BALTIMORE — As freshmen descend on college campuses, they enter the “red zone” – a period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving during which they are most vulnerable to sexual assault.

This year is different, though. It is the first since the U.S. Department of Education released a list of colleges and universities under federal investigation for their handling of rape and sexual assault complaints, and many schools are making sexual assault awareness programs mandatory for incoming students.

The list, which includes 77 schools under investigation, was released in May. It represents one piece of a national conversation that gained unprecedented political momentum in April, when the newly minted White House Task Force to Prevent Students from Sexual Assault released its first report, alongside a website designed to advise colleges on how to combat rape on campus. Since then, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, has introduced a bill to require annual surveys of students, and require schools to staff confidential advisers on campus.

Oklahoma State University, which is on the list, announced last month that students who do not complete a new 40-minute online course on sexual assault awareness will be barred from registration. Vice President for Student Affairs Lee Bird said the school took the unusual step of asking to be under federal review.

“Sexual violence has been a huge topic for years, but the politics around it and trying to find remedies is what’s changed,” Bird said, adding that the school offers “hundreds” of alcohol, drug and sexual assault awareness programs throughout the year.

University of California at Berkeley, which is under investigation, has started two new mandatory programs. Freshmen and transfers must attend a sexual awareness program known as Bear Pact, as well as complete an online course, called Haven, about sexual assault, harassment and stalking.

Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, another school under federal investigation, also requires its freshmen to complete Haven.

The school adopted a policy in June requiring an independent investigation into sexual assault complaints, and calls for mandatory expulsion for convicted students.


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