(Dominick Reuter / MIT)
MIT’s volunteer, student-run ambulance service was awarded this week the first-ever “Collier Medal” – an annual honor given in memory of Sean A. Collier, the 26-year-old campus officer allegedly killed by the two accused Boston Marathon bombers.
Administrators presented the award at a ceremony Tuesday to the 56 volunteers, mostly students, who operate MIT Emergency Medical Services, campus officials said.
Many members of the ambulance service were close friends of Collier, MIT officials said, and some transported him to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, after he was allegedly shot by the accused Marathon bombers while sitting in his cruiser on April 18.
“Last year, through circumstances none of us will ever forget, Officer Collier gave his life protecting our community,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement. “So that his spirit will live on at MIT, this is a fresh opportunity to express our gratitude that he lived and worked among us.”
He said MIT EMS exemplifies “a distinct MIT blend of leadership and problem-solving. The time, energy and expertise they make available goes far beyond what is expected of a student group.”
Just months before his death, Collier had written a letter praising the ambulance service, Reif said.
“It is with full hearts and the deepest appreciation that the members of MIT EMS are receiving the recognition they deserve,” he said.
MIT announced it was establishing the Collier Medal in November saying the annual award would be given to a person or group who embodies the character and qualities of Collier. Members of MIT and its "extended community" are eligible for the award.
The medal is backed by a fund MIT established to raise money to memorialize Collier through the award and scholarships in his name.
It will also pay for MIT’s plans to build a permanent memorial to Collier on its campus, officials have said. Work on that project is scheduled to break ground on the anniversary of his death.
(Dominick Reuter / MIT)
Cambridge-based online education nonprofit edX is partnering with Facebook, other companies and the government of Rwanda to launch SocialEDU, a pilot initiative that will give students in the African country free access to a social learning platform via Internet-enabled mobile devices.
Facebook and edX will work together to create a SocialEDU mobile app optimized for a low-bandwidth environment, and the government of Rwanda will work to adapt course materials for local students.
"With SocialEDU, students in Rwanda will receive free data plans for accessing free edX MOOCs from some of the world’s leading universities, including Harvard, MIT, U.C. Berkeley, TU Delft, Australian National University and ETH Zurich," Facebook said in an announcement Monday.
"Our platform will allow students to ask questions, engage with other students, interact with teachers, and participate in group discussions," the social media company said. "We are bringing the classroom to them and providing locally-relevant content, while transforming the educational experience to provide collaborative, social and sustainable learning."
Telecom company Ericsson will help test that the app can work in a 2G environment, while another telecom company, Airtel, will provide free data to everyone in Rwanda who participates in the program for one year
Device manufacturer Nokia will provide affordable smartphones, and the government Rwandan will reduce costs further through various financing mechanisms.
The government will also expand an existing program that provides free Wi-Fi access on campuses throughout the country.
The initiative is a part of the Internet.org project, an effort led by Facebook and six mobile technology companies that are working together to bring the Internet to the two thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have access.
"We know we have a long way to go to provide access to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have it today," Facebook said. "Rwanda is our first test of this approach, and our hope is that this will serve as a blueprint for other partnerships to follow. Through committed partnerships like SocialEDU, we move one step closer to bringing everyone in the global community online."
Founded in the spring of 2012 by Harvard University and MIT, edX is comprised of 32 institutions worldwide, or the xConsortium. EdX.org, which features nearly 150 courses, boasts about 2 million unique users from nearly 200 countries.
"Improving global access to high-quality education has been a key edX goal from day one," said a statement from edX president Anant Agarwal. "Nearly half of our 2 million students come from developing countries, with 10 percent from Africa. In partnering with Facebook on this innovative pilot, we hope to learn how we can take this concept to the world."
MIT administrators, responding to questions raised by its internal investigation into the Aaron Swartz case, have proposed steps to improve the school’s electronic records policies and commitment to open access.
MIT said it will build a “gateway website” that will “provide, in a single location, easy access to documentation concerning policies and procedures [pertaining to electronic records and online data privacy], helpful resources and guidance materials, and links to documentation maintained in various offices across MIT.”
The school will also send an email each year to the campus committee to highlight relevant policies and procedures and the institute will train those who have access to and oversight of sensitive electronic records.
The feedback and recommendations unveiled Thursday were developed over the past several months by working groups of administrators, faculty, staff, and students in response to eight questions posed at the conclusion of a 182-page internal report MIT released in July.
The author of the internal report, computer science Professor Hal Abelson, told the Globe's Marcella Bombardieri on Thursday that he believes MIT will make a number of changes.
“I do sincerely, deeply, deeply believe that Rafael Reif cares about this,” he said. But he added, “If I’m grading this as a faculty member, the MIT grade is incomplete.”FULL ENTRY
MIT sent an email to applicants last week about financial aid with a line at the bottom that read: “You are on this list because you are admitted to MIT!"
For prospective students already accepted through MIT’s early action program, the line was simply part of a routine missive. But for the many applicants still awaiting a final admissions decision in March, those 11 words may have raised false hopes of entry into one of the world's top higher education institutions.
It was not immediately clear how many students received the message in error. But the gaffe prompted an apology from MIT's admissions office and an explanation how the mistake occurred.
“My guess is that overall a very small number of our current applicants even noticed this,” Chris Peterson, an MIT admissions counselor who handles web communications, wrote on an admissions office blog. “But any number of people getting this kind of mixed signal is too many.”
He said the error occurred after admissions staff tried to consolidate email lists of both applicants and admits using a technique recommended by the email marketing service provider MIT uses, MailChimp.
“However, there is also an (apparently) undocumented side-effect … it replaced one line, in small print, at the bottom of the email, after we had already (extensively) drafted, reviewed, and approved the text of the email itself,” he wrote. “We never even knew.”
The "footer" of the email sent to applicants still awaiting a decision from MIT should have said: "You are receiving this email because you applied to MIT, and we sometimes have to tell you things about stuff."
Peterson said admissions staff noticed the error after some confused applicants began posting questions about the email on a college admissions forum website.
In the comments section of the MIT admissions office blog post, many said they hadn't noticed the line at the bottom of the email and most said they forgave the school for the error, especially in light of the apology.
"From the time I read that footer yesterday until reading this post just now, I was a limbo of confusion," said a comment from the username Jack Fossen. "Now I'm just a little bummed, but oh well. Thank you for explaining the error so promptly."
Another commenter said they were glad they saw the blog post apology before the read the email's ending.
"Thank God I didn't notice that footer," wrote username Danish. "I might have died from a heart attack seriously!! (O_o) And don't worry Mr. Peterson, you didn't do that purposely. Everyone does mistakes and this post of yours shows how much you regret this one."
A comment by the username Corey Cook joked: "I was hoping that admissions was trying to send some subtle hints about being accepted, but I guess we'll have to wait until March to find out. Haha."
The email, even if inaccurate, is still a point of pride, said another comment.
"I'm happy to say that I received an email telling me that I was admitted to MIT, even though it was a mistake," the comment from username Monica said.
The errant email was first reported on by The Tech student newspaper.
Peterson can sympathize with any applicants who were alarmed. He wrote on the MIT admissions blog that when he was applying to colleges, his top choice school sent him a rejection letter addressed not to him, but to “Christine Peterson Fitzpatrick.”
He said seven of the 10 colleges he applied to rejected him, “but that letter hurt the most, not only because it was my first choice, but because the mistaken identity added insult to injury. It made me feel like they didn't even care.”
“Almost ten years later I know better,” Peterson continued. “I know that the admissions officers at this school care. I know how complex a communications project at this scale can be. It's so easy to make a simple mistake. And yet it still hurts when I think about it. And it crushes -- crushes -- me to think that I might have unintentionally inflicted something similar on some of you.”
“I've been on that side and I know how it feels,” he added. “And if you've now felt it too, in part because of me, I'm so, so sorry.”
MIT President L. Rafael Reif announced Friday he has asked the institute’s newly appointed chancellor to make confronting campus sexual assault a “central priority” in response to an anonymous alumna who wrote in the school’s student newspaper last week that she was raped while at MIT.
He asked Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart to deliver a report back to him by the end of the semester to outline what more the institute needs to do to tackle the problem.
“The community deserves a rigorous assessment of the nature and extent of the problem of sexual assault at MIT,” Reif wrote in a letter to the campus community.
“We all need to be aware of what MIT is doing as an institution to try to prevent sexual assault, to respond with understanding and fairness, and to provide survivors with the help they need,” he continued. “And we need to decide where we should do more.”
The anonymous alumna’s column in The Tech described how she was raped by an older, higher-ranked colleague in her research group nearly three years ago, when she was a junior at the Cambridge campus.
The woman wrote that due to a mix of fear, confusion and depression, she did not formally report the incident for more than a year and a half. When she did report, campus and local police and officials from an MIT sexual assault response program were supportive. But, she wrote that a prosecutor she met with was “unsupportive” and downplayed what happened.
In response to the column, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office issued a statement to Boston.com this week acknowledging it investigated the alleged assault and defended its handling of the case and its decision not to file charges.
MIT officials had declined to comment, citing student privacy rules, until Reif’s letter Friday.
“The suffering she describes breaks my heart,” Reif wrote. “And — as we know from years of campus reporting about sexual assault and from the comments posted on her letter — she is not alone.”
“That such betrayals occur in our community makes me profoundly sad and angry,” he continued. “Nothing could be further from our ideal of a community founded on respect, decency, sympathy and kindness.”
“I admire her bravery in breaking the silence for all rape survivors in our community,” added Reif. “Just as important, she has brought this topic to the center of our public conversation.”
He wrote that the school over the last several years has done important work to raise awareness of sexual assault and harassment and to improve the support and assistance the campus offers to survivors.
“I am proud of and grateful for their work, and I believe we should use this moment to improve and expand our community efforts further still,” said Reif.
“Every one of us in the MIT community — faculty, post-docs, graduate students, undergraduates, alumni and staff — can contribute to the solution,” he wrote. “We need to care for each other, and listen to each other with compassion and respect. We need to intervene when we see a friend, student or colleague in a vulnerable situation, or when we sense an abuse of trust and power.”
“We should all take the time to understand what constitutes sexual misconduct,” Reif continued. “We must make sure that those who suffer sexual assault know that they have the full support of this community — and we need to create a culture and environment that minimize the instances of such assaults in the first place.”
“Most important, we must all treat sexual assault as a fundamental violation of our values that will not be ‘normalized,’ glossed over or tolerated at MIT,” he concluded. “Please join me in rising to this challenge for our community.”
The Globe on Monday reported that reports of sexual assaults at Boston-area colleges have risen over the past five years.
Campus safety experts say the rise in the reports suggests that many colleges – pushed by government agencies, victims, and new federal guidelines – are improving efforts to address the problem by expanding education and outreach and by more thoroughly reporting the widely underreported crime.
Still, even with the recent spike in reported assaults, the rates schools are reporting come nowhere close to figures in a 2007 Department of Justice-funded study which estimated that about 5.2 percent of college women are sexually assaulted each year.
Advocates say many schools need to do more.
Obama last month highlighted the epidemic of campus sexual assault and ordered a federal task force to target the problem. And, the Globe reported, that more than three dozen members of Congress wrote last week to the federal office in charge of enforcing the Clery Act, calling on it to do a better job of collecting data on campus sexual assaults.
In an effort to shift away from driving, universities and colleges in the Greater Boston area are offering students more options to use public transportation and opportunities to shape transportation policy, according to a report released Thursday by MASSPIRG Education Fund.
The report, titled "A New Course: How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation Policy," featured University of Massachusetts Boston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and Harvard University as innovators in transportation policy. The schools offer students discounts on popular public transportation options or make it difficult to park and drive on campus.
"Here in Massachusetts, we have so many great colleges and universities who already have given these policies a test run," said Kirstie Pecci, staff attorney at MASSPIRG. "Now state policymakers need to pick up the baton, look at what works, and institute these policies themselves."
One transportation option all these schools have in common is the Hubway bike-sharing service.
"Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and UMass Boston have all instituted Hubway stations that would benefit students across the country," Pecci said. "The difficult part of these programs is that every university and locale is unique and there are always new hurdles that they have to overcome. However, when you have a laundry list of different options, it's very doable.
"The Millennial generation believes in alternative modes of transportation. If the state gives them these options, they they can hop on board."
Americans ages 16 to 34 reduced their annual driving miles by 23 percent per person between 2001 and 2009, according to research from the most recent data from the Federal Highway Administration, the report said.
"There has to be a buy-in by all the parties and there has to be investment by the MBTA and by the universities," Pecci said. "Instead of subsidizing parking, do public transportation when the programs have worked and the students have valued it."
The Massachusetts Legislature voted in July 2013 to override Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's veto of an $800 million transportation finance bill. Patrick originally proposed a $19 billion transportation bond bill to fund road, bridge, and rail projects for 10 years.
"The transportation finance act last year was fine, but there has to be recognition that this was just a first step. Many of the investment programs were handled, but further investment will be needed as we work on the system," Pecci said. "We need to refine what work needs to be done. Much of it is making a modern and safe system. We need to keep this conversation alive."
Some students at universities in Boston said they like having a car on campus because it provides another outlet to get to places further than public transportation allows.
"Having a car offers the liberty that public transportation can't provide us," said Boston University sophomore Tyler Bartels, who has a car on campus. "Public transportation puts everything into a structure. Plans revolve around when you leave in order to make the train, but with a car, it gives you more freedom."
Elliott Johns, a fourth year student at Northeastern, said the only reason he had a car was for his co-op program.
"I work in Billerica and the only way I can get there is by driving," Johns said. "Even when I'm not on co-op, I'm tempted to keep my car because I live in Coolidge Corner on the C Line. Northeastern is on the E Line and it's about a 30 minute walk to campus, but on the T is also about 30 minutes. It's definitely convenient because when it gets colder, it is really easy and convenient to just drive over to campus and park for free."
Mitch Gallerstein, a sophomore at Northeastern, said he does not have a car on campus because in Boston, he can get around well-enough without one.
"You can walk and the T is pretty cheap," he said. "For the most part, they do a pretty good job with the system. Yes, it can be a little painful with delays and not getting a lot of information from them, but it is convenient that we have two stops right on our campus. You can take that downtown and get pretty much anywhere you need to go."
Johns said when he uses public transportation, he is content with the MBTA system.
"Coming from Florida, where the only system we had was buses, it wasn't very practical," he said. "But here, it is very practical. If I didn't have a job where I needed to get a car, then I wouldn't have it. Parking is very expensive here and overall I am happy with the improvements they have made so far."
An MIT working group recommended this week that the school build new housing for between 500 and 600 graduate students, about double the amount the institute includes in its long-term development plans.
“We believe that if these beds were available today, new students and current off-campus students would occupy them,” said the draft report released Tuesday by MIT’s Graduate Student Housing Working Group.
The report also calls on MIT to improve existing housing facilities and to create 400 additional beds to accommodate “swing-space” needs over the next decade while the renovation projects are ongoing.Those 400 beds should then be converted into graduate housing once the renovations are complete, the report said.
For years, residents and some professors have urged the institute to house more – ideally all – of its students, whether through new construction, converting existing residential buildings into student housing or other means. Doing so, they have said, would help reduce the heavy demand and high prices for rental housing in the neighborhood.
In 1960, an MIT committee recommended that the institute try to house half of its graduate students, according to the working group’s draft report.
But today, only about 38 percent of the 6,500-plus graduates students at MIT are housed by the institute. The rest live off campus, and the majority off the off-campus graduate students reside in Cambridge.
The draft report released this week said the working group found there is “significant demand for on-campus graduate housing.”
And, “In the Cambridge housing market, rents have been increasing steeply, condo conversions have been reducing the supply of affordable housing, and new housing construction consists mostly of luxury units,” the report said. “The 62 percent of MIT graduate students living off campus will likely be squeezed further by these trends. MIT cannot rely on the market to provide affordable housing as it has in the past.”
The group said that about 30 percent of students choose to live off campus “because of price, and that students are already paying about half of their income for housing.”
“Our charge does not include attention to postdoctoral fellows, and we did not assess their needs, but we do note that this staff population has grown dramatically, and that they rent in the same off-campus market as our graduate students,” the report added.
In a letter to the campus Tuesday, MIT provost Martin Schmidt said the he, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart and executive vice president and treasurer Israel Ruiz will provide a formal response to the working group’s recommendations after the group issues its final report later this year.
“Many dynamic factors and pressures influence the topic of graduate student housing and serve to make this a complex matter,” Schmidt said. “I greatly appreciate the thoroughness that is evident in this analysis and would like to express my gratitude to each individual who served on, or supported, the working group.”
In April, the Cambridge City Council approved those changes, which altered zoning rules to allow buildings in parts of Kendall Square to be more than twice as tall more than double the maximum height for buildings in parts of Kendall Square and on MIT’s east campus.
MIT has said that the zoning changes will allow it to build more than 2 million square feet of office, lab, retail, housing, and academic space on land now used as parking lots.
The massive redevelopment plan, which calls for up to 300 housing units, has come under fire by neighbors who say the plan does not include enough new graduate student housing.
The institute recently selected an urban-design team to help it complete the planning process for the development.
In the draft report released this week, the working group said that the number of graduate students at MIT is “not likely to increase or decrease significantly in the next decade. Reliance on postdoctoral staff has grown in recent years, a trend that may continue.”
The report suggests MIT build housing for between 500 and 600 students.
“Rather than building a traditional dorm, we recommend that MIT construct buildings that could house student families as well as single students,” the report said. “Apartments could include “micro units,” studios, and multiple-bedroom suites. A two-bedroom apartment, for example, could house a family one year and two unmarried roommates the next.”
The group also recommends that MIT renovate or otherwise improve existing housing facilities.
And, the group called on MIT to build 400 more beds to be used as “swing-space” over the next decade while other facilities are renovated. After the renovations are completed, MIT should then convert those 400 beds into graduate student housing, the report said.
The group offered a number of options to create the “swing-space” housing – partnering with developers; securing long-term leases on new housing; including the space in already-planned capital renewal in graduate housing; and incorporating the space into nonresidential buildings on campus.
(Dominick Reuter / MIT)
MIT filled its two most senior academic posts today, naming two longtime faculty members as provost and chancellor.
Martin Schmidt, an electrical engineering professor who has served as associate provost since 2008 and as acting provost since last fall, was named provost, while Cynthia Barnhart, a civil and environmental engineering professor and associated dean of the engineering school since 2007, was named chancellor, President L. Rafael Reif said in an email to the campus community.
Both appointments are effective immediately, campus officials said.
“Marty brings to the role of provost a powerful combination of skills and experience as a teacher, advisor, administrator, researcher, inventor and entrepreneur,” Reif wrote in his email. “Marty has cheerfully accepted and successfully handled a great many sensitive, difficult assignments for the MIT community. In the process, he has become well known, inside and outside MIT, for his clarity, integrity, strategic perspective and ability to bring people together to get hard things done.”
“In three months as Acting Provost, Marty has proved himself an indispensable member of our senior team,” Reif added. “And I am delighted that he has accepted my offer to help lead MIT as provost.”
Schmidt, 54 and a resident of Reading, has been at MIT since 1981, when he began graduate studies at the school. He earned a master’s two years later and then a doctorate in 1988 before joining the faculty.
“I find great joy in learning about new fields,” Schmidt said in a statement. “What I find most exciting about the opportunity to serve as MIT’s provost is the intellectual stimulation that I know will come from engaging with all the diverse parts of this extraordinary institution.”
The provost is MIT’s “senior academic and budget officer, with overall responsibility for the institute’s educational programs, as well as for the recruitment, promotion, and tenuring of faculty,” campus officials said.
Schmidt replaces Chis A. Kaiser who stepped down in the fall to resumed teaching and research.
Barnhart, 54 and a resident of Wellesley, arrived at MIT in 1984 as a graduate student. She earned a master’s in 1985 and doctorate three years later. She taught at Georgia Institute of Technology for four years before joining MIT’s facuty.
“Cindy comes to the chancellorship with a lively awareness of the demands and realities of student life on campus,” Reif wrote in his email. “In interviewing for this position, she explained to me that from the start of her time on the faculty — a job she began when her first child was three weeks old — she has made a conscious effort to prove that it is possible to have both a successful career and a satisfying family life; her commitment and her example on this score will be tremendously useful in helping our famously intense community strike a productive balance.”
Barnhart said in a statement she is “thrilled.”
“The position is all about students and their learning and life experiences at MIT,” she said. “I can think of nothing on our campus more important to me.”
“I want to make the student experience at MIT as positive and fulfilling as possible,” Barnhart added. “And I look forward to engaging fully with students to make that happen.”
MIT’s chancellor “oversees graduate and undergraduate education, student life, student services, and other areas with impact on the student experience,” campus officials said.
Barnhart replaces W. Eric Grimson who stepped down in the fall to take on a new job with the institute’s upcoming fundraising campaign.
The author of an anonymous column in the MIT student newspaper last week wrote that she was raped by an older, higher-ranked colleague in her research group nearly three years ago, when she was a junior studying at the Cambridge campus.
The woman, who wrote in The Tech that she has since graduated from MIT, said she did not formally report the incident for more than a year and a half.
When she did report, campus and local police and officials from an MIT sexual assault response program were supportive. But, she wrote that a prosecutor she met with was “unsupportive.”
The woman did not name the prosecutor or which office the official worked. The woman wrote than an assistant district attorney told her: “I had merely had ‘traumatic sex’ and that the man was ‘sick.’”
“But, ‘it was not illegal for [him] to want sex,’ she said. She told me that there was not a clear enough of a struggle, and that ‘consent is not like signing a contract’ (that my standards for consent were too high).”
The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office in a statement to Boston.com Monday acknowledges it investigated the alleged assault and defended its handling of the case and its decision not to file charges.
"The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office conducted a coordinated investigation with the MIT police and a local police department regarding an allegation of sexual assault involving an MIT student," said the statement from Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan. "Based on that investigation, we determined that the matter would be closed without the filing of criminal charges. The specificity of the assessment, and particular reasons that led to this determination, remain confidential due to the nature of our obligations and responsibilities under the law."
"We understand how difficult the process can be, especially when it comes to closure without the result a complainant might seek and believe to be warranted," Ryan added. "We do not minimize this writer's feelings, but the question prosecutors must determine in every investigation is whether the allegations and evidence support the prosecution of a crime and in this case they did not."
A spokeswoman for MIT said she could not comment on specific cases involving sexual assault.
The MIT alumna wrote that she was a virgin at the time of the assault.
“A dinner that I thought was going to be about discussing science turned into something extremely wrong,” she wrote.
The woman wrote that her assailant was 10 years older than she and a higher-ranked colleague in her research group.
“As an opening to the night, he bragged that only weeks before had he “helped secure” a multi-million dollar grant, which he described over an uncomfortably overpriced dinner that he insisted on buying me,” she wrote. “It was because of his work, he said, that people could do much needed-research, probably in things like cancer. Here, he was the true ethical hero, he said: focusing on the big picture and what really mattered.”
“I viewed the man as a mentor and close friend, and I felt a great deal of respect and trust for him, as a mentor,” the woman wrote.
She said later in the night the man raped her.
“I had asked him to stop multiple times and tried to push him off of me,” she wrote. “I knew this. He ignored me, but who was to blame? I had not spit in his face or tried to claw his eyes out.”
“When he didn’t listen, my brain failed to believe it was actually happening and shut down,” she added. “I felt deep guilt and shame that my subsequent silence was interpreted as a waving white flag: mistaken for consent.”
He said the man later wrote to her: “I can’t help but feel that I took advantage of you and it’s not really fair.”
“That was as close to an apology as I would ever get,” the woman wrote.
She said for more than a year, she was numb and confused, had trouble eating and sleeping and suffered “deep depression” while she remained primarily silent about what happened.
“My grades and focus suffered tremendously, but I was too embarrassed to tell any of my professors or teachers, or even most of my friends and family, what I was going through,” she wrote.
“I was afraid of reporting, for not being believed, for making the man who had done it to me angry, for potentially ruining a former friend’s life (when all I wanted to do was protect other students), and even for the ungrounded fear of losing all respect from my research advisor,” she added.
She wrote that she still feels traumatized and has nightmares about what happened.
But, “After years of therapy, the love of my family and close friends, travel, and self-care, I am beginning to feel whole again,” the woman wrote. “I am sharing this story here, because I want to give hope to any individual — male or female — who may currently feel voiceless, confused, worthless or hopeless, due to sexual violence. You are not alone and your amount of worth is infinite. Be gentle and patient with yourself.”
This story was updated Monday, Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. to add a statement from the Middlesex District Attorney.
Congress, experts call on federal officials, campuses to improve campus sexual assault data collection efforts
More than three dozen members of Congress have written to the federal office in charge of enforcing the Clery Act, calling on it to do a better job of collecting data on campus sexual assaults.
Advocacy groups and researchers have been calling for better, more transparent data collection for years. The Globe’s review of Clery data -- federally mandated reports on campus crime -- found that the number of assaults reported by most, if not all, campuses – both locally and nationally – over the past decade have been much lower than estimates of numerous studies.
Even with a spike in reported campus sexual assaults over the past five years, the rates schools are reporting come nowhere close to figures in a 2007 Department of Justice-funded study which estimated that about 5.2 percent of college women are sexually assaulted each year.
Experts say such low numbers tend to mean schools either need to do more to make students feel comfortable reporting the crime or schools need to do a more thorough, honest job in their methods for collecting and reporting the data, or a combination of the two. Stronger federal oversight could be a key driver for this, too, experts say.
Campuses urged to monitor prevalence, not just reported cases
One part of the letter signed by 39 members of Congress called on the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights to require colleges and universities to conduct anonymous surveys of students to more accurately report how prevalent sexual assault is on each campus – not simply how often it is reported.
An estimated 88 percent of victims do not formally report the crime, according to a 2007 study funded by the Department of Justice.
David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who has spent the past three decades researching campus sexual assault, said the fact that few, if any, schools study how prevalent the crime actually is on their campuses “underscores one of the major shortcomings in how higher education has been handling sexual assault.”
Lisak, who recently retired from teaching at UMass Boston, has advised US military officials on how to prevent and respond to sexual assault cases at service academies.
He said that changes made by the Department of Defense in just the past several years has led military academies to implement better methods of collecting meaningful data about sexual assaults than higher education has managed over the past two-and-a-half decades since the Clery Act was signed into law in 1990.
The country’s three military academies not only compile annual statistics on sexual assaults reported to authorities, but also conduct an anonymous survey of cadets and midshipmen every two years to get a more accurate picture of how many sexual assaults actually occur.
For example, during the 2011-12 academic year, 58 sexual assaults were reported at the service academies, according to a report from the Department of Defense to Congress. But an anonymous survey estimated the actual number of sexual assaults at the academies that year was about 526.
“We’ve really been focusing our efforts on trying to increase reporting so victims can get the help they need,” said Department of Defense spokeswoman Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson.
Asked why few, if any, higher education institutions anonymously survey students regularly about sexual assault, Lisak said: “Because then the numbers are out there.”
“There’s still a lot of resistance,” he added. “All universities have mechanisms already in place [to conduct such a survey]. This would not be technically challenging really at any level. We really just need the will.”
The Jan. 29 letter from members of Congress also urges the education department office to: be more transparent about its investigations and enforcement actions around campus sexual assault and harassment; create a central, public database about laws and guidelines schools are expected to follow around the issue of sexual assault; and to require campuses to be more transparent in disclosing what each is doing to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including making available information about crime statistics, enforcement actions, and students’ rights under Title IX.
When asked for a response to the letter, Education Department press secretary Dorie Nolt said in a statement: “We have received the letter and will respond to it. We agree that this is a very important issue, which is why we have prioritized civil rights enforcement and are working to galvanize a national effort to help prevent sexual assaults and to better support survivors of sexual violence. In fact, last week, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to establish the ‘White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.’”
Federal department unsure why some Clery figures seem off
The figures that the Globe reviewed for its story on campus sexual assault came directly from an online database run by the federal Education Department.
Every higher education institution in the US that receives federal financial aid is required by law to submit he data to the department. The department then posts those figures to the website, www.ope.ed.gov/security.
The data dates back to as early as 2001, but some of the crime figures, particularly between 2001 and 2003 seem unbelievably high.
Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for the federal Education Department, also doubted the validity of some of the data between 2001 and 2003 but said she had no idea why the numbers were likely wrong and said she did not know of anyone in the department would could provide an explanation for the apparent inconsistencies.
She said the department simply collects the data from schools and posts the numbers online. She said the department tries to check back with schools if certain numbers seem off, but otherwise the department does not analyze the data it collects.
Glickman also declined to comment on, and said she did not know anyone in the department who could comment on, why the Globe’s review found that the number of sexual assaults has risen in recent years while other crime types have gone down or held relatively steady.
“The law calls on the department to collect campus crime data and ensure that institutions are complying with the law’s provisions,” Glickman wrote in an email. “We do not analyze the data or do research into why certain crime categories are going up or down.”
However, the department is the only agency in charge of enforcing the Clery Act and its data reporting rules.
In the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, the department completed a total of 59 investigations into schools suspected of not being in full compliance with the Clery Act, according to a list of the finished reports on the education department’s website that the spokeswoman referred the Globe to. Of those, 34 investigations were completed in the four years between 2009 and 2012.
She said the department does not disclose investigations that are ongoing.
The department conducts such reviews if: a complaint is filed; “a media event raises certain concerns;” the school’s independent audit “identifies serious non-compliance;” or through a “review selection process,” the website says.
Glickman said the department takes all complaints and reviews seriously but noted that some reviews take several years and said that the department has limited resources to conduct such investigations.
A 2002 study funded by the Department of Justice found that about only 36.5 percent of schools reported “crime statistics in a manner that was fully consistent with the Clery Act.”
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights also investigates allegations of colleges and universities violating Title IX, the federal civil rights law protecting students from general discrimination.
Over the past several years, the number of such complaints related specifically to campus sexual violence has risen, according to data provided by department spokesman Jim Bradshaw.
In the both the 2009 and 2010 fiscal year there were 11 such complaints. There were 18 complaints in 2011 and 17 the following year before the number of complaints spiked to 30 during 2013.
In the department’s current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, there have already been 13 such complaints.
The office said it currently has 39 pending Title IX investigations involving allegations of sexual violence at post-secondary institutions.
Still, experts say more needs to be done to hold schools accountable.
“The Office for Civil Rights is broken,” said Colby Bruno, an attorney at the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, who runs training programs about the education rights of sexual assault victims and helps some students file federal complaints against their schools.
“The law isn’t really lacking. Where we’re lacking is enforcement,” she added.
Getting Clery data from the Education Department website, especially for years prior to 2005, can be confusing and cumbersome.
Even after the data is found, it’s can be difficult to interpret, in part because schools are given leeway in how they interpret certain aspects of the law and thus how they report. For instance, Glickman said schools “have latitude” in how they determine what areas around their campus to include when they report Clery data.
“To me the data is vitally important because there’s a sense of accountability and I think schools need that,” said Bruno. “Reliable data is also important because we want to see if programming and prevention efforts are working.”
Other past, ongoing efforts to improve Clery
The letter from members of Congress was led by Democrat US Representatives Jackie Speier, of California, and Carolyn Maloney, of New York. The letter also said the office should provide campuses with better guidance about how to respond to same-sex violence and gender identity discrimination.
In recent years, some efforts have been made to improve the effectiveness of the Clery Act.
In a “Dear Colleague Letter” issued April 4, 2011, the federal education department outlined a series of guidelines for how colleges should respond to sexual harassment and violence.
Last year, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, which added a section called the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, a law setting new standards for how campuses report sex offenses. Schools will need to comply with those new regulations for the first time when they submit Clery reports this coming fall.
And, last week, to go along with the release of a White House report on the prevalence and devastating effects of sexual assault on college campuses, Obama created a task force of senior administration officials who, with input from campus officials, students, advocacy groups and law enforcement, will try to find ways to protect students from rape and sexual assault.
Obama said he the group’s first body of work is due in 90 days.
Advocates for sexual-assault victims say that, to go along with changes at the federal level, they have seen a surge in activism around the issue from students, campus organizations, and alumni.
Particularly, “We’re seeing a lot more victims willing to step forward and publicly talk about what happened to them and using that as a pressure for change,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-sexual violence organization.
“Hopefully that will put some pressure on colleges about how they deal with it,” he added.