being sued and reported to the federal government?

Allred’s cases against the college will likely focus on the alleged illegal and unjust treatment of students who report sexual assault by other students.  Incidences of sexual assault have been hidden from the college community; students have been discouraged from reporting to both the college and the police and from proceeding with adjudication; students found responsible for sexual assault have been allowed to appeal without grounds; sanctions have frequently been lessened on appeal; there has been harassment of and retaliation against survivors and their allies; and Occidental has let at least three men found responsible for more than one assault back on campus after their victims have graduated, exposing a new crop of women to a known predator.

The coalition filing federal reports has been pleading with the administration to bring its programming, policy, and process in line with the law and the best practices scholarship.  Their solution to the administration’s failure is to turn to the government.

What will the backlash look like?

If Occidental follows the pattern of previous institutions, we will see at least three phenomena.

First, known coalition members, survivors, and their allies will be blamed for harming the reputation of Occidental and putting it at risk of legal sanctions and fines. This will be ironic because it is, of course, rapists, their apologists, and incompetent and corrupt administrators that are to blame.  They’re responsible for the harm done


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