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July 6, 2011

Ivy League's Struggles with Sexual Misconduct

Yale, Princeton, and Harvard Law are all facing some serious sexual-misconduct complaints.

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Women at Yale University were not amused last fall when a parade of men marched across campus, chanting, "No means yes! Yes means anal!" It was an annual autumn fraternity stunt — and it was hostile toward women, say female students. But was this sexual harassment, or freedom of speech? That's a question being raised by 16 current and former Yale students who filed a recent complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The students say this incident and other similar events at Yale violate Title IX, the federal law that bars gender discrimination in education. Critics of the complaint say stunts like the "no means yes" parade, which was put on by the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, are just typical frat-house antics, and the guys have a right to free speech. The DOE has opened an investigation. Yale says it is cooperating with the investigation, and that it has recently imposed sanctions on Delta Kappa Epsilon and penalized some individual members.

Yale is not alone. The DOE says it is also investigating Princeton University, Harvard Law School, Duke University, and the University of Virginia, following various Title IX complaints. If the schools are found noncompliant with Title IX, they must change their policies or lose federal funding. Amid the uproar, Vice President Joe Biden has called on schools to take a stronger stand against sexual misconduct.

There may be more complaints at other schools to come. Hanna Zeavin, one of the students who filed the Yale complaint, says she has received a "huge outpouring of support" from students across the country. (But critics are contacting her, too: One male alum advised her to stop fighting "Yale tradition.") Alexandra Brodsky, another Yale student who signed the complaint, says she hopes other students will be inspired to speak up.

Many students don't realize they can file a complaint with the DOE, says Wendy Murphy, a Boston litigator specializing in violence against women. She filed the complaints against Princeton, Harvard Law, and UVA on behalf of students. It's significant that several schools on the hot seat are in the Ivy League, she says, noting, "Other schools will follow their lead when they are compelled to bring their policies into compliance." Stay tuned.


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