Lewis: Title IX resonates beyond Yale’s walls

The decision by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate Yale in response to a Title IX complaint written by 16 students and alumni marks what will hopefully be a turning point not only for Yale, but for universities across the nation. With an estimated 20 percent of women likely to be victims of sexual assault while in college, the way universities across the nation deal with issues of sexual assault, rape and public acts of misogyny has to change.

On Monday, just four days after the complaint was made public and started to circulate on national media sources, Vice President Biden spoke in front of students at the University of New Hampshire against sexual assault and the university policies that make it difficult and sometimes impossible to combat. “Rape is rape is rape, and the sooner universities make that clear, the sooner we’ll begin to make progress on campuses,” Biden said. His message was clear: Colleges aren’t doing enough to change the university atmosphere that makes people think that rape is not rape if the girl was drunk or she knew her attacker or the physical evidence is long gone.

A report compiled by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) found that universities rarely expel men who are found guilty of sexual assault: In cases at 130 schools that applied for federal grants to better deal with assault, only about 10 to 25 percent of men found guilty were expelled.

This startling statistic can be explained, but not excused. Universities are hampered by limited resources and time when dealing with sexual assault cases. Professors with classes to teach, papers to grade and office hours to hold who are often ill-equipped and untrained are assigned to be “fact finders” on sexual assault cases. Without the resources to test physical evidence, these cases often dissolve into bitter “he said, she said” debates. Even if the victim has gone to the police, few prosecutors are willing to take cases with few or no witnesses, limited physical evidence and attackers who claim the sex was consensual.

Worse still, the government bodies that are supposed to monitor our colleges have been noticeably silent on this issue. According to the report done by the CPI, colleges are legally obligated to report crimes on campus. However, over a period of 20 years only six colleges have been found in violation. The DOE can also rule that universities are in violation of laws that protect women from discrimination. Out of 24 complaints between 1998 and 2008, only five resulted in guilty findings.

News of the federal investigation has thrown Yale once again into the national spotlight, but it is certainly not the only school where sexual assault, or the management of assault, is an issue. Students at Princeton, Dickinson, American, Dartmouth and many others have taken issue with their universities’ policies on sexual assault. At Dickinson, students protested the way the university manages sexual assault two years ago. After seeing no change, they protested again last month, this time with more students and clearer goals. Students at American University protested just this week when their president refused to sign off on a proposal for a grant that would give the school $300,000 to create programs that would help prevent and deal with cases of sexual assault.

Yet, there is hope for these universities and there is hope for victims of rape. Hopefully Biden’s clearer guidelines for what Title IX actually requires of universities will encourage disciplinary bodies to change how they deal with cases of sexual assault. If universities are found guilty of violating these laws, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will hopefully hold them more accountable. Russlynn Ali, who was appointed assistant secretary of civil rights in 2009, has said that the office will use all of the considerable resources at its disposal, including withholding federal funds, to ensure that women on college campuses are safe from sexual violence.

The federal investigation of Yale’s sexual climate will hopefully send a message to all universities and university students that rape will no longer be tolerated or excused. Even if the woman knew her attacker, even if the details are hazy, even if she had sex with him before: rape is rape is rape.

Miranda Lewis is a junior in Branford College.


  • BrightSide2013

    Great article. I hate that the main focus of media coverage on this issue has been about the DKE shouting incident and the Preason Scouting report. While those were terrible events, I don’t think they make the Yale campus hostile. I think most Yalies are against the OCR complaint because they think that these aren’t important events. I think most people agree that this is. Whenever I tell someone that raped victims aren’t told to notify the New Haven police or mention that there are people at Yale that haven’t been expelled for committed sexual assault, they’re horrified. This is a problem at so many schools. There were Lifetime movies about it in the 1990s. It’s sad that it hasn’t changed. I think the people that complained have to keep making it clear that THIS is their main focus.

  • CTreader

    Interesting opinion article in Dartmouth’s newspaper today http://thedartmouth.com/2011/04/06/opinion/woods

  • The Anti-Yale

    I live near Dartmouth. I am told that contractors working for the College are instructed that their workers will lose their jobs if they stare at undergraduates for more than X number of seconds, i.e. that staring one second under that limit is OK but one second over that limit is sexual harassment.

    Whether or not this is true is irerelevant;the fact that it is the accepted folk-lore around here reveals something foreboding about our litigious world. It may also reveal something about Yale’s future.

  • Branford73

    The new DOE guidelines announced by Biden, and reported by YDN, will likely be the turning point for colleges whose procedures do not already incorporate them and not this new Title IX complaint. It would be interesting to know to what extent Yale’s procedures already comply with those guidelines.

    The CPI report to which Lewis refers is a very interesting read. http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/campus_assault/articles/entry/1945/ A lack of specificity of what is meant by sexual assault blunts the significance of the stats, but the report is an excellent description of the difficulty of many of these cases and how and why the results of college grievance procedures in sexual assault cases so often disappoint victims’ expectations and those of their advocates and supporters.

    From the Center for Public Integrity report linked above:

    > “As much as 75 to 90 percent of total
    > disciplinary actions doled out by
    > schools . . . amounted to minor
    > sanctions, although it’s unclear from
    > the data what the nature of the
    > ‘sexual assault’ offenses were. Among
    > those modest sanctions: reprimands,
    > counseling, suspensions, and community
    > service. The most common sanctioning
    > reflected what the data calls ‘other’
    > restrictions — alcohol treatment, for
    > example, or social probation. . . . .
    > Administrators note that they
    > sometimes issue multiple sanctions
    > [such as] a no-contact order, a
    > housing ban, and classes on sexual
    > consent. By contrast, the database
    > shows that colleges rarely expel
    > culpable students in these cases . . .
    > .”