Less than 24 hours after a female student came forward about an alleged rape at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on Sunday, Nov. 3, the University sent out a school-wide email the following Monday to alert the community of the reported incident. The reason? Timely notification of such a crime is required under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act – known simply as the Clery Act – of 1990. The act mandates all private and public colleges and universities that partake in federal financial aid programs to disclose information about crime on and near their campuses.
The act itself was named after Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University (Pa.) freshman who was raped, beaten and murdered in her residence hall in 1986. After Clery’s parents found that students had not been informed about more than 30 other violent crimes on Lehigh’s campus in the previous three years, they and other advocates pushed for Congress to enact the federal law. As a result, according to the act, higher education institutions must publish and distribute an annual security report providing crime statistics, maintain a public crime log, implement an emergency response and notification policy, create a system to handle reports of missing students and issue “timely reports to the campus community on crimes considered to be a threat to other students and employees.”
The email sent to the Emory community Monday contained the date, time and location of the alleged rape, with the University offering media organizations including the Wheel an additional statement with even more information about the investigation. In the aftermath of this reported rape and amid an increased number of students reporting sexual assaults on campus, we feel that the Clery Act is important and beneficial for college communities, including Emory, though the implications of the Clery Act raise important questions about victims and campus safety as well.
The Clery Act might cause one to wonder whether all students, faculty and staff should be notified of a sensitive alleged act, like a rape or sexual assault, so soon after it is reported to police. Doing so might upset a victim as he or she undergoes an already extremely difficult time. But sending out a mass email also keeps the community alert and allows us to make informed decisions when there is a possible threat to our safety.
We at the Wheel feel that sending out a school-wide message is vital regardless of the sensitivity of the crime so long as the student reporting the crime is fully informed by officials beforehand that information about the crime will be distributed in this way. Having sensitive information about a scarring experience shared with others may be difficult, but as demonstrated in the case of Jeanne Clery, it aims to serve the community as a whole. We are not saying that students should not go out to parties on the weekends anymore, but we do feel that students have a right to stay informed and make these types of decisions for themselves.
Meanwhile, the email sent out on Monday did not explicitly state whether the two alleged perpetrators were actual members of the Beta fraternity. While this information is important, we recognize that simply stating the location of the reported incident is a positive way to keep the public informed. Naming the two students as Beta brothers could have damaged the reputations of many people who were possibly not involved, especially potential negative consequences in terms of the fraternity’s Emory and national charters. Additionally, not releasing identifying traits in the blast protects the victim’s identity. While we feel that it’s important to alert the community of any alleged violent crimes, we also feel strongly that it’s necessary to protect and respect the identity of the victim.
In general, we feel that the Clery Act truly does more good than harm. Still, it is important to note that the act raises a key question: should colleges be able to reveal crimes to the public on a case-by-case basis instead, because distributing sensitive information could hurt the victim if everybody is discussing the reported crime? Regardless, the Clery Act protects the public as a whole and provides an invaluable service to institutions across the nation.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel‘s editorial board.