Light & Verity

Increased attention to campus sexual assault

After a federal probe of Yale, 55 other schools are investigated.

Two years after Yale settled a wide-ranging Title IX investigation, campus sexual assault has moved into the national spotlight.

In the space of one week in April and May, a White House task force urged schools to “show they’re serious” about protecting students; the Department of Education released a list of 55 schools currently under investigation for their handling of assault and harassment complaints; and the department issued a rare finding of noncompliance with Title IX against Tufts University, citing its failure to “provide a prompt and equitable response to complaints of sexual harassment/violence” in one instance.

Title IX mandates that students at federally funded colleges have equal access to education, regardless of their sex. It covers universities’ responses to complaints of sexual misconduct as well as equity in athletics and other areas of campus life.

In 2011, a group of Yale students and recent alumni filed a Title IX complaint with the education department’s Office for Civil Rights, contending that the university tolerated a “hostile sexual environment” on campus by inadequately preventing and responding to sexual assault. OCR and Yale resolved that investigation in 2012 with an agreement that did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

During the investigation, Yale began taking numerous steps to improve its handling of sexual misconduct complaints, steps that were codified in the agreement. Changes in the past three years include designating a Title IX coordinator, deputy provost Stephanie Spangler; making the system for reporting sexual misconduct more transparent and consistent; creating a “consent education” program for undergraduates, which emphasizes that sexual consent must be clear and affirmative; and releasing twice-yearly summaries of all misconduct complaints filed and their resolutions.

Yale has also issued two reports about the sexual climate on campus, including analyses of how students perceive policies, procedures, and the sexual climate itself. Now the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, in its April 29 report, has called on schools to “show they’re serious about the problem” by conducting a quantitative survey next year: “The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it.”

Yale will comply, Spangler says in an e-mail to the Yale Alumni Magazine. That will apparently be the first time the university tries to measure the prevalence of sexual assault and other misconduct. Asked whether Yale will make the survey results public, Spangler e-mailed that it was too early to “define the specifics of the survey or the communication process,” but “we are committed to sharing as much information with our community as possible.”

Meanwhile, President Peter Salovey ’86PhD highlighted sex misconduct in his biweekly e-mail newsletter a few days after the White House report. Ten months into his presidency, “there are many priorities that will continue to be important assignments for all of us,” he wrote—beginning with “strengthening our campus climate: we have continued to make significant strides this year in addressing sexual misconduct…, but we all have more to do to ensure that our campus is a safe place where everyone is treated with respect.”

The comment period has expired.