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CSS not compliant with federal campus safety law

An aerial photo of the College of St. Scholastica. (file / News Tribune)

The U.S. Department of Education has found the College of St. Scholastica non- compliant with a federal campus safety law.

The department has released the findings of an investigation prompted by the complaint of a former St. Scholastica student, who alleged that the college mishandled her report of rape. Emilee Franklin, who graduated from St. Scholastica in 2016, filed complaints with the department's Clery Act Compliance Team and the Office for Civil Rights under the federal Title IX law last summer.

The Clery Act decision says that "certain areas of concern" were found that will "require refinements" to St. Scholastica's campus safety operations and Clery Act compliance program.

Franklin's report stemmed from a 2015 study abroad trip to Ireland. She said the college failed to quickly and appropriately respond to her report that she was sexually assaulted by a man not affiliated with the college, and then later "retaliated" against her for wanting to talk about what happened with other students traveling to Ireland.

On Monday, Franklin said she hopes the college takes the ruling seriously and makes the necessary changes.

"I want people to know it's OK to stand up and fight for yourself," she said. "The main point of the complaint was to help current and future students."

The News Tribune typically does not identify victims or alleged victims of sexual assault; in this case, Franklin has chosen to share her story.

A spokeswoman for the college declined to comment Monday. When the complaints were filed last fall, the college released a statement that included the following: "The College of St. Scholastica is committed to a healthy and productive educational environment for all of its students. The college takes very seriously its obligations in that regard, including its obligation to respond in a timely and appropriate manner to allegations of sexual assault."

Carly Mee, staff attorney with SurvJustice, a national nonprofit organization that works with survivors of campus sexual violence said that it was "admirable" for Franklin to do what she did, as she gains nothing from it.

The U.S. Department of Education's decision "sends a message to the school that people are watching," Mee said. "I do have hope that this outcome helps future students feel safer in the study abroad context knowing that their schools still have a responsibility to keep them safe and act properly."

The department did not make clear in its decision letter to Mee what areas the college was not compliant with and what steps it must now take.

The department wrote that the college will be monitored to ensure the law is followed, and will work with St. Scholastica to ensure future compliance. The Clery Act requires campuses to have certain safety policies and procedures.

The Office for Civil Rights Title IX investigation remains open. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational settings that receive federal funding. Franklin alleges her civil rights were violated because she wasn't supported by the college through her complaint.

Franklin's case is one of the first federal investigations involving study-abroad sexual assault reports that SurvJustice has been able to open, attorney Laura Dunn said last year, because students who attend study-abroad programs held at foreign institutions aren't protected by federal law. But St. Scholastica controls its own campus in Ireland.

Franklin has alleged that she told the college's violence intervention coordinator about the assault in late April 2015, and did not immediately receive information about preserving evidence, reporting to the police or finding resources. Having known about the rape kit earlier, she said, could have meant a different outcome in court.

She was given partial information in late May. A professor assisting Franklin reached out to Steve Lyons, vice president for student affairs and the college's Title IX coordinator, for help in talking with Irish authorities. He reached out to Franklin two months later, she has said.

Irish authorities said they wouldn't prosecute the accused rapist, prompting Franklin to want to warn future students to that campus. A meeting was scheduled the winter following the incident in Ireland, and then Franklin was barred from the meeting. Dunn also said that the college failed to "promptly" stop the accused rapist from accessing its Ireland campus. It did so in March of 2016.

"I felt like I was left alone in many ways," Franklin said. "For the longest time, no one from the school stepped up to help me. I felt like they were trying to hide it, even."