• November 1, 2014

Education Dept. Praises Yale in Resolving Sex-Bias Investigation

After a yearlong investigation, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Friday an agreement with Yale University to resolve a complaint alleging sex discrimination on the campus, in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The complaint stemmed from a high-profile incident in October 2010, in which male students pledging a fraternity repeated a sexually aggressive chant—"No means yes, yes means anal."—outside Yale's Women's Center. The incident was recorded, posted to YouTube, and circulated among students. According to the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, the complaint, which described an "ongoing pattern of sexual harassment," alleged that a "sexually hostile environment existed on campus."

The ensuing, extensive civil-rights investigation—which focused on the status of Yale's Title IX coordinator, a position required under the law, and of its grievance process—has represented to many observers the department's tougher enforcement of the gender-equity statute. The investigation began in April 2011, the same week the department released a forceful "Dear Colleague" letter prescribing how colleges must handle reports of sexual misconduct.

As of this week, the civil-rights office is actively investigating 34 colleges and universities for complaints of sexual harassment. Friday's announcement marked the first major resolution since last year's powerful letter.

Ultimately, the department did not find Yale out of compliance with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funds. The department did criticize some of Yale's previous policies and say that students who were interviewed during the investigation reported "a chain of incidents to which the university did not effectively respond." But at the same time, federal officials praised the university for "proactively" introducing numerous new policies and procedures in the past year to try to achieve a safer, more supportive environment for students.

"They showed a lot of courage early on," Russlynn H. Ali, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said of Yale's efforts at a news conference on Friday. "I applaud Yale for the changes it has made." Meanwhile, the civil-rights office announced plans to monitor Yale closely at least through 2014.

Numerous Changes at Yale

In the past year, Yale has established a new structure of Title IX coordinators, replacing a previous coordinator more involved in human resources than in student life. The new structure gives primary responsibility to Stephanie Spangler, deputy provost of health affairs, who oversees a group of deputy coordinators and collaborates with various campus departments, notably the police.

The university has also updated its grievance process for reporting complaints. Previously, students had two options, which the Education Department called "unclear and confusing": an informal Sexual Harassment Grievance Board, which did not keep records or investigate complaints, and the campuswide disciplinary system, which students told civil-rights investigators was "very unfriendly to victims of sexual misconduct, resulting in only a small number of cases' being brought forward."

Now Yale has a new University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which lets alleged victims pursue either an informal process, in which the committee tries to resolve issues without an investigation or hearing, or a formal process, conducted by an outside fact-finder and resulting in a hearing and possible disciplinary sanctions against the alleged perpetrator.

The department's praise for Yale's changes suggests that the new system may be upheld as a model for dealing with complaints of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault. In announcing the settlement of this case, the department also outlined what a grievance process must entail, including "designated and reasonably prompt time frames" and a minimal burden on the alleged victim, with special attention to changes in housing or courses to minimize contact with the alleged perpetrator.

Training and Communication

Yale officials said on Friday that they were pleased with the resolution of the investigation by the Office for Civil Rights. "We are gratified that OCR has recognized Yale's extensive efforts and ongoing commitment to prevent and address sexual misconduct," university officials said in a written statement. "The university has committed extensive resources toward improving its policies, procedures, practices, and services to provide an environment in which all students feel safe and well supported, and protected from sexual misconduct."

Under the agreement, Yale has also committed to comprehensive training on sexual misconduct—for not only faculty and staff members and police officers, but also freshmen, sophomores, leaders of athletic teams and student groups, and undergraduate "consent and communication educators." The university has created a new vice president for student life and a Title IX working group, both with plans to conduct regular assessments of the campus climate with respect to gender discrimination and sexual misconduct.

Communication has become another major priority for Yale, according to Education Department documents. A comprehensive Web site now collects all of the university's resources, policies, and procedures on sexual misconduct and assault. And Yale officials have already started publishing reports to the campus community, excluding any personally identifying information, on the outcomes of sexual-misconduct complaints.

As for the fraternity involved in the original incident, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Yale has prohibited it for five years from engaging in any activities, including recruitment, on university property or e-mail networks. Yale has also barred all fraternities and sororities from rush, or recruiting new members, in the fall of their first year.

Following the series of changes at Yale, administrators have seen more complaints of sexual misconduct, a development many experts see as evidence that victims feel more comfortable coming forward. The university must continue to report to the Education Department for the next two years, as federal officials asserted that they would remain vigilant.

Jennifer González contributed to this article.

subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.