Days after the federal government opened an investigation into the University for possibly violating Title IX, most students and officials are still in the dark about what the probe means for Yale.
On Friday, University administrators broke the silence they maintained in the 24 hours after a group of 16 student and alumni complainants announced the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigation into whether Yale allowed a hostile sexual climate to persist. Such action may have violated Title IX, which requires educational institutions to provide equal opportunity to women and men and prohibits gender discrimination. Still, their comments were limited to public acknowledgements of the investigation and a review of the University’s efforts to promote a safe environment.
University spokesman Tom Conroy said in an official statement Friday that administrators had been verbally briefed by the Office for Civil Rights about its investigation.
“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, adding that Yale officials plan to respond and cooperate with the investigation.
A day after Yale administrators were notified about the investigation, Yale College Dean Mary Miller echoed Conroy’s statement in an e-mail sent to the Yale community Friday. She also cited several committees, reports and other measures taken by the University toward correcting sexual misconduct on campus in the past three years.
“Yale is notable, in fact, for the extraordinary number and range of initiatives, programs of study, working groups, faculty and student organizations, and administrative offices devoted to the advancement of women and women’s issues,” she said.
When “questionable incidents” have occurred, Miller added, the University has used its available resources to determine suitable responses and disciplinary action where warranted.
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But cosignatories of the complaint interviewed strongly disagreed with Miller’s assertion that Yale “does not and will not tolerate sexual harassment.”
Complainant Hannah Zeavin ’12 said she is pleased with the University’s intention to cooperate with the Office for Civil Rights’ investigation, but added that she does not think Yale holds a no-tolerance stance toward sexual misconduct as it claims.
“It’s not a zero-tolerance policy, but a tolerance policy,” Zeavin said.
Moreover, the existence of the committees and groups Miller referenced — as well as existing disciplinary bodies — have not provided much help to students, said complainant Alexandra Brodsky ’12.
The idea of pursuing a Title IX complaint originated one month after a group of Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges chanted misogynist slogans such as “No means yes, yes means anal” on Old Campus in October, Zeavin said. She referred the DKE episode as “the last straw” in a long chain of public and private instances of sexual misconduct in recent years.
The group was inspired by Alexander v. Yale, Zeavin said, the landmark 1980 lawsuit which resulted in the establishment of sexual harassment grievance procedures on college campuses — but the complainants did not want to take their case to open court.
Brodsky said the group of complainants sought advice from various sources, including a Title IX lawyer, after more students and alumni joined the effort.
“The feeling was this conviction that we needed some help from outside,” Brodsky said. “The source that we were appealing to was the source of the problem as well. It’s really easy for Yale to ignore us.”
Ten of 16 students interviewed said they did not believe the Title IX complaint was warranted. Beyond the 16 interviewed, five students refused to comment because they said they were not adequately informed of the motives behind the complaint.
“I hope Yale is not allowing the actions of a few disgusting individuals to dictate how the campus feels [about the sexual climate],” said Sarah Landers ’11, who does not support the complaint.
Alexander Caron ’13 said he hopes the complainants’ efforts set a precedent for addressing the nation-wide problem of sexual harassment on colleges campuses.
Still, others said they don’t consider Yale to be as hostile as the complaint suggests.
“I personally haven’t had any problems with sexual harassment at Yale,” said Sophia Babai ’14. “That’s the kind of thing [where] you need one or two people to be affected for it to be a problem.”
Zeavin acknowledged that the complaint never states that sexual assault or harassment is a reality for every Yale student. Additionally, Brodsky said the complaint is also not an attempt to deprive Yale of its federal funding.
Zeavin said she has received around 100 emails expressing support for the complaint, including messages from many alumni detailing instances in which Yale failed to protect them from sexual misconduct.
“I can’t help but think that the complaint has given them a voice,” Zeavin said. ”And I can’t help but think that the complaint was the right choice.”
Both Zeavin and Brodsky said they were reassured by the Office for Civil Rights’ decision to open an investigation based on their complaint, since only one-third of all complaints filed with the office are investigated.
In the next month, investigators from the Office for Civil Rights will perform a “climate check” at Yale, collecting student testimony and mediating conversations between the complainants and University administrators.