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UM students drop calls for fee increase after university pledges review of sexual assault office

"I don't want to use the word 'threaten,' but we found a way to call attention to something that was needed."

Student leaders have dropped their demand that the University of Maryland, College Park raise fees to shore up the university's office of sexual misconduct after administrators pledged to hire staff and conduct a review of investigative procedures.

The Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct had drawn scrutiny after it was revealed that investigations of reports of sexual misconduct on campus took more than twice as long as recommended by the U.S. Department of Education.

"It's really a win for student activism," said senior Katherine Swanson, president of the student government. "I don't want to use the word 'threaten,' but we found a way to call attention to something that was needed."

The students, whose proposal gained national attention, agreed to drop their demand after negotiations over the weekend with university President Wallace Loh.

A University of Maryland spokeswoman said the university supported the students' efforts.

"We have the same goal: to properly fund the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct and ensure that the necessary resources are provided to execute the important work of this office," university spokeswoman Crystal Brown said in a statement.

The Student Government Association had called on administrators to raise student fees by $17 per semester to hire more staff and provide more training. The extra revenue would have doubled the office's budget by about $1 million annually.

"We were ready to go through with this fee," Swanson said. "Because President Loh stepped in at the 11th hour and said, 'Give me a chance,' now we don't have to."

The students acted after learning it took 140 days on average last year to investigate most reports of sexual assault. The federal Education Department recommends 60 days.

University administrators said they already had plans to hire three people for the office.

They said they would also review the office's procedures and implement recommendations from a new task force developing a sexual-assault prevention plan for the campus.

"This agreement should be seen as a victory for student-led advocacy," the administration said in a statement.

The 15-member executive cabinet of the Student Government Association voted Sunday to withdraw its request for the fee.

The students' actions "helped the administration see that they needed to prioritize" funding and staffing the office, said Daniel Swinton of the NCHERM Group, a campus research, law and consulting firm in Philadelphia.

One in five women are victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault while in college, the National Institute of Justice has reported.

Swanson said the fee proposal will return next semester if the administration fails to act.

"We're kind of giving them a chance to prove to us that this is a commitment," she said.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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