Yale under federal investigation for possible Title IX violations

UPDATED: April 2, 10:32 a.m. The University is under investigation by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stemming from an alleged mishandling of several instances of sexual misconduct in recent years.

The Office for Civil Rights will open an investigation into the University “for its failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus, in violation of Title IX” — which prohibits discrimination or exclusion from education programs — according to a press release by the complainants sent to the News Thursday afternoon. In an official statement sent to the News Friday afternoon, University spokesperson Tom Conroy said administrators had been verbally briefed by the Office for Civil about its inquiry. Later that evening, Yale College Dean Mary Miller alluded to University regulations and past responses to instances of sexual misconduct in an e-mail sent to members of the Yale community.

The investigation comes after 16 Yale students and alumni filed a formal complaint March 15 informing the Office for Civil Rights about Yale’s breach of Title IX by citing a slew of “inadequate response[s]” to public episodes of sexual misconduct on campus, such as the controversial Delta Kappa Epsilon chanting incident on Old Campus last fall.

“We have tried so many avenues,” complainant Hannah Zeavin ’12 told the News Thursday. “We exhausted every internal process [available at Yale].”

The complaint — filed by a group of 12 women and 4 men — also includes anonymous testimonies as evidence of Yale’s inappropriate management of private instances of sexual misconduct and assault.

As a result of these legal proceedings — which are not a lawsuit — Zeavin said the complainants will bring an outside mediator to the University to help Yale properly address the sexual misconduct that has plagued campus in past years. Over the next month, complainant Alexandra Brodsky ’12 explained, the Office for Civil Rights will perform what they call a “climate check” at Yale by holding interviews with the complainants, students, administrators and faculty. The Office would also facilitate talks between the complaint’s co-signatories and Yale officials.

Zeavin said she hopes the investigation finds that the University is out of compliance with Title IX, in order to allow “systemic change” and “equal access” to all women on campus. Should the Office for Civil Rights find that Yale is not in compliance, Yale can decide not to conform to the regulation, she added, but the institution could lose federal funding as a result.

One of the incidents she cited was the 2008 episode in which a group of Zeta Psi pledges were photographed outside the Women’s Center holding up a sign that read “We Love Yale Sluts.” She also cited the 2009 “Preseason Scouting Report,” an email circulated among several student panlists that ranked freshman women according to attractiveness, as well as personal instances of rape and sexual assault among students, as indications of a worsening sexual climate at Yale. The recent investigation into claims of sexual harassment at the Feb. 19 Pundits pre-tap party was not cited in the complaint due to an ongoing police investigation and lack of information at the time of its filing, Brodsky said.

Brodsky said other aspects of Yale’s response to these incidents have compelled the cosignatories to seek help from the federal government. Frustration mounted due to administrators’ sluggish reactions to campus-wide controversies and insufficient disciplinary action against perpetrators of sexual misconduct, she said. The idea of taking legal action against the University has existed since the Zeta Psi scandal, Zeavin said. After a group of DKE pledges chanted misogynist slogans such as “No means yes, yes means anal” on Old Campus in October, provoking campus outrage, the complainants began coordinating a response to what they called Yale’s insufficient efforts.

As of Friday evening, administrators had been notified about the investigation, but had yet to receive a physical copy of the complaint and know about its specific details.

“We have not yet received a copy of the complaint, and we therefore are not able to comment on it at this time,” Conroy said.

Dorothy Robinson, University vice president and general counsel, said she received a call from an investigator Thursday. While her office has not yet seen the complaint, she added, they plan to cooperate fully with the Office for Civil Rights.

“Yale takes extremely seriously all allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct,” she said.

Miller, who commissioned two task forces to investigate hazing and sexual misconduct on Yale’s campus in the wake of the DKE incident, said Thursday she could not comment since the full text of the complaint had not been made available yet. In her Friday email, Miller cited several measures taken by the University toward correcting sexual harrassment on campus.

For her own part, Miller added, while the issue of sexual misconduct affects all Yalies, it also holds a “special significance” to her, particularly in the context of her duties as dean of the College.

The Department of Education declined to comment on the investigation Thursday.

In a statement to the News Thursday night, the Yale Women’s Center — which led campus response to the DKE incident, as well as to several other instances of sexual misconduct in the past few years — said they hope the complaint will build on other efforts to address and prevent sexual misconduct on campus.

“These institutional and interpersonal efforts are ongoing and seek to shift campus culture toward one that is safe, just and affirming for all,” the statement said.

Women Faculty Forum steering committee member Connie Bagley said in an email early Friday morning that it is “important not to rush to judgment” as news of the investigation reaches campus since “this appears to be an investigation of student complaints, not an agency-initiated compliance review.” Still, Bagley said, Yale must do more to prevent sexual misconduct.

Provost Peter Salovey told the News Mar. 4 that philosophy professor Michael Della Rocca’s University Wide Committee on sexual misconduct, which Della Rocca hoped to be operational by spring semester, is near completion and that the delay in assembling the committee is to be expected.

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