TERESA FLEMING, News Editor
Last Saturday, Sept. 19, Grinnell students, faculty and staff received an e-mail from the Office of Campus Safety and Security notifying them that a sexual assault had been reported on campus. The event marked the first time in at least four years that a Timely Notice has been issued in response to a reported sexual assault.
Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities participating in federal student financial aid programs are required to collect and publish statistics about crimes which are reported on their campuses. The Timely Notice provision of the Clery Act requires that schools send out campus-wide notifications about crimes that are considered, in the words of the Clery Act, to “be a threat to other students or employees.”
The decision to issue a timely notice warning is made based on the circumstances of the reported incident. Vice president of Student Affairs Andrea Conner said she works in collaboration with Campus Safety and Security and the Grinnell Police Department if they are involved with the case.
Conner explained that Timely Notice warnings are not issued about all reported sexual assaults on campus.
“When we receive notice of a Clery reportable crime, and there’s potentially still a danger to campus, we are asked by the government to send a Timely Notice. Now, as an institution … what we have to review on a case by case basis is this really tricky layer of what constitutes a continuing threat,” Conner said in a phone interview to The S&B. “Sometimes it’s true, a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct of some kind does not result in a Clery Timely Notice to campus. And sometimes it does.”
The Timely Notice issued last Saturday stated that the incident reportedly occurred in a residential facility. The notice issued stated that “details of the reported incident suggest that the students involved were drinking at an off-campus party and came back to campus together, where the alleged incident occurred.”
Devyn Shea ’17 is a member of the student activist group Dissenting Voices, which advocates to end campus sexual violence. Shea noted that while she was glad a warning had been issued after the incident was reported, she took issue with some of the language used in the warning.
“I know that this report made mention of the fact that students were drinking at an off-campus party, they came back to campus together. I understand that these details can be important when you’re trying to explain to the campus that there’s a potential incident with a potential motive of operation, but I also think that these details are some of the details that people use when they’re looking to victim blame or to diminish the seriousness of an assault,” Shea said. “Perhaps clarifying the intent of sharing those details with the campus community would be a good step.”
Not every sexual assault that is reported to security results in a Timely Notice under the Clery Act. Conner explained that some reports of sexual assault are not deemed an ongoing threat to the campus.
“One thing that influences the fact that some colleges rarely send a Timely Notice about sexual misconduct is that oftentimes reports of sexual misconduct come to us much later, and so depending on the situation, if we can determine that no concerning behavior has happened since then, then there may not be a threat to campus, at least in the immediate,” Conner said.
Shea is optimistic that in the future, Grinnell will offer more Clery warnings in response to reports of sexual assault.
“We haven’t had any Clery [notices] of student on student sexual assault, even though we have some of the highest reported rates of sexual assault in the country,” Shea said. “It’s obviously very disappointing to know that this incident happened, but it seems to me to be a step forward that the campus is being made aware.”
Conner said that although the College’s interpretation of the Clery Act has not changed, administrators continue to work to fulfill the requirements of the law.
“The college endeavors to do its best in complying with the regulations,” Conner said. “We are constantly realizing whether we should send the Timely Notice or what response is appropriate.”