Sex misconduct report spurs criticism of disciplinary procedures

Sixty-one complaints of sexual assault, harassment or other misconduct were brought to University officials between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to Yale’s fourth semi-annual report of sexual misconduct complaints.

The report, released Wednesday evening by University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, includes the largest number of complaints since the first was issued in 2011.

Four cases involving undergraduate allegations of nonconsensual sex that first appeared in earlier reports were updated in the new report to include the most recent disciplinary action taken by the University. All four cases were filed as formal complaints, involving a full investigation and an external fact-finder, with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. In each, the UWC found sufficient evidence that the perpetrator engaged in nonconsensual sexual activity with the complainant, according to the updates.

One of the four perpetrators was given a two-semester suspension and placed on probation for the remainder of his time at the University. A second was also placed on probation but was not suspended. And two were issued written reprimands, with one restricted from contacting the complainant.

In an email to the News, Spangler said she would not comment on individual cases to protect the privacy of those involved. She said the report cannot reflect the full circumstances of each case, and that it employs the term “non-consensual sex” rather than “rape” or more explicit language to allow the University to impose sanctions for behaviors that may not meet a criminal standard.

“[Cases] that appear similar in the report’s very general descriptions may vary quite substantially in terms of the specific circumstances and considerations,” Spangler said.

Spangler also said the University reports all complaints of sexual assault it receives to the Yale University Police Department, which has full powers of law enforcement and supports individuals who choose to pursue their complaints criminally.

UWC Chair and philosophy professor Michael Della Rocca declined to comment.

One new case brought by an undergraduate also involved an allegation of nonconsensual sex. Della Rocca and a Yale College administrator “counseled [the male respondent] on appropriate conduct,” according to the report, but because the case was filed as an informal complaint, no formal hearing was held and no determination as to the validity of the allegations was made.

The report has received criticism from members of the Yale community for demonstrating insufficient disciplinary consequences for perpetrators of sexual violence.

Alexandra Brodsky ’12 LAW ’16 said the light sanctions reflect an administrative tolerance for sexual violence. Brodsky is one of 16 students and alumni who filed a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in 2011 alleging the University had allowed a hostile sexual environment to persist.

“I don’t know the details of the case that concluded in suspension, but it strikes me as indicative of Yale’s approach to sexual violence that rapists face the same sanctions as their classmates who cheat on tests,” Brodsky said.

A petition on change.org calling for stronger administrative action, such as suspension and expulsion, in response to sexual misconduct has collected over 370 signatures since it was posted on Friday by Emma Goldberg ’16, a former staff reporter for the News. Goldberg said she wanted to extend the energy of the conversations the report had incited on Facebook and among her peers to concrete action.

Hannah Slater ’13 SPH ’14, former co-director of the Sexual Literacy Forum, a student group which fosters dialogue about sexuality on campus, said she would support a system in which the preferred disciplinary action for sexual assault is expulsion.

“A survivor should never have to endure seeing their perpetrator around campus, so perpetrators of sexual assault must, at the very least, be suspended for the entire time the survivor is enrolled,” Slater said.

Emily Hong ’14, a former Communication and Consent Educator, said she hopes students will be as active in voicing support for Yale’s ongoing reforms of sexual violence prevention programs as they have been in scrutinizing the University’s disciplinary sanctions.

“It’s hard not to have a visceral reaction when you read that students at our school have committed sexual violence against other students, even more so when they are allowed to remain on campus or receive seemingly trivial penalizations,” Hong said in an email she sent to friends in the Yale community. “However… [it’s] important to recognize that both students and administrators at Yale are actively working together to broaden intolerance and activism around sexual violence.”

The University said in a Friday statement that Yale is the only school that issues such a report, “as far as we know.” The semi-annual report includes complaints addressed through all University avenues. In the most recent report, Title IX Coordinators handled 30 complaints, while the Yale Police Department handled 22 and the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, nine.

In addition to the 61 new complaints, the report also includes 18 updates to earlier cases.

One of those previously reported cases involved a complaint from graduate and professional students that a male faculty member engaged in a personal relationship with a female faculty member that created a hostile environment. An update to the case states that a Title IX coordinator brought a formal complaint against the faculty members, and that “the UWC did not find sufficient evidence to support the allegations of sexual misconduct but did identify other problematic conduct.”

“Disciplinary steps were taken and structures were put in place to address the academic environment,” according to the report.

When the last semi-annual report was released in January, Deputy Title IX Coordinator and Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister confirmed that a case involving Egyptology professor John Darnell appeared in it. Darnell resigned as chair of the Department of Near East Languages and Civilizations and agreed to a one-year suspension of the Yale faculty in January after violating University policy when he engaged in a relationship with Egyptology professor Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05.

Spangler declined to comment on whether the most recent report included an update to the previously reported case involving Darnell.

Eight new cases in the most recent report involved allegations of sexual assault, which includes unwanted sexual contact or touching and rape. Thirty-three cases pertained to sexual harassment, such as inappropriate comments, threatening and unwanted sexual advances.

Correction: Aug. 14

A previous version of this article misidentified Hannah Slater ’13 SPH ’14 as a co-director of the Sexual Literacy Forum, when in fact she is a former co-director. 

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