Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sexual Assault Problem at Patrick Henry College Is Outside the Scope of Title IX

Patrick Henry College, in Purcellville, Virginia, is in some ways no different from the dozens of colleges and universities whose shortcomings in dealing with sexual assault have come to light of late. A recent issue of the New Republic profiled the details of one particularly emblematic incident that took place at the evangelical Christian college nicknamed "God's Harvard."  The Patrick Henry College story will sound familiar to those who are following the snowballing number of cases in which university officials are alleged to have botched their response to a reported sexual assault.  There, a female student named Claire was discovered by a student security guard after escaping from the car of a male student who had just raped her. The security guard's report made its way to the dean of students, who called Claire in for a meeting. Claire reportedly presented her story to the dean, who told her nothing could be done to address the alleged assault due to the absence of "proof."  Instead, Claire herself was in trouble for violating the college's alcohol policy. The alleged assailant was punished only for an alcohol infraction and "gross negligence for the concern of another" in not making sure Claire got back safely to her dorm.  The emotional impact on Claire forced her to leave Patrick Henry, while her alleged assailant continued his education. Worse, Claire's story appears to be part of a pattern of similar incidents involving indifference to assault by Patrick Henry College officials. 

While stories about college administrators brushing rape allegations under the rug are, unfortunately, no longer rare, there is one unique aspect of the situation at Patrick Henry College.  The college intentionally declines all federal funding so that it is not obligated to compromise its Christian values by compliance with civil rights laws. As a result, Patrick Henry is one of a handful of private colleges (Grove City College is another) that operate entirely outside the realm of discrimination laws like Title IX and the Clery Act, which require compliance as a condition of federal funding.  This means that, unlike female students at places like UConn, Occidental, UNC, and Northwestern (to name just a few) that are seeking to hold their institutions accountable for indifferent to or misreporting of assault, Patrick Henry students like Claire have no institutional recourse under federal law. In the New Republic article, attorney Brett Sokolow, president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, questions how well students understand the consequences of choosing a college that goes out of its way to avoid compliance obligations under Title IX.  He says that female students "need to know that going in," due to the potential consequences of this absence of legal accountability.  While schools like UConn, Occidental, and UNC may have a similar sexual assault problem now, they are all cleaning up their acts because they know the government is watching.  Patrick Henry students have no such assurance.