Yale was not the only university to face a Title IX complaint in the last academic year, and it is not the only one revising its sexual misconduct policies.
As of this spring, Yale, Princeton University, Duke University, Harvard Law School and the University of Virginia were all under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for alleged violations of federal Title IX regulations. Complaints filed against the schools accused them of using inappropriately high standards of evidence to prove sexual misconduct and of failing to resolve sexual misconduct cases promptly. These universities, including Yale, are now changing their sexual misconduct policies — but Title IX experts said some are adjusting more quickly than others.
On April 4, the Office for Civil Rights sent a 19-page “Dear Colleague” letter to schools and universities across the country that clarified and updated Title IX expectations. Administrators at the schools under investigation said the letter prompted them to review their policies to ensure they complied with the regulations.
“We’ve worked hard to amplify the definitions of sexual misconduct to conform with [the new guidelines],” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, adding that the University aimed to send a “single, congruent” message about it will handle cases of sexual misconduct.
The new definitions were among extensive changes to the Undergraduate Regulations announced Tuesday, many of which were in the works before the “Dear Colleague” letter was released. Yale’s new definition states that sexual misconduct encompasses sexually harassing speech and online communication, as well as nonconsensual sexual contact.
The “Dear Colleague” letter also spurred other universities to alter the wording of their sexual misconduct policies: Princeton and UVA have both expanded or clarified their definitions of sexual misconduct and sexual consent in the past few months.
“Language is important because you want everybody to be on the same page,” said Melissa Lucchesi, outreach education coordinator for Security on Campus, Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to prevent campus violence. “If you have people from one office thinking one thing, and students thinking another thing, it’s not going to make for a smooth or effective or fair process.”
But both Lucchesi and Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law in Boston who helped file grievances against Harvard Law, UVA and Princeton, said changing definitions is just the start of Title IX compliance.
While Yale and UVA have made extensive additional changes — Yale created a new University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct to handle all sexual misconduct complaints and instituted mandatory sexual misconduct prevention training for student organizations — Princeton’s revisions are so far limited to definitions, The Daily Princetonian reported.
Murphy said Princeton’s changes are “not remotely close to sufficient to comply with Title IX,” pointing out that they do not take steps to resolve sexual misconduct cases more quickly.
“The critical concerns I raised [in complaints filed against Princeton and Harvard Law] don’t have nearly as much to do with definitions of sexual assault as much as the promptness with which complaints are resolved,” Murphy said.
Sarah Marston, public information officer at Harvard Law School, declined to comment on whether the law school has changed its policies.
In what Lucchesi and Murphy called one of the most important component of the new guidelines, the “Dear Colleague” letter said that universities must adopt a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for proof of sexual misconduct, which means that an accused party is found guilty if 51 percent or more of the evidence is against them. Yale, UVA and Duke have already altered their regulations to meet this requirement, and the “preponderance of the evidence” standard represents a lower standard of proof that the universities previously required, student newspapers at the schools reported.
Murphy added that Princeton and Harvard Law have not yet changed their standard of proof.
At Duke, administrators have revised procedures for handling cases of sexual misconduct in an additional way: complainants can now appeal outcomes of hearings, a right that was only granted to accused persons in the past, said Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct at Duke.
Title IX passed into law in 1972, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex at all educational institutions receiving federal funding.