Title IX retaliation policies prevent clubs from expelling alleged assailants
Retaliation prohibition policies under Title IX can prevent University-funded student organizations from expelling students accused of sexual assault from their membership.
Tim Tai, Photography Editor
Content Warning: This article contains references to sexual violence.
SHARE is available to all members of the Yale community who are dealing with sexual misconduct of any kind, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence and more. Counselors are available any time, day or night, at the 24/7 hotline: (203) 432-2000.
In her first semester at Yale, A. tried out for the University’s Mock Trial Association, looking for an opportunity to build stronger relationships with peers following a difficult transition from high school.
As part of her try-out process, she attended a virtual rush meal with current YMTA members. It was there that she first made contact with a male student who was then a sophomore in the organization — someone who A. alleges would go on to repeatedly sexually assault her over the following months. The male student did not respond to requests for comment.
“Those experiences have forever changed who I am,” A., a female student who has been granted anonymity to protect her privacy, told the News. “My entire Yale experience has been tainted by what happened.”
In the two years that followed her alleged assaults, A. pursued various routes offered by the University to help her cope with the effects of these incidents. She spoke to Yale’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center, or SHARE, about the psychological toll of the alleged events, met with Yale’s Title IX office to discuss a potential formal complaint and said she eventually secured a no-contact agreement which barred her alleged assailant from contacting her directly — either in person or online.
Amid these efforts, she also told the News that she held a series of conversations with the YMTA presidents, which culminated in her decision to try to have her alleged assailant expelled from the organization during her second year at Yale. The then-presidents of YMTA declined to comment on this story.
However, after the club presidents conferred with Yale’s Title IX Office, A. said that they told her there was nothing they could do without her filing an official complaint with the University-Wide Committee — a process that could take months and subject her to lengthy cross-examination. According to A., the presidents explained that this policy was a matter of the Title IX office’s stance on ensuring that everyone involved in a Title IX case, including both the alleged perpetrator and victim, receive “equal access to opportunity.”
The summer after A. said that YMTA’s presidents told her there was nothing they could do to preclude her alleged assailant from rejoining the team unless he was found guilty by the University-Wide Committee for Sexual Assault, she announced her resignation from mock trial.
“The fact that my experience with sexual assault is part of the reason I quit this thing that gave me so much joy — there’s nothing equal about that,” A. said.
As A. would learn, YMTA’s inability to remove her alleged assailant was not a unique dilemma. Rather, it is an often-unspoken reality of the University’s enforcement of retaliation prevention, which it exercises in its major discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct policies.
Unless a student is convicted through an official investigation by the University-Wide Committee for Sexual Assault, any direct attempt by clubs, professors, teaching assistants, students or any other institutionally registered body that receives University funding to remove or “discourage” the accused from an activity comes with high risk of disciplinary action. Such a clause applies even when there are allegations of ongoing sexual assault.
Accused individuals are protected from retaliation under their status as “participants,” which Yale formally defines as “any adverse action taken against a person who has reported a concern, filed a complaint or participated in an investigation pursuant to this policy.”
The University considers retaliation akin to discrimination and harassment, calling it an “undermin[ing] of Yale’s mission and commitment to diversity, equity and belonging.” But amid linguistically malleable policies and confusing avenues for accessing support, student organizations find themselves caught in a gray area between prioritizing member safety and avoiding potential disciplinary action.
Yale Mock Trial Association
A. said that during her initial YMTA rush meal, she mentioned to the group that she had been having difficulty making friends at Yale. She said her alleged assailant offered that Yale’s social culture largely revolved around getting meals with potential friends; taking this advice to heart, A. soon invited him to have a meal with her.
Soon after their meeting, and after he had been instated in a leadership position above her, the alleged assailant invited A. to his off-campus apartment where he offered her multiple drinks. A. remembers being “super drunk” and “very, very out of it” when her alleged assailant initiated a non-consensual sexual experience. This pattern would repeat itself multiple times that semester, A. said. A friend of A’s in her residential college — who has been granted anonymity to protect A’s privacy — confirmed that A told them about the alleged assaults at the time.
A’s alleged assailant’s position of power on the team, as well as his social capital among their peers, discouraged A. from telling any of their teammates about the incident after it happened. Despite the one year difference in grade level, A. said that her alleged assailant was two years older than her.
“I knew he was in a position of authority and that he could make decisions that would affect my future experience within mock trial,” A. said. “I really felt like if I upset him that it would jeopardize any chances of being on A-team or running for board.”
The alleged assaults took a noticeable psychological toll, which compelled her to take action. A., who said she has since been diagnosed with PTSD, explained that simply receiving a text message from her alleged assailant or seeing him walking on the street would instantly make her cry.
Her next steps were fraught with difficulties. A. told The News that she seriously considered taking formal action, either through the New Haven legal system or Yale’s Title IX Office. Ultimately, she decided against either option, wary of the power imbalance between her and her alleged assailant.
“I was very worried about being retraumatized by the entire process,” A. said of the University’s formal complaint system. “I was already dealing with flashbacks, migraines, shaking hands from the PTSD medication, difficulty focusing and concentrating and hyper-vigilance.”
A. ultimately decided to request a no-contact agreement through Title IX — a process that is less drawn-out than a formal complaint because it is voluntarily entered into by both parties. The agreement mutually restricted both parties from interacting with one another, including by barring both A. and her alleged assailant from entering each other’s respective residential colleges.
A. also said she initiated conversations about how to avoid her alleged assailant with the then-heads of YMTA. At that point, the mock trial competition season was over, so exposure to her alleged assailant was limited to elections for the following year’s board. Club leadership arranged for A.’s alleged assailant to exit the elections Zoom call during A’s election, and to keep his camera off for the rest of the proceedings.
That summer, A. said she was told by YMTA leadership that her assailant had been sanctioned by the National Mock Trial Association for violating one of their rules of competition. The sanction meant he would not participate in any of YMTA’s competitive activities for the following year, and A said he almost entirely refrained from attending social activities as well.
But the year after, A. said a teammate called her to let her know that her assailant would potentially be coming back to YMTA the following fall at the expiration of his sanctioned year-off. Given the news, and at the advice of teammates, A. decided to drop the team before the start of the academic year due to the extreme stress brought on by the potential of interacting with her alleged assailant.
A. explained that the decision is one she has rethought many times since. As someone who hopes to enter the legal profession, choosing to remove herself from the expansive alumni network of legal professionals that YMTA offers came with major regrets. Nonetheless, in the absence of adequate protection, she felt she had no other option.
“I think it’s revolting the way Yale tries to slide things under the rug and protect its own reputation, instead of trying to make sure that survivors are adequately supported,” A. said. “To the claim of ensuring equal access to opportunity: what about survivors’ access to opportunity?”
Although the current presidents of YMTA, McKenna Picton ’24 and Zeke McDavid ’24, declined to comment on A’s experience, they told the News that they believed the Title IX office to be “suffocated by red tape.”
“Title IX should be an office that inspires security in those that choose to go to it,” Picton and McDavid wrote. “As it stands, that is not the case.”
Yale College Democrats and administrative input
Club leaders have limited autonomy in handling allegations of sexual assault that University administration does not deem resolved. YMTA is not the only campus organization at the University that has encountered red tape in removing a member on the basis of sexual assault allegations.
In 2022, Michael Garman ’25 — a former staff photographer for the News — pursued and lost an official University-Wide Committee investigation against his alleged rapist. Both Garman’s friend, Yaz Liow ’25, and his alleged assailant held positions in the Yale College Democrats, though Garman himself was not in the club. Garman’s alleged assailant did not respond to requests for comment.
Liow, who Garman told about the alleged assault at the time, alerted Yale Dems leadership to the situation in January 2022, before Garman had formally reported the alleged incident. Yale Dems leadership then asked the alleged assailant to leave the organization, according to texts between Liow and a member of Yale Dems leadership that have been obtained by the News, citing a reported violation of the section of the internal club contract that prohibits sexual harassment.
Several days after the assailant was asked to step down, however, leadership received communication from the Yale College Title IX office saying that clubs may not remove members on the basis of sexual misconduct allegations, according to later texts between Liow and Yale Dems leadership. The Title IX office informed Yale Dems that if they attempted to expel the alleged assailant, the club would risk losing recognition as an official group by the Dean’s Office or registration under the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, the branch of the Yale College Council that funds student extracurricular groups.
The situation may have been different if the student had been found in violation of Title IX through the outcome of an official investigation or hearing, professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Craig Canfield told the News. A conviction could subject someone to penalties and consequences from the school that would not be considered retaliation.
According to texts between Liow and Yale Dems, leaders reached out again to the assailant, demoting him from his fellowship position on the basis that he had not been performing his duties well as a fellow. He remained active in the organization until the spring of 2022.
“The Yale College Democrats is not unilaterally empowered to remove a member from the organization in light of an allegation, though it reserves the right to request that a member reconsider their relationship with the organization,” The Yale Democrats said in a statement to the News.
“The Yale College Democrats would not independently investigate allegations, as the Title IX Office is trained and equipped to advise and assist impacted community members,” reads an updated version of the Yale College Democrat code of conduct, which the organization provided to the News. “After Title IX or the appropriate Yale body has been informed of the incident, we encourage the complainant to notify a Yale College Democrats Board Member of the initiated investigation via email or text.”
According to the Code of Conduct, the Yale College Democrats would also initiate its own internal review process to investigate any allegations of sexual misconduct made against its members, conducted in tandem with any formal investigation from the Title IX office.
Greek life at the University is generally not associated with the UOFC — and it is this difference that enabled the Yale fraternity LEO to oust its vice president following the December 2022 rape allegation made against him. For similar reasons, the Alpha Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta and Pi Beta Phi branch sororities at the University, which suspended social events with LEO upon hearing the news, are not subject to administrative sanctions.
Despite being successful in pursuing a no-contact order, Garman called the arrangement’s accommodations futile unless in the face of direct encounters with his alleged assailant — and claimed that little provision was made to prevent those types of encounters in the first place.
It was not until Garman found himself subject to the enforcement of retaliation in the classroom that he said his struggles reached a breaking point. In late August 2022 — days after the UWC had closed his case, ruling against Garman on a lack of sufficient evidence — Garman saw on a Canvas page that he and his assailant had been placed in the same seminar.
Garman said the Title IX office told him removing another individual from a class on the basis of a no-contact order would not be possible. They instead advised him to drop the class if he wanted out of the situation, with the one compromise being that the professor would make conscious pairing decisions for any group work, which the course did not include.
Garman, who was uncomfortable with the idea of staying in class with someone who he alleged had “physically and mentally harmed [him] so much,” was able to stay in the section after the alleged assailant willingly dropped the course on his own. But the feeling that he was a liability to the Title IX office stayed with Garman, who said that administrators did not seem to reciprocate his concern for his safety.
The current Title IX coordinator of Yale University, Elizabeth Conklin, maintained that while she does believe in student organizations creating a safe, inclusive community for their members, she “strongly encourage[s]” such organizations, whether registered with the University or not, to defer sexual misconduct matters and any judiciary investigations to the Title IX office.
“Student organizations do not have the requisite professional training and experience to investigate and adjudicate allegations of sex-based discrimination or sexual misconduct,” she told the News. “There are resources available through the University to assist registered student organizations with their efforts to create safe environments.”
Conklin gave two examples of such resources: a counseling avenue known as Yale SHARE and the no contact-agreement, the latter of which she referred to as a “supportive,” interventional measure. No-contact agreements can include provisions to academic, extracurricular and other campus activities, according to Conklin, though the boundaries and regulations vary on a case-by-case basis.
The Title IX Office’s “first priority” is to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all complainants by directing them to appropriate campus safety outlets, she continued. After any immediate needs are addressed, coordinators will work with complainants to explore next steps, which can involve a formal investigative procedure through external law enforcement or the UWC.
“The prohibition on retaliation is reflected both in federal regulations and in University policy,” Conklin added.
She mentioned that students who come to the Title IX office wishing to pursue a complaint of retaliation would be referred to the appropriate disciplinary bodies, including but not limited to the UWC and the Yale College Executive Committee. While not directly involved in issuing such discipline, the office has worked to detect cases of possible retaliation.
Alaric Krapf ’19 told the News that he was proactively reached out to by Yale’s Title IX office after acting as a witness for the defense in an official complaint hearing in which both the complainant and the respondent were members of the University’s Conservative Party debate society.
Krapf — who was also a member of the Conservative Party at the time — alleged that his involvement in the case resulted in hostilities from his classmates. Krapf himself never brought forward a retaliation claim to the office, but he said he was reached out to directly by someone in Title IX who had heard that Krapf was experiencing retaliation from an on-campus group. Krapf told the News that he was asked whether or not he wanted to pursue action, but ultimately refrained from exercising this option.
Several higher education institutions have adopted a different philosophy from Yale’s, encouraging a joint effort between administration and student clubs to combat sexual assault and protect survivors.
In a March 1, 2018 email sent to the George Washington University student body, Anne Graham, then-assistant director of student involvement and Greek life, urged campus organizations to work in tandem with advisers to remove members for discriminatory behavior, sexual misconduct and violence. The language of the email was reportedly intended to be flexible and broad, pushing every club to adapt their response as necessary.
Though administrators were careful to avoid making student leaders “the judge, jury and everything else,” the announcement, which came partially as a response to a town hall on sexual assault hosted the previous year, required every club registered with the Center for Student Engagement to compose rules to expel members for discrimination and sexual misconduct.
For student leaders, explicit administrative support sparked efforts to break down opaque policies surrounding the extent of a club’s autonomy in responding to sexual assault. In an interview with the GW Hatchet, Robert Dickson, the vice president of communications for the College Democrats at George Washington, defended the club’s “zero tolerance policy” for discrimination. He said that the executive board maintains a right to vote on the ousting of any member who has violated this rule.
Yale organizations that enact these policies risk defunding or sanctions from the University. The current system may result in minimal, slow or zero consequences for assailants, which may contribute to the fact that over 67 percent of all sexual assault cases go unreported.
Of the Title IX allegations formally made in a university or college context, however, Black men make up an overwhelming majority of cases, suspensions and scholarship revocations. At Colgate University, where 4.2 percent of the students enrolled from 2013 to 2014 were Black, half of the sexual assault reports that year were made against Black male students, and they also comprised 40 percent of all formal adjunctions.
Retaliation policies, and the accused’s rights to due process and cross-examination under the most updated “2020 final rule” of Title IX, therefore exist in part to guarantee protections in a system where racial biases persist.
In its early days, Title IX played a critical role in bolstering funding for female athletics and in guaranteeing protections for women in a male-dominated college scene, before it became associated with sexual misconduct more recently, according to Yale scholar Rachel Rosenberg GRD ’23, who specializes in 20th century U.S. women’s and gender history, political history and education history
“In many ways, the educational world in which Title IX came into in 1972 looked very different from a gender perspective than it does today,” said Rosenberg. “And I think that one of the things that perhaps you’re seeing is a struggle to really update and ensure that the protections that Title IX intended, are really working for the reality of the time and [the] schooling realities that we’re living in today.”
Title IX of the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972.
Correction, Feb. 24: A previous version of this article stated that Garman’s alleged assailant was still an active member of Yale College Democrats. As of last spring, he is no longer an active member of the organization. The article has been updated to reflect this. The article has also been updated with addition context about the Yale College Democrats’ Code of Conduct.