By Jaimie Woo, 2012 Summer Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
As a student who works at the Duke University Women’s Center, I know firsthand how essential its resources are for students on campus. So I understand why, after an October 2010 incident when fraternity pledges chanted sexually obscene comments in front of Yale University’s women’s center, 16 students and alumni filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education.
In response to the complaints, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened a Title IX investigation into Yale’s alleged sexually hostile environment. Title IX is a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity. The university is subject to the requirements of Title IX because it is a recipient of Federal financial assistance.
Students argued that Yale failed to respond to incidences of harassment in a “prompt and equitable manner” and that the university’s reporting processes were inadequate. After 15 months of close investigation, OCR concluded that Yale had no violation issues. Despite being in compliance with the law, the university nevertheless sought to work with OCR in creating a resolution agreement to map out a plan for improved procedures, training, and administrative roles. Yale formed the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC), which is an accessible, representative, and trained body to address informal and formal complaints of sexual misconduct under Title IX. Both the university and OCR also agreed that the school shall conduct periodic assessments of the campus’s efforts and successes, and coordinate compliance and education efforts through the newly appointed Title IX adviser.
By enhancing its sexual misconduct policies, creating administrative positions to streamline reporting processes, and concentrating on counseling and prevention resources, Yale demonstrates its cooperation with OCR and commitment to its students. However, university President Richard Levin maintains, “Our work is by no means done,” explaining that sexual misconduct is inimical to Yale’s values and will not be tolerated.
Even with substantial improvements in education and policy efforts, students remain insistent on further reform.
“Given Yale’s history of discouraging students from filing formal disciplinary complaints, Yale must make stronger efforts to inform students of all the options available to victims of sexual assault,” Hannah Zeavin, a student who filed an original complaint, said in a press release.
Zeavin also shed light on Yale’s lack of sufficient peer support for victims, and urged Levin to convey the sexual misconduct policy to students during freshman orientation.
On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, Yale’s administration and faculty no doubt felt the pressure and responsibility to uphold its standards and ensure a safe community for its students in New Haven, Conn. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recognized the OCR’s efforts, calling the resolution agreement a Title IX birthday present. However, the “real present,” said NWLC, remains whether or not Yale “undergoes real and permanent change.”