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Clery Act Has Prompted Positive Changes in Campus Public Safety

Since colleges first published annual security reports 25 years ago, the Clery Act has been the driving force to protect victims and make campuses safer.

Clery Act Has Prompted Positive Changes in Campus Public Safety

The Clery Act was enacted in 1990 following the murder of Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery in 1986.

U.S. institutions of higher education published their first annual security reports (ASRs) under the Jeanne Clery Act, originally the Campus Security Act, 25 years ago this fall.

Since then, the campus public safety world has grown profoundly. While the Clery Act is best known for its consumer information disclosures of campus crime statistics and security policy summaries, the law has been an integral part of an ever-evolving campus safety landscape.

For much of the law’s first two decades, the primary focus was on campus police and security departments. To this day, they often are responsible for producing ASRs.

Coinciding with the Clery Act’s implementation and increased public focus on the issue of campus crime, the campus public safety sector has evolved significantly. Notably, it has become better resourced and has developed as a more widely recognized career path.

Here’s how the Clery Act has changed and grown since its inception, as well as its positive impact on college and university safety and security.

Disclosure Requirements Expand over the Years

Although the timely warning requirement has been a part of the Clery Act since it was first enacted in 1990, ongoing disclosures have become a larger part of the law as it has evolved.

Ongoing disclosures now also include a public daily crime log, added in 1998 along with the law formally being named in memory of Jeanne Clery. Emergency notifications were added in 2008, making the Clery Act a regular, often daily part of campus life.

Timely warnings were initially proposed to “deal with specific areas of danger which may arise from time to time and which are reported to campus security,” testified Frank Carrington, counsel to Security On Campus (SOC) and a noted victims’ rights attorney, in a 1990 written statement to Congress. (It should be noted that SOC’s name was recently changed to the Clery Center.)

The House Education and Labor Committee subsequently stated in a report “that members of the campus community need to be made aware of a crime committed on campus as soon as reasonably possible after the occurrence of the crime. The timely notification of students, faculty, and employees will alert individuals to the potential that subsequent similar crimes could occur and will permit them to better protect themselves. Institutions are encouraged to provide such notification through all forms of campus media.”

Following the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, in which 32 innocent students and faculty were killed and numerous others wounded, the families of the victims and survivors joined together as the Virginia Tech Victims Family (VTV) organization. VTV with SOC petitioned Congress to enhance the existing timely warning requirement.

As a result, in 2008 Congress added the emergency notification requirement to the Clery Act as part of a new emergency policy disclosure. Under this requirement, institutions must “immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or staff occurring on the campus.”

The requirement primarily went beyond timely warnings by taking an all-hazards approach. Both timely warnings and emergency notifications have evolved to be a part of what campus communities expect.

The recognized potential for an emergency to happen on campus has resulted in the development of mass notification systems, the most popular being email, text messaging, websites, phone calls and voicemails, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to Ara Bagdasarian, CEO and co-founder of Omnilert, a provider of emergency notification and critical communication solutions, the Clery Act impacted campus culture about the real value of emergency notifications and timely warnings.

“Campuses now embrace the mandated responsibilities of keeping their students and employees safe from threats to their health and safety,” he says. “The Clery Act established the framework to start this continued evolution.”

Clery Act Also Focuses on Sexual Violence Reporting

While the Clery Act is best known for crime statistics and other campus safety related disclosures, it has also long been associated with campus sexual violence.

After campus safety became a part of the national dialogue, it didn’t take long for SOC to begin receiving reports and requests for help from survivors of campus community sexual violence.

As a result, the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights was proposed in 1991 and was enacted in 1992 with strong bi-partisan support as the first substantive amendment to the then Campus Security Act. This measure established the first federal requirements for preventing and responding to sexual assault in campus communities.

“The campus security bill was aimed at protecting them from injury, but that bill can’t help a date rape victim,” Carrington said in 1991 of the proposal. “So, we came up with an idea, after discussion with Howard and Connie [Clery], that we would mandate specific treatment with dignity and compassion of victims.”

After an extensive investigation by the Center for Public Integrity in 2009 and 2010 documenting gaps in how both colleges and universities, as well as the U.S. Department of Education, were protecting campus sexual assault survivors, SOC proposed a set of initiatives to bridge these gaps. This would eventually become the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, or “Campus SaVE Act.”

It would be enacted as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA). This measure significantly expanded the existing requirements, among other things extending them to dating violence, domestic violence and stalking, in addition to sexual assault.

“What we just created is an even more powerful tool than Title IX,” Laura L. Dunn, Esq., Executive Director of the not-for-profit SurvJustice, which provides legal assistance to the survivors of campus sexual violence, told the Yale Daily News in 2014. “It’s really outlined for schools [in the new rules] what the standard is. You can’t just do some token effort.”

These efforts formed the foundation for a significantly increased focus on sexual violence both by higher education and the public that began around 2011 and continues to this day.

Compliance Is a Shared Responsibility

A conflux of events about 10 years ago, much of it focused around the Clery Act, began to broaden responsibilities for campus safety. SOC began offering multi-disciplinary Clery Act training seminars geared towards teams from colleges and universities. Also, several high-profile Clery Act cases — including Virginia Tech, Eastern Michigan University and Penn State — brought the importance of compliance being an institutional responsibility into the public debate.

Additionally, Congress began considering broader updates to the Clery Act and the establishment of a National Center for Campus Public Safety, which was funded in 2013 after calls from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, the VTV Family Outreach Foundation and SOC.

“You saw the silo issue really come to the forefront after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting,” Peter Lake, law professor and Charles A. Dana chair and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law recently told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “We realized people weren’t cross-talking to each other. I think a lot of higher education was deliberately built in silos. I think it’s a willful business strategy that was functional in one era and not anymore.”

The enactment of the VAWA amendments in 2013 also marked a significant broadening of the Clery Act into areas traditionally addressed by student affairs professionals.

“The effect of the Clery Act and the VAWA amendment has been to elevate the work [that] practitioners have been doing on some campuses for 30 years,” says Jill Dunlap, Ph.D., director of Equity, Inclusion & Violence Prevention, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Other notable individuals in higher education also recognize the Clery Act’s importance.

“The Clery Act has been instrumental in helping to break down the barriers that inhibit cooperation and collaboration,” says Steven J. Healy, co-founder and managing partner of Margolis Healy & Associates, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in safety, security and regulatory compliance. “Today, more than ever, administrators across campus acknowledge and understand the interconnected nature of campus safety and security, and are working together like no time in the past.”

Clery Act Has Prompted Positive Change

For 25 years, the Jeanne Clery Act has been at the forefront of a national dialogue on campus and a driver of improvements made across the board. Because of this law, campus public safety is better resourced and safety communications are significantly faster and more transparent.

While sexual violence and alcohol/drug abuse remain challenges, significant progress has been made. Many crimes have been reduced across the board, and silos have been broken down among higher education professionals working on campus safety issues, better empowering them to reach solutions.

Much work remains to be done, but we stand in a far better place than we did 25 years ago due to the legacy of Jeanne Clery.


S. Daniel Carter, President of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, LLC., has been at the forefront of advancing campus safety and victims’ rights for over 25 years.

Carter has served with Safe Campuses Now, Security On Campus, Inc., and the VTV Family Outreach Foundation’s 32 National Campus Safety Initiative.

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