This story has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on Wednesday, April 22.
The Yale College Council and Yale Women’s Center released a joint report Tuesday afternoon on the state of sexual misconduct policies and procedures at Yale. The report included the responses of the University Title IX Steering Committee to the report’s recommendations.
The report’s findings are based on responses to a survey distributed to Yale College in January, and it summarized the feedback of 75 undergraduates regarding Yale’s sexual misconduct reporting mechanisms and support services. Student responses, the report said, revealed that undergraduates are misinformed about the University’s policies and often feel a lack of guidance while navigating the complaint process.
After reviewing students’ responses, the study’s authors developed a series of proposals for reform that they then presented to the Title IX Steering Committee, a group of administrators that advises University Title IX coordinators on effective ways of combating sexual misconduct. Of the report’s 14 recommendations, the steering committee accepted 11 as in progress or nearly completed. The remaining three are still under discussion.
“Unlike previous reports, this report is unique because it not only contains recommendations, but also commitments from relevant administrators,” the report said. “It outlines action steps that will be taken to implement the proposals that arose from our findings, along with deadlines for their completion. By forming a strong collaboration between students and administrators, we were able to determine feasible proposals and achieve concrete results.”
Among the most significant of the steering committee’s promised changes were an increase in resources devoted to the Title IX Office and University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, a redesign of Yale’s Sexual Misconduct Response website, an expansion of freshman orientation programming about sexual misconduct and the creation of a pool of advisers that will be available to complainants and respondents alike.
The report concluded that the number of students — even those who had been through the system — who were misinformed about University policies was “concerningly high.” Over 25 percent of respondents mentioned confusion, the report said, and 31 percent of responses contained some degree of inaccurate information.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised [by the findings], but I would say that it reinforced some suspicions we had before, which was just that this is a complicated issue with a lot of moving parts,” said Elizabeth Villarreal ’16, one of the report’s authors and former head coordinator for the Women’s Center.
The steering committee noted that it has already secured additional time in this fall’s freshman orientation schedule for additional programming on the system and available resources. Additionally, the current information on Yale’s Sexual Misconduct Response website, which lists avenues for potential complainants, will be transferred to a more user-friendly platform with the help of an external consultant.
Other grievances highlighted in the report include barriers to reporting and the long and potentially confusing complaint process. Some students said in the report that they were deterred from reporting by social stigma and the seemingly long timelines for resolution. Students also raised concerns about a lack of diversity in the UWC’s membership and a dearth of adequate advising resources during the complaint process.
In response, the steering committee committed to clarifying UWC procedures so that communicate that there is “flexibility within the complaint timeline” due to possible scheduling conflicts. The committee will also utilize an expanded budget next year to hire more staff for the Title IX office and UWC. In the past year, a UWC secretary position and project manager position have already been added “in response to the significant increase in the number of formal UWC cases,” the report said.
Students also expressed concern that advising resources for complainants and respondents are uneven: Complainants have access to trained advisors at the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center, the report said, while respondents normally have to rely on their residential college deans, who could also turn them away. As a solution, by this fall, the steering committee will create a pool of trained advisers that are available to either party.
Other proposals had less concrete responses and resolutions. Some respondents suggested that sexual misconduct cases be left to law enforcement because University disciplinary outcomes were too severe; subsequently, the authors recommended that the UWC better promote and communicate its informal complaint process. The existence of two informal processes — via the UWC or the Title IX coordinators — has the potential to create confusion, the report said, recommending that administrators consider eliminating the UWC route. The steering committee responded that it would explore the possibility.
Villarreal said she was not concerned that the response rates to the survey were relatively low. Because the survey questions were free-response, the authors were most interested in receiving thoughtful responses — and the students who did respond provided constructive suggestions, she said. Additionally, a wide range of students were represented, she said, including complainants, respondents and students who had no experience with the system, and they expressed a diversity of opinions.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd said that even individual or idiosyncratic experiences can provide valuable insight into University processes.
“[This survey] has … provided all of us who are involved in developing and stewarding Yale’s Title IX programs with direction regarding the areas where we should expand our communication and education efforts,” University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler wrote in an email. “[This] direction comes at a good time, as we have been engaging our student advisory boards and other community stakeholders in discussions about the ways we convey information about our programs, and we have plans to retain outside expertise in a focused initiative to improve communications.”
The survey data affirm the value of several initiatives already underway, Boyd said, and will help prompt new initiatives as well.
Sarika Pandrangi ’17, another of the report’s authors and a YCC representative for Calhoun College, said she was pleased with the administration’s willingness to listen to the proposals. The conversation ensured that rather than being a mere summary of recommendations, the report would demonstrate tangible improvements, she said.
“One of the reasons we did this report was to bridge some of that gap between students who feel very frustrated — maybe for good reason — and administrators who are working hard but are sometimes confused about what they can do to make things better,” Villarreal said. “One of the things we can do is get together all these voices, draw some common themes and especially communicate the voices of people who never make it in front of the administrators … because they are choosing not to file a complaint at all.”
The YCC’s Sexual Health Task Force was formed in October 2014.