Not Off That Easy: Government Responds to University Inaction on Sexual Assaults

Yale is no stranger to Title IX controversies. In 1976, Women’s Crew accused the university of unequally funding its athletic team. One year later, a Title IX suit was brought against the university after four female undergraduates and one male assistant professor alleged that quid pro quo sexual harassment by male professors prohibited women from receiving access to the same quality education as men.  As a response, Yale created the Grievance Board for Student Complaints of Sexual Harassment; before this watershed case, no official body on Yale’s campus dealt with such issues.

While the creation of the Grievance Board might have superficially scaled back sexual harassment on campus, events in the past decade have illuminated the problem again. In 2005, Yale fraternity members stole T-shirts from the Clothesline Project, a program started on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, which serves as “a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions by decorating a shirt.” Three years later, Zeta Psi fraternity members were photographed outside the campus Women’s Center holding a sign with a misogynistic epithet.

Then in October 2010, during a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity initiation, members shouted a harassing chant that encouraged rape behavior in front of an all female dormitory. On March 15, a formal Title IX complaint was filed against the university on the grounds that such behavior creates a hostile environment for female students. And on March 31, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced it would be investigating Yale’s handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases.

Yale has a history of being tight-lipped about sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations that arise on its prestigious New Haven, Conn. campus. Criticized for handling such claims “quietly and internally [with a] tendency to shy away from disciplining the perpetrators,” Yale failed to suspend or expel the DKE fraternity men who participated in the misogynistic chants, stating that because the victims failed to move forward with charges, the university would take no further action.

Not surprisingly, this decision on the part of the university was not acceptable to many, thus the pending suit against Yale brought by 16 complainants. The underlying motivation for the suit is not any particular monetary compensation, but rather change on the campus. The plaintiffs hope to “fundamentally overhaul” how Yale deals with sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations, ensuring that perpetrators are properly penalized for such atrocious acts. As the Yale Herald asked: If students are expelled for plagiarism, shouldn’t students also be promptly removed for harassment, assault, or rape?

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