Shutdown cancels Office for Civil Rights visit

Though the Office for Civil Rights intended to visit Yale’s campus this week to discuss sexual misconduct, the government shutdown forced them to postpone their visit indefinitely.

The Office of Civil Rights, a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education, had planned to send representatives to Yale to follow up on a complaint against the University that was resolved in June 2012. The complaint, filed in March 2011 by a group of students and alumni, alleged that Yale had violated Title IX — a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in colleges and universities that receive federal funds — by not sufficiently responding to notice of sexual harassment. Though Yale has instituted several reforms in the past 18 months, OCR representatives had intended to speak with students about any concerns they had about Yale’s compliance with the 2012 voluntary resolution of the case. But the closure of the federal government this week has forced OCR to halt operations and postpone its visit.

“We are shut down [and] will have to postpone our trip,” Thomas Hibino, an OCR representative, said in a Tuesday email obtained by the News. “When the government is shut down, we’re prohibited from working.”

OCR had planned to meet with the University’s standing committee on sexual misconduct, as well as with several students who had expressed interest in scheduling in-person meetings after OCR sent an invitation to the Yale community in September.

University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler said the timing of the OCR visit “has no bearing” on the 2012 agreement between the University and OCR. The agreement called for the University to educate the Yale community about sexual misconduct and the resources available for students. As a result of OCR’s investigation, Yale has instituted several reforms, including the appointment of Spangler to the newly-created position of Title IX Coordinator, the creation of a University-wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and the institution of revamped training programs about sexual misconduct for all freshmen, leaders of student organizations and residential college masters and deans. The University also now releases biannual reports on the state of sexual misconduct at Yale.

The most recent report, released in July, incited widespread controversy because many believed the University had not sufficiently punished perpetrators of “nonconsensual sex.”

Of the six students found guilty of “nonconsensual sex” between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, only one was suspended and none were expelled, according to the report.

Over the summer, concerned students circulated petitions calling for the University to respond more strongly to incidents of sexual misconduct, and University President Peter Salovey addressed the complex nature of the issue in an Aug. 5 email to the Yale community.

“Yale’s standard of consent is extremely rigorous,” Salovey said in the email, adding that Yale requires clear and unambiguous consent at every stage of a sexual encounter. “But even with the involvement of an independent fact-finder, it is often difficult to ascertain the circumstances of a complaint beyond what the complainant and the respondent report.”

Despite Yale’s work over the last few years to address the problem of sexual misconduct at Yale, Salovey said there is still more to do.

Shelby Davis-Cooper ’14 said sexual misconduct is a divisive issue on campus.

“Some friends are very invested in campus sexual climate,” she said. “Others find the issue overwrought or a matter of political correctness.”

Still, she said, all students want to reduce the number of incidents of sexual misconduct.

Third parties like OCR help to hold Yale accountable, Davis-Cooper said, adding that she is “cautiously optimistic” about the progress Yale is making in improving its sexual climate.

Both freshmen interviewed said they think Yale is doing a reasonable job of clearly defining sexual misconduct and raising awareness on campus.

Alex Lee ’17 said Yale’s emphasis on teaching students about “enthusiastic consent” helps them internalize messages about what forms of sexual conduct are acceptable.

Students interviewed said they were largely unaware that the OCR visit had been postponed.

Sixty-one cases of sexual assault, harassment or other misconduct were brought to University officials between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year.

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