Occidental College and three students reached a confidential settlement regarding allegations of sexual assault by former athletic trainer John Sweet, according to Director of Communications Jim Tranquada.
Four students submitted a formal complaint to the school last year accusing Sweet of various degrees of sexual assault, harassment and battery, according to a March 27, 2013 article in The Occidental Weekly. Human Resources Director Richard Ledwin said in the same article thatthe school was investigating the complaints at the time Sweet resigned.
After the publication of the first article, a former student came forward to say that she complained about harassment from Sweet in 2009, which she claims the school handled poorly. Following the 2009 complaint, Sweet attended sexual harassment training. Citing this training and a letter in Sweet’s file, the college has consistently defended its handling of the complaints.
In regards to the settlement, Tranquada said that “the parties have resolved their differences” but would not comment further.
Addendums to Title IX complaint
During the period of the school’s investigation into Sweet, theOxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) filed a Title IX complaint against the college for the mishandling of sexual assault cases. The original complaint listed 37 complainants.
Throughout the past year, Politics Department Chair Caroline Heldman and other students and faculty have added 15 complainantsto the original for a total of 52, according to Heldman. Each of these complaints have been added individually throughout the past year and describeevents that occured since the original complaint was filed. Most of the added complaints regard cases of retaliation by college officials to survivors of sexual assault or activists.
The Title IX report, filed through the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), is one of three reports upon which the college is waiting. The second report will come from the Department of Education (ED), which oversees the Clery Act. Both the OCR and EDare reviewing the Occidental administration’s response to sexual misconduct.
Lawyers Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez were hired last April to report on Occidental’s sexual misconduct policy. Their report has been delayed numerous times and but will be available later this month, according to Tranquada.
As a result of the controversies regarding sexual assault and other hot button issues, the newly-formed Occidental College Alumni Action Network (OCAAN) is circulating a petition for change at Occidental. In the petition, OCAAN demands removing various administrators, hiring administrators that fit Occidental’s mission, honoring the employees of the college and adding staff or administrators that are dedicated to increasing diversity on campus.
After the first three days of a week-long circulation, 270 alumni signed the petition; 54 percent of those respondents said that they would like to be more involved. All alumni quoted in this article wish to remain anonymous, because “this is a leaderless movement of alumni. It’s large and it’s growing fast,” as one alumna ‘95 said.
She also said that the alumni, largely, do not want to create another task force to handle these issues.
“Alumni don’t want talk. Alumni are outraged. We want action, and we want it now… We don’t care about money or new buildings. We care about the safety of students on the campus now,” the alumna said.
Other alumni echoed the sentiment.
“The college has been sliding downhill since [President Jonathan Veitch’s] administration started,” an alumnus ‘11said. “My hope is for a complete house-cleaning: new president, new deans, new staff in [Residential Education and Housing Services] and Campus Safety.”
Another alumnus ‘13 said that actions of the administrators in student affairs led to the creation of this petition.
“It has been clear for years that certain administrators within the division of student affairs have not had the best interests of students in mind, and this has become particularly glaring with the mishandling of sexual assault on campus,” he said via email. “With controversy after controversy, news article after news article, [this] should have been fixed by now. Clearly these problems still persist and the energy we see the administration spending on covering things up rather than openly addressing issues is a sign of ineptitude. It is painful to be an alumni and have to constantly defend the school you love so much.”
The ‘11 alumnus agreedthat those in charge of student affairs are the largest problem area in the administration.
“[They] have played the single biggest role in ruining the college experience,” he said. “The ongoing sexual assault wrangling is just the most blatant and egregious part of a much broader dysfunction.”
According to the ’13 alumnus, the administration has not implemented practices that student organizations have worked to create and suggest.
“The administration has not responded to student organizing efforts through [Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity] and OSAC, they have not responded to the Faculty Council’s two votes of no confidence and so we saw an opportunity to mobilize the largest and most powerful constituency: alumni. As alumni we have an interest in the well-being of Occidental students and the reputation of the school, and it is clear that the administration cannot be trusted to make the necessary changes to protect that.”
President of the board of trustees Chris Calkins ‘67, though, believes that the college’s administration has taken steps toward change.
“To address sexual misconduct, we have completely revised policies and procedures; hired a full-time survivor advocate and a full-time Title IX coordinator; established a 24/7 hotline; significantly increased mandatory preventative education programs for all students; and brought in two of the country’s top experts to help evaluate our progress,” Calkins said via email.
Furthermore, he maintains that Veitch and other administrators hold weekly meetings to address the issues of diversity that students present. As a result of these changes, he and the other board members stand behind Veitch and the rest of the administration.
“While effective at conveying a sense of urgency, ultimatums paint people into corners,” Calkins said via email. “They mark the end of a conversation, not participation in one. The board of trustees and I continue to support President Veitch fully in his efforts to address these important issues and to continue to engage in the searching conversations that surround them.”