Making Campus Safer for College Students


For students matriculating to colleges and universities nationwide, campus life marks both a period of great opportunity and unique risk. Many of them away from home for the first time, students on college campuses must adjust to life away from the shelter of their parents' homes. Too many do not recognize necessary precautions to avoid becoming the victim of campus crimes.

Understanding the need for enhanced measures to protect college students, the federal government enacted the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990. The Act amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) and required all colleges and universities participating in HEA's Title IV student financial assistance programs to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information. Since Congress tied the Act to participation in federal student financial aid programs, its requirements extend to all colleges and universities, public and private. The Act assists school in providing students across the nation a safe environment in which to learn and keep school employees, students, and parents informed about campus safety.

The Jeanne Clery Act

In 1986, freshman Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her residence hall at Lehigh University. After her death, her parents discovered there were at least 38 other violent crimes on the university's campus in the three years prior - a fact never made public to the students or their families. Hoping to prevent future crimes against other college students, the Clerys joined with other campus crime victims to persuade the US Congress to enact what has become known as the Jeanne Clery Act.

Specifically, the Clery Act requires schools to compile and disclose statistics related to all reported crimes on or around campus. A crime is considered to have been "reported" when it is brought to the attention of a campus security authority or the local police - the author of the report does not matter. The crimes do not have to have been investigated; the allegation alone is enough to meet the reporting threshold. Additionally, the Department of Education conducts periodic program reviews to evaluate an institution's level of compliance with these requirements.

Amendments to the Clery Act

Higher Education Amendments of 1992

President Bush signed the Higher Education Amendments of 1992 into law, amending the Clery Act to require that institutions of higher education specifically implement policies protecting the rights of sexual assault victims. The Amendments also broadened reporting of sexual assaults and specified dates for information collection and reporting. Known as the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights, the Amendments required schools to develop and publish policies regarding the prevention of sex offenses. Students must be provided with clear information about how to report sex offenses and about the medical, legal and psychological assistance available to victims. The law was later amended to require that schools notify the campus community about where public "Megan's Law" information about registered sex offenders could be obtained.

Higher Education Amendments of 1998

The Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, renamed for Jeanne Clery, was adopted in 1998 to supplement and enhance earlier laws. The Amendments eliminated loopholes and expanded reporting requirements to statistics from crimes that occurred even in certain off-campus locations such as dormitories. It also expanded the categories of crimes which required reporting to include arson and negligent manslaughter and mandated campus security to keep daily crime logs available to the public.

2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act

Congress reauthorized the Higher Education Act of 1965 and enhanced as it relates to HEOA safety and security related requirements when it enacted the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act. The Act added additional safety and security requirements for institutions, expanded hate crime statistics reported, established safeguards for whistleblowers, and required a statement of emergency response and evacuation procedures in annual security reports and emergency notifications on campuses. The Amendment also prohibited universities from using loopholes such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to avoid Clery Act reporting requirements.

Violence Against Women Act Amendments

The 2013 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) amends the Clery Act by expanding the rights afforded to campus survivors of dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SAVE), once a stand-alone bill, was broken down and its components were bundled with the VAWA amendments to the Clery Act. The Act requires institutions of higher learning to:

  • adopt institutional policies to address and prevent sexual violence on campus;
  • train pertinent institutional personnel and new students on prevention and awareness programs regarding acquaintance rape, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking;
  • adopt certain student discipline procedures; and
  • go beyond the crime categories mandated by the Clery Act to include reports for stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence.

Conclusion

In response to the threats facing students on campuses, Congress continues to pass laws addressing changing issues in the landscape of campus safety. The efforts will have to continue to adapt as conditions evolve at higher institutions of education, but Congress has demonstrated a decades-long commitment to the safety of students on campus and establishing colleges and universities as a safe place to focus on education.