A federal complaint was filed last Thursday against Brown University, accusing the school of failing to expel a student found guilty of raping a fellow student.
Lena Sclove of Amherst, M.A. was attacked during the summer following her first semester as a transfer student from Tufts University. She filed complaints accusing the school of violating the Title IX gender equity law and the Clery Act campus security law.
Eight months later, and after three months of hearings, the university found Sclove's assailant, whose name has not been made public, guilty of four code of conduct charges, including sexual violence involving physical force and injury, according to a report by the Huffington Post.
A university disciplinary panel recommended a two-year suspension. However, J. Allen Ward, Brown's senior associate dean of student life, reduced the suspension to one year.
Now, university administrators are permitting the student Sclove identified as her rapist to return to campus as early as this August.
"This campus has come to mean a lot of things to me. And it's become a really scary place," says Sclove during a press conference on campus in April.
During the conference, students held signs criticizing the university's decision with one sign reading "Maybe in the next 250 years Brown will realize rape is a crime, not a college prank,"reported the Brown Daily Herald, the school's student-run newspaper.
"Brown's Student Conduct Board panel did the right thing when it found the respondent responsible for all four student misconduct violations he had been charged with," Sclove says in an e-mail.
"However, the university failed to ensure my safety – and the safety of other students – by allowing him back on campus within a year."
Lorin Smith, a student activist for the Brown Imagine Rape Zero campaign, a student-run campaign for a sexual assault free community on Brown's campus and beyond, says she is "shocked and appalled" at the university's decision of a one-year suspension.
"One year is the same penalty as plagiarizing which signaled to me [rape] is of the same severity," Smith says.
"There is not enough direct discussion about what the [university] policies should be and what they are. How [sexual misconduct] is handled and should be handled is not being discussed at length in terms of policy by fellow students."
Smith says the Imagine Rape Zero campaign came as a direct result of Lena's press conference on campus and the group Justice for Lena & Survivors Everywhere, which formed immediately afterwards. She believes the university has made strides to enact change but more needs to be done, especially in assuring that resources for sexual assault victims are not being restricted solely to university settings.
"I think things will change but we need accountability and due process this is transparent and clear," Smith says.
Students supporting Sclove have started an online petition with more than 11,000 signatures to pressure Brown to require that a student found guilty of sexual misconduct be suspended along with the Facebook group "Justice for Lena & Survivors Everywhere," which currently has more than 2,300 members.
Now, the complaints filed by Sclove will be reviewed by the U.S. Education Department, which could lead to an investigation and potential sanctions against the university.
"Legal Momentum filed this complaint with the Department of Education because it believes that Lena's case exemplifies a problem occurring across the country," says Lena Sclove's attorney, Christiana Brandt, in an e-mailed statement. "Brown did not fulfill its duties under Title IX to take immediate action to eliminate the hostile environment created by the assault, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects."
"The punishment of a one year suspension did not fit the offense," Sclove continued. "A student who is found responsible for the kind of sexual misconduct found here deserves the maximum penalty permitted by the student code: expulsion."
Sclove took time off from school after discovering in December that she had a spinal injury from the assault and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, reported the Amherst Bulletin.
In a May 2 letter, Brown University President Christiana Paxson wrote that it is the university's goal to "move Brown to a position of national leadership for prevention, advocacy and response to issues of sexual assault."
The university plans to create a task force on sexual assault in the fall comprised of faculty, administrators, undergraduate, graduate and medical students.
The task force's recommendation for changes to university policy and practices is expected to be released no later than December 2014.
"We are hopeful that Brown will work together with us and the Department of Education to become a leader among universities by making lasting changes to its response to sexual assault," Brandt said. "Title IX and Clery Act protocols have to translate into victim-centered assistance that serves students in real time."
The university said that the assailant has decided not to return to Brown in the fall, but Sclove has announced she will not come back until the school revamps their policies, reported theAmherst Bulletin.
Until the university makes a final decision, Sclove continues to heal and offers advice to other students who are victims of rape and sexual assault.
"The process of healing is about regaining agency after it was brutally taken from us. It was particularly important to me to get connected with survivor activists at other schools, so we can work together to ensure that our schools don't fail the next generation of students," Sclove says.
"To all survivors: you have rights and you are not alone."
Thomas House is a rising junior at American University