Policies and Campus Violence Laws

There are approximately 16 million students enrolled in 4,200 colleges and universities in the United States. Approximately 479,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 were victims of violence-related crimes on campus between 1995 and 2002. Many college and university students have become victims of crimes, such as campus shootings; murder-suicides; homicides; hate crimes based on students’ and employees’ gender, race, or sexual orientation; bullying; hazing; robbery; assault; and arson. Statistics on campus violence compiled by the American College Health Association (ACHA) indicate that approximately 15% to 20% of female college students have been rape victims; one out of every 14 men in college has been assaulted by an intimate partner; 8% of men and 1% of women possess firearms on campus; 7% of students have been in a physical fights and 4% have been physically assaulted. ACHA also found that only 35% of violent crimes on campus were reported to the police. In spite of the fact that violence in school has declined since the late 1990s, serious violent occurrences on campuses have prompted colleges and universities to act.

In recent years, several school shooting cases on college campuses (for example, the Virginia Tech University and Northern Illinois University shootings) have prompted calls for additional precautionary measures in colleges and universities across the country. Most campuses have counseling centers and trauma-based interventions for survivors of sexual assault, date rape, stalking, and homicide. Some institutions, such as Illinois State University, have enacted a campus safety policy that would ensure a secure environment for all students, employees, and visitors affiliated with the university; violation of the campus safety policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including expulsion, termination of employment, and pursuance of civil and criminal penalties. In conjunction with campus policies concerning violence, federal legislation targeting this problem has been enacted, including the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights (1992), the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (1998), the Campus Sex Crime Prevention Act (2000), and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). State legislation has also been enacted, such as the Michael Minger Act (2000) passed by Kentucky lawmakers.

The Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1992 as a part of the Higher Education Amendments of 1992 (Public Law: 102-325, section 486[c]). This law mandates that all higher education institutions (both public and private) participating in federal student aid programs grant sexual assault victims certain basic rights. Schools are also required to notify sexual assault victims of their option to report their assault to law enforcement. Schools that violate this law may be fined as much as $27,500 or lose their eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs. In accordance with the law, universities are required to provide educational programs on rape and sexual assault awareness; to enforce sanctions for rape and sexual assault on campus; to provide students with information on procedures to follow should sexual assault occurs; and to inform students of on-campus disciplinary action.

The Clery Act [20 USC § 1092(f)] is a federal law, also known as the Campus Security Act, that requires colleges and universities in the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. This legislation was named in memory of Jeanne Ann Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was raped, sodomized, tortured, and murdered in her dormitory room in 1986; after the crime, Clery’s parents discovered that Lehigh students were not informed of 38 incidences of violence on campus within three years prior to her murder. Until 1988, only 4% of America’s colleges and universities had reported crime statistics to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Clery Act is tied to participation in federal student financial aid programs and enforced by the U.S. Department of Education.

In conjunction with the Clery Act, the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act (section 1601 of Public Law 106-386) was enacted in 2000. This federal law mandates tracking of convicted and registered sex offenders who are enrolled as students in a college or university, or working or volunteering on campus.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA; 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) permits notifications concerning health and safety issues related to students. Although this legislation was designed to safeguard students’ privacy, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors nevertheless have a duty to warn if threats are made against a particular person by their clients. Courts have ruled that colleges are obligated to take reasonable steps to protect students. The FERPA legislation was amended in the aftermath ofJain v. State (2000). In this case, Sanjay Jain, a freshman at the University of Iowa, attempted to commit suicide, but his family was not made aware of the attempt. A second suicide attempt succeeded. Jain’s father argued that FERPA, which authorizes disclosure of confidential information to protect the health or safety of a student, required the school to notify Sanjay’s family about the student’s suicidal behavior. Jain’s father unsuccessfully argued that the university violated FERPA by failing to notify him of his son’s actions, which constituted an emergency situation.

The Michael Minger Act is a Kentucky state law that requires public and private colleges and universities licensed by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) to report crimes on campus to campus employees, students, and the public in a timely manner. It was proposed by Gail Minger, whose 19-year-old son Michael was killed in an arson fire at Murray State University in 1998. Information about an earlier arson fire in Minger’s residence hall was not disclosed to students and their parents. The Michael Minger Act was ratified in 2000, and additional provisions dealing with student housing fire safety were passed in 2004. This legislation also requires a crime log to be made available to the public online; this log must record incidents that are known to the police and school officials on campus, as well as make special reports in the instances of ongoing threat to the safety of students and employees. Colleges and universities are also required to submit crime statistics to the CPE annually.

Violence and crimes on college and university campuses are serious problems in the United States, which have prompted implementation of a variety of policies and programs to deter violence on campus. In conjunction with these policies and programs, students, employees, school officials, and law enforcement must adopt a joint collaborative effort to protect students and ensure a safe and secure campus.

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  5. U.S. Department of Education (2002). Integrated postsecondary education data system (IPEDS) enrollment survey, spring 2002. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2003168