By SAMUEL HUBER
March 31, 2011
Today the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened an investigation into Yale University under Title IX in response to a complaint of a hostile sexual environment on the college’s campus. The complaint, filed on March 15 by a group of Yale students and recent graduates, asked the OCR to investigate the school’s administration and policies concerning sexual assault and harassment. The group includes fourteen public and two anonymous signatories of both genders, including Broad Recognition Managing Editor Hannah Zeavin, Associate Editor Alexandra Brodsky, and Founding Editor Presca Ahn. Zeavin, Brodsky, and Ahn are the only three members of the group commenting publicly on the investigation. Of the complaint’s aims, Brodsky said, “I am confident that this will serve as a reality check to Yale that their self-serving strategies of keeping controversy quiet while shielding perpetrators from the repercussions of their actions is not fair or sustainable; this pattern simply will not be allowed to continue.”
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ensure gender equity in federally funded education programs, stating that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (Title 20 U.S.C. Section 1681 (a)). Any such program may be denied future federal assistance if deemed noncompliant with the law, provided it is first given the opportunity to amend its policies accordingly (Title 20 U.S.C. Section 1682). If Yale is found by the OCR to be in violation of Title IX, the university must bring itself into compliance or risk losing all federal funding.
The thirty-page complaint details Yale’s discriminatory atmosphere and insufficient reactions in recent years to events both private and public. (Because the document itself has not been disclosed, all information of its contents comes from a press release issued by the group.) Among the incidents mentioned in the document are the 2005 theft by fraternity members of “Take Back the Night” T-shirts and the fall 2009 “Preseason Scouting Report” email rating the attractiveness of freshman women. Also included in the complaint are personal testimonies from both men and women about Yale’s failure to adequately respond to more private instances of assault, harassment, and stalking.
The complaint to OCR, which Zeavin said has been in development since November, comes in the wake of an incident last October in which Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges chanted violent and misogynistic slogans such as “No means yes, yes means anal” outside freshman dormitories as part of the fall rush process. As Yale began formulating its slow and tepid response to the DKE incident, various students began investigating what legal action they might take against the university. Yale’s efforts culminated in the recent distribution by Mary Miller, Dean of Yale College, of the Report of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention, which called for greater student education on sexual consent and assault and the development of clinical services for students accused of sexual misconduct; the students’ efforts culminated in the OCR complaint.
For the students behind the document, Yale’s conservative reaction to the DKE incident is both representative and symptomatic of a more general and deep-seated institutional failure. “The broad category [Yale] most needs to improve in is in providing prompt and appropriate disciplinary responses to both public and private acts of sexual harassment and assault. This would entail, among other reforms, an improvement in reporting structures that allow victims of sexual misconduct to receive adequate counseling that leaves all options, including legal action, open rather than the current opaque system that serves primarily to protect accused students,” said Brodsky. Both Brodsky and Zeavin noted that the idea of taking legal action against Yale has been raised repeatedly over the past few years, the DKE episode being only the latest in a long history of frustratingly mismanaged incidents of sexual inequity or assault on campus.
The nature and scope of change to result from the investigation remains to be seen, but in the interim, Zeavin explained, “one of two things can happen: either we can start working with Yale through OCR so that no complete investigation takes place, or OCR can do a ‘climate check,’ visiting the university and conducting interviews using our complaint as a guideline for investigating certain offices and protocols more specifically.”
If OCR finds Yale to be noncompliant with Title IX, the university will be required to institute broad and substantive reforms if it hopes to keep receiving federal funding. The threat is a serious one, but Brodsky insisted on the constructive aims of the complaint, saying, “[Defunding the university] clearly isn’t our goal; we aren’t looking to punish Yale for past actions, but the failure of previous efforts shows that we need outside support to instigate change.”
Samuel Huber is a sophomore at Yale College. He is a staff writer for Broad Recognition.