Thursday, July 02, 2015

Rider College Softball Coach Files Lawsuit Challenging Dismissal

Patricia Carroll, head softball coach at Rider College since 1994, filed a lawsuit last week in the federal court in New Jersey, arguing that her employment contract was slated for non-renewal in retaliation for her complaints that Rider's women's programs received fewer resources than the men's. In particular, she alleges that her complaints targeted inequities in scholarship money and booster funding, as well as the size of coaching staff and quality of facilities like locker rooms.

Though Carroll has won three championships in the past, her record over the past three seasons is reportedly 26-127.  So it's possible that the college will claim that its decision was motivated by performance rather than retaliation. To win her case, Carroll will have to undermine this rationale and prove that it is pretext for retaliation, such as by proving that other coaches with similar records (and who have not spoken out about Title IX violations) are retained. 

Because the college's decision not to renew Carroll does not take effect until next summer, Carroll is in the unique position of challenging her termination while she is still employed. She is suing to keep her job, as well for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Title IX Lawsuit Challenges Berkeley's Response to Sexual Assault

Three female plaintiffs, all former students, have sued the University of California at Berkeley alleging that in each of their cases, the University failed to respond adequately to their reports of having been sexually assaulted. 

The first plaintiff alleged that the the university's failure to communicate reporting procedures caused several months to go by before she was able to report that she had woken up to a man touching her after a university event.  Then, she says, the university shut her out of investigation and disciplined the offender with only probation.

The second plaintiff alleged that when she reported sexual misconduct of a visiting lecturer, the Title IX Coordinator admonished her for not clearly withholding consent, instead of investigating and disciplining the lecturer for groping her even though she had not actively granted consent.

The third plaintiff also alleges that she was shut out of the investigation the university conducted into her claim that she had been raped by a fellow-student acquaintance. Moreover, she challenges the fact that his suspension was only temporary (a year and a half) and that he will be allowed to return to campus -- notwithstanding the fact that rape kit evidence indicated that trauma had ensued.

The plaintiffs all claim that the university violated Title IX. in each of their cases.  Because their lawsuit seeks to hold Berkeley accountable for money damages, they must satisfy the "deliberate indifference" standard used by courts in such cases.  This standard can often be difficult to satisfy and not necessarily satisfied by allegations of inadequacies that would constitute violations of  the Department of Education's Dear Colleague Letter. 

Fifth Circuit Decision Flags Area of Uncertainty in Future Title IX Retaliation Cases

On Monday the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of Anthony Minnis, the former women's tennis coach at Louisiana State, who had sued the university challenging his dismissal and other employment practices as racially discriminatory as well as retaliation for Title IX advocacy on behalf of his team.

Regarding the Title IX claim, Minnis's legal argument was that the appellate court should address his  retaliation claim in order to resolve a question of legal uncertainty regarding the application of Title VII standards to Title IX cases. Typically, when courts apply Title IX in the employment context, they are influenced by cases applying Title VII, the federal employment discrimination statute, which also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Recently, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII retaliation plaintiffs must prove that retaliation was the "but for" cause of their termination or other adverse action.  In other words, they must show that the employer was solely motivated by retaliation, rather than by a "mixed motive" that includes retaliation among other reasons. Because employers' motives are frequently complicated and plausibly involve multiple factors, the Supreme Court's decision considerably narrowed the scope of Title VII's application to retaliation claim.

Minnis's lawsuit used Title IX, rather than Title VII, to advance his retaliation claim.  If his case had not been dismissed on summary judgment grounds, the lower court might have had to consider the question of whether Title IX continues to allow retaliation plaintiffs to prevail in mixed-motive cases, or whether the Supreme Court's rejection of mixed motive cases under Title VII extends to Title IX as well.  Minnis argued that the appellate court should have taken his appeal so that they could address that issue and provide clarity to lower court in its jurisdiction.  However, the lower court's dismissal of Minnis's retaliation claim did not turn on whether the university had a single or mixed motive.  Rather, the lower court ruled that Minnis failed to establish a prima facie case by demonstrating that he engaged in protected conduct. (Because both the men's and women's tennis coaches had advocated for an indoor facility, this could not even plausibly be a Title IX retaliation claim, according to the lower court.)  Since his case would not fall under Title IX to begin with, the court does not reach the legal question over whether mixed-motive arguments are still available to Title IX retaliation plaintiffs.

But the decision reminds us that this is an area of legal uncertainty that will eventually have to be addressed in future cases.    

Decision: Minnis v. Bd. of Supervisors of Louisiana State Univ., 2015 WL 3941846 (5th Cir. June 29, 2015).

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Department of Justice Supports Transgender Student in Lawsuit Over Bathroom Use

Today the Department of Justice filed an brief on behalf of a transgender boy who sued his school district in Virginia after he was denied access to the boys' restroom.  The brief sets for the Department's position that Title IX requires schools to allow transgender individuals to use the restroom consistent with their gender identities.  A key section of the brief sets forth the agency's rationale:

“Under Title IX, discrimination based on a person's gender identity, a person's transgender status, or a person's nonconformity to sex stereotypes constitutes discrimination based on sex. The term 'sex' as it is used in Title IX is broad and encompasses gender identity, including transgender status. ...
“Prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match his gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX. There is a public interest in ensuring that all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of sex discrimination."
This is not the first time the Department of Justice has taken up the cause of discrimination against transgender individuals.  Additionally, the Department of Education has signaled its interpretation of Title IX is similar as well.  Yet, courts have been reluctant to take this view, see, e.g.  Hopefully the push from DOJ in this case will help turn that tide.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Recent Law Review Articles Examine Title IX's Application to Sexual Assault, Transgender Rights

Today I read two recent law review articles that warrant mention on this blog.  The first article, by Lambda Legal attorney M. Dru Levasseur, examines a variety of legal contexts in which transgender rights are undermined by courts and other decisionmakers' tendency to distinguish "biological sex" from gender identity instead of viewing the latter as a constituent of the former.  In contrast, he notes recent examples in which the Department of Education has taken the position that sex discrimination encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity, such as in the enforcement of Title IX, a sex discrimination statute, to allow transgender students to use bathrooms according to their gender identities.  Levasseur challenges courts to follow suit.  By updating their thinking on the nature of etiology of sex and recognizing gender identity as a component of sex, they can properly interpret sex discrimination statutes (and other legal contexts that require a definition of "sex") to validate and protect trans identities.

In the second article, Boston University law professsor Katharine Silbaugh argues that in Title IX's application to campus sexual assault has been unnecessarily influenced by Title VII caselaw to adopt a "criminal justice model"-- one focused on punishment in individual cases -- rather than a "public health model" -- one focusing on community-wide prevention. She goes on to make the case that OCR's enforcement efforts should seek to motivate colleges to adopt robust preventive measures --  aimed at such targets as climate, relationships, and social norms -- rather than micromanage their post-assault response. This shift in focus, she argues, better utilizes the skills and talents of colleges and universities.  Moreover, a public health model is a better fit for Title IX's civil rights objective, since it aims to protect the ability of all students to partake fully in their educational experience without having that opportunity limited by sexual violence.

Articles cited:

M. Dru Levasseur, Gender Identity Defines Sex: Updating the Law to Reflect Modern Medical Science Is Key to Transgender Rights, 39 Vt. L. Rev. 943 (2015).

Katharine Silbaugh, Reactive to Proactive: Title IX's Unrealized Capacity to Prevent Sexual Assault, 95 B.U. L. Rev. 1049 (2015)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

UCLA faces lawsuit for handling of graduate students' complaints

This week the internets were flooded with discussions and news and comments on Professor Tim Hunt's statements about women in labs. And though they certainly have their problems (which need addressing), the hard sciences alas are not the only fields in which women face a sexually hostile environment.

This week two history graduate students at UCLA filed a lawsuit against the school* and its trustees which states that the school did not properly address their respective complaints of sexual harassment and assault by one history faculty member. Both women were, in some way, discouraged from moving forward with the complaint and/or disciplinary hearings. There was an investigation of one of the women's complaints, but she alleges she was not apprised of how the situation was being handled. There was no investigation of the other.

We have seen more and more graduate students coming forward with experiences of harassment. These stories should be increasing the awareness that the situation of graduate students does not resemble that of either undergraduates or faculty members, though they have the duties/responsibilities of both. So when graduate students experience harassment and possible retaliation, administrators need to realize the unique position these students are in. One faculty member can have a huge influence on a graduate student's education and career. This does not mean that schools should take more seriously the complaints of sexual harassment and assault when they involve faculty and graduate students, but that there are different issues. This lawsuit may make that dynamic a little more clear.

* UCLA is already on the list of schools OCR is investigating.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Competition over ethics implies Saban

I wrote last week about the new SEC policy preventing the transfer of student athletes with serious misconduct issues to SEC schools. Though it passed with ease among SEC administrators, it is not without controversy.

One person raising some objections is Alabama football coach, Nick Saban. Saban is worried about the competitive advantage other conferences will receive because they do not have such policies. So athletes, again athletes who have been found responsible for sexual assault and domestic violence by their former schools, will get turned down because of their record of, again sexual assault and domestic violence, and then attend non-SEC schools. Remember, Saban is the recipient of such a player--Jonathan Taylor. Taylor was under investigation at Georgia for domestic violence when he transferred to Saban's squad. He has now been kicked off that team because of being arrested again for domestic violence.

Let's be clear--these are arrests. Public record arrests. We are not even talking about sketchy (Title IX violating) internal investigations within athletic departments. We are not even dealing with, in this situation, student conduct hearings and the privacy issues attached to those. The lack of compliance with Title IX regarding policies and procedures, as I said the other day, is part of the reason the SEC policy is only one step in addressing the problem of student athletes who commit sexual and domestic violence. But it's a step Saban does not want to make because he believes it might harm the SEC and its ability to compete with the other power five conferences.

In short, he is saying f&^* ethics and the safety of (mostly) women on campus--we need to win. He is upset that the SEC is hindering the way he operates his program, but framing it as just looking out for the best interest of the conference.

He is not the only concerned SEC coach. Also notable is that the coach who lost Taylor to Alabama, Georgia's Mark Richt, was also a little concerned about the new rule. He was slightly more tactful and used a paradigm of second chances rather than the "but what if we aren't as good without the rapist on our team" argument.

Why is this policy being passed now when campus sexual assault has always been a problem? Well because the general public is starting to realize that it's an epidemic. And while sports fans might  allow some questionable practices that result in perks to student-athletes and wins for our favorite teams, the ability to get away with rape and violence is not one of those, and it is increasingly difficult to ignore the issue.

If Nick Saban took a little more time to think about this he could have both gotten his concerns addressed (without looking like a privileged, ignorant jerk) and been a hero (well for reasons other than football). Because what he could have said was this: This rule exemplifies the ways in which the SEC is a leader both on and off the field and is addressing a serious issue facing college and university communities. But we should not be the only ones. I urge the other conferences and the NCAA to implement similar policies regarding transfer athletes so that we can guarantee the safety of our student body and maintain the integrity of our athletic programs.

But that's not what he said.

Friday, June 05, 2015

OCR Will Investigate Iowa Complaint

Last February we blogged about the complaint University of Iowa field hockey players filed against the university over the termination of their coach, Tracey Griesbaum. This week we learned that the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has decided to investigate the complaint and determine whether the university in fact discriminated against the players in violation of Title IX.

We believe this is the first time the government has ever considered a complaint about a coach's termination to be sex discrimination from the players' point of view. Title IX regulations require equal treatment between men's and women's programs in the aggregate, including the quality of coaching athletes receive as a component of that requirement. The players argue that when Iowa fired Griesbaum over complaints about her demanding coaching style, the university imparted a sexist double standard that deprived them of the opportunity to be challenged by a successful, demanding coach.  Importantly to the framing of this claim, male athletes at Iowa  are given that opportunity, as evidenced by the fact the university has never disciplined coaches of men's teams for being too hard on them. 

It will also be interesting to see whether OCR looks at the harmful message a university sends to female players who might be aspiring coaches when it fires a female coach over conduct that is tolerated and even encouraged from male coaches. Because female athletes could be discouraged from pursuing a lifelong relationship with college athletics in a way that male athletes are not, this is arguably another way in which firing a female coach is sex discrimination from the players' point of view.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Another female coach leaves Minnesota Duluth

The hits just keep on coming for University of Minnesota Duluth Athletics.

The women's basketball coach, Annette Wiles, who has compiled a winning record over seven seasons with the Bulldogs, has resigned her position citing the unhealthy work environment. She is the third female coach to leave this year. Hockey coach Shannon Miller was not brought back (her contract expired at the end of the academic year) allegedly because of financial reasons. She was told her salary was too high. The director of hockey operations--who is also the softball coach--was also let go. Though administrators say Jen Banford was only let go from her DOO position, not coaching, but this meant a renegotiated contract with a significant pay cut, so she resigned.

Wiles also left as she was attempting to negotiate a contract (an extension for the one set to expire this summer). A statement to the press from her lawyers, the same  ones who are representing Miller and Banford, states the athletic director Josh Berlo refused to discuss this with her.

The news of Wiles's departure was also accompanied by more information about the status of Miller's and Banford's legal actions against UMD. Complaints have been filed with the Equal Employment Commission and they are preparing for a lawsuit. It is not clear whether Wiles will join that lawsuit.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Considering the new SEC policy

The SEC announced a new policy this week that would prevent student-athletes with records of domestic violence and sexual assault from transferring to SEC schools (as athletes). It was a proposal made by Georgia and adopted fairly readily according to reports. Whether one particular incident (like Alabama's acceptance of a football player who was under investigation at Georgia for domestic violence at time of transfer and has allegedly re-offended) or just greater awareness of the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence inspired the new policy has not been made clear.

The exact wording of the policy is as follows: "a transfer student-athlete who has been subject to official university of athletics department disciplinary action at any time during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution (excluding limited discipline applied by a sports team or temporary disciplinary action during an investigation) due to serious misconduct (as defined herein) shall not be eligible for athletically-related financial aid, practice or competition at an SEC member institution."

In my recent research/writing/thinking, I have been looking at why athletics departments have not been affected by the increasing visibility of activism aimed at addressing campus sexual assault. In other words why have they, arguably, been relatively unscathed for not following correct policies and procedures when they learn that student athletes have been accused of sexual violence. Most colleges and universities accused of mishandling sexual assault reports do not truly fear the ultimate--and only--penalty the Office of Civil Rights can levy--loss of federal funds--because it has never happened. There are potential large financial penalties if students file lawsuits rather than or in addition to a complaint with OCR, as happened at University of Connecticut.

The biggest hit at the moment, however, is the one schools take to their reputation. As campus sexual assault becomes more visible because of activism, media coverage, survivor narratives, and investigations schools are receiving considerable negative attention. And schools do not want this.

The desire for reversing negative publicity does not seem to apply at the moment to athletics departments. They seem to be weathering the storm fairly well. Look at Florida State. Look at Colorado, who paid out a multi-million dollar settlement in the mid-00s. Look at Oregon currently under investigation and facing a lawsuit. Have their athletics departments suffered? Have people called for boycotts of games or stopped buying merchandise? No. Have schools reprimanded their athletics departments by imposing internal sanctions or firing administrators who fail to policy and procedure in these matters? Not that I have seen.

Actually, let's go back to Oregon. It provides an example of how the SEC policy, while a good one, would not work in this case because of a culture of secrecy and protection of student athletes. Oregon took as a transfer a player from Providence College who was kicked off that basketball team for alleged participation in a gang rape. But he was not formally punished or investigated by the college. There was nothing on his transcript. Oregon officials maintain that they did not know of his past. He was then kicked off the basketball team, along with two other players, after a student accused them of rape. Said player, Brandon Austin, has transferred to a junior college in Florida. They are aware of the accusations against him.

So the SEC policy, if it existed at this junior college or the conference to which it belongs, would have prevented Austin from transferring there for the purpose of playing basketball. But it would not have prevented the original transfer from Providence to Oregon.

In other words, this policy does not get at the whole problem. It is based on the premise that schools and their athletics departments are doing their jobs in reporting and investigating sexual assault and violence in the correct way. This is not universally true. We cannot know statistics, unfortunately, on this matter. Most of the evidence is anecdotal and we have to assume that the lawsuits that have emerged are a small percentage of actual mishandling based on what we know about underreporting and the harassment and dismissal of those who do initially report.

The SEC's policy does not mean there will be no more offenders accepted as student athletes at SEC schools. Look again at the exception in parentheses: "excluding limited discipline applied by a sports team." This is the type of discipline being doled out to accused student-athletes in an attempt to appease victims. It is a violation of Title IX if the act in question is sexual assault or harassment. It cannot be handled internally. This policy is a start at addressing this issue, but we need more done at the front end of this problem, including stronger punishments against offending athletics departments.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Complaint Against Northwestern Professor Does Not Pit Title IX Against Academic Freedom

Back in February, Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis wrote an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education critical of (to borrow from her title) "sexual paranoia" on college campuses. One of the essay's main targets was what Kipnis describes as a lawsuit filed by a student against a professor charging that he had sexually assaulted her in the context of a dating relationship. Recently, Kipnis wrote a second essay (subscription required) detailing what happened to her in the aftermath of the first. Students reacted negatively to her first essay, and in addition to protesting its content, two graduate students also filed an internal complaint alleging that the essay was retaliation against the student who had filed the lawsuit and would deter other students from reporting sexual harassment against professors in the future. The focus of Kipnis's second essay was the obscure and lengthy process that the university used to investigate the complaint against her. Apparently, university officials were reluctant to reveal the charges against her, hired an outside law firm to conduct the investigation and adjudicate the complaint, buried information about the process in a labyrinth of web links, and took longer than the OCR-prescribed timeframe of 60 days to resolve the matter. In fact, at the time of Kipnis's second essay, the university had not yet reached a resolution of the case; though it has since found in Kipnis's favor and cleared her of all charges of wrongdoing.

Kipnis's essay has generated concern (see, e.g.) about the threat Title IX poses to professors' academic freedom. My view is that it is unfair to indict Title IX based on what happened to Kipnis. I think her criticism of the university's procedure for investigating the complaint against her is a reasonable one. Importantly, however, none of the ways in which the university obscured, outsourced, and prolonged the investigation process are requirements of Title IX. Northwestern could have dealt with the complaint against Kipnis in a more transparent, evenhanded, and efficient way without any risk of violating Title IX. Thus, there is no basis for predicting that universities motivated by Title IX compliance obligations would utilize similar procedures to evaluate charges against a professor stemming from an exercise of academic freedom.

Secondly, while I don't have access to the university's reasoning for dismissing the complaint against Kipnis, this outcome is entirely consistent with the law of retaliation more generally, and illustrates why it would be difficult for a student to ever prevail in a retaliation claim based on professor's written publication. Retaliation generally consists of adverse action targeting a person who engaged in protected conduct as punishment for that conduct. For words alone (i.e., without an associated tangible act) to constitute an adverse action against the person engaged in protected conduct, it would have to rise to the level of retaliatory harassment. Harassment requires the conduct that is severe or pervasive, and a single written essay, especially one that comments on a matter of public concern and public record, is neither. Moreover, the retaliation charges against Kipnis contained a mismatch between the person who had engaged in protected conduct (the student who filed the lawsuit against the professor) and the person(s) adversely affected by Kipnis's essay (i.e., the entire student body whose motivation to challenge harassment was arguably "chilled.").  For these reasons, there is little risk that professors would ever actually be found liable for retaliation based solely on the fact of a publication expressing academic freedom, and there is little grounds on which to generalize Title IX as a threat to that freedom.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Former Softball Player Sues St. Joseph's University Over Hazing

This month, St. Joseph's University suspended its softball team with three games left in the season in response to reports that the team engaged in hazing practices to initiate new players.  Now the university faces a lawsuit filed by one of the players who claimed that she was the victim of sexual harassment as part of that hazing, that university officials knew about and failed to adequately respond.

The complaint describes a seven-day period during the plaintiff's freshman season that was kicked off by intimidating letters with weird sexual content.  The plaintiff was required to engage in simulated sex and watch others do the same.  Her teammates required new players to answer questions about her sexual experiences, drink alcohol, and answer to demeaning nicknames.  However, the administration discovered and curtailed the hazing, though it did not initiate a formal investigation or disciplinary process.  Subsequently, during the plaintiff's sophomore season, the hazing ritual resumed again, with upperclass players insisting that they were "picking up where it was left off," so the same rituals began again. 

The plaintiff alleges that the university violated Title IX, among other legal obligations. The standard for institutional liability under Title IX first requires that the plaintiff endure serious harassment of a sexual nature. This excludes from the court's consideration allegations related to alcohol pressure and non-sexual nicknames -- including the allegation that coach called her one that was, while not sexual, pretty demeaning and gross.  Next, the plaintiff must prove that the university had actual notice and responded with deliberate indifference.  Here, the plaintiff must rely on the hazing she endured freshman year of providing notice to the university that the team would continue its behavior in subsequent seasons. The university responded to the freshman year hazing by shutting it down, so the plaintiff must convince the court that more was required to avoid committing deliberate indifference.  Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, many courts interpret deliberate indifference very narrowly to exclude just about anything north of nothing.  So the plaintiff will have to convince the court that what little the administration did to the team in her freshman season was tantamount to nothing.  The university would seemingly not be liable for the sophomore season hazing, since it has seemed to responded swiftly and strongly by suspending the team. 

For other recent stories about universities getting tough about hazing, see here (Stanford band) and here (Western Kentucky swim team).

Friday, May 22, 2015

"It's safer to be quiet": Cultures of retaliation~Cultures of sexual violence

So many voices have created the current level of visibility and activism around campus sexual assault. This week we are hearing them speak about retaliation in light of recent events that reveal the connection between cultures of sexual violence and cultures of retaliation against victims and allies who speak out.

Arguably the most visible story this week is out of New York. Columbia University graduation was this past week and Emma Sulkowicz was among the class of 2015. Sulkowicz has been carrying a mattress around campus this past year as part of a performance art piece. She vowed to keep carrying the mattress until Columbia kicked her rapist off campus. They didn't. There is an extensive back story to Sulkowicz's experience which is marked by administrative ineptitude that has never been explained or accounted for. Columbia should be apologizing to Sulkowicz but instead the university president refused to shake her hand* at last Tuesday's Senior Day ceremonies where Sulkowicz, with the help of friends, carried the mattress across stage; the last time she would carry it.

Her assailant, Paul Nungesser, also graduated this week. He was on stage a few minutes prior to Sulkowicz. He has filed a lawsuit against the school in relation to Sulkowicz's project/protest.

There has been great support for Sulkowicz, and the mattress project has inspired other activists across the country to take up the mattress as a symbol. But there has also been significant retaliation. The university contends that President Bollinger did not slight Sulkowicz--who made a concerted effort to make eye contact and shake his hand--but rather that the mattress was in the way. Given that various administrators worked very hard to keep Sulkowicz from carrying the mattress on stage, I find it hard to believe that the lack of a handshake was really due to the fact that the mattress was blocking such a gesture. Only symbolically!

Sulkowicz said she would not participate in the ceremony if she was not allowed to carry the mattress. Because of the attention to her case, this would have been even worse PR for Columbia. Though the recent posters calling Sulkowicz a "Pretty Little Liar" have not been great either.

These posters, found around campus, are part of a larger effort to silence and discredit Sulkowicz and all those who would think about reporting their assaults, those who support victims, and even those who participate in investigations (which I will discuss in a moment).

This anonymous piece in Jezebel speaks to the culture of retaliation at Columbia. Written by the woman who reported that Nungesser sexually assaulted her--a year before what he has called consensual sex with Sulkowicz, the author details her experiences and why she remains anonymous.   She is one of 4 people who report being sexually assaulted by Nungesser. The very visible and violent backlash against Sulkowicz had a silencing effect on this woman--who has only ever commented anonymously about her case--her and most likely other victims. There are so many pieces of this editorial I would like to quote (I recommend reading it all) but the most chilling phrase comes towards the end: "it's safer to be quiet."

That is certainly what a Stanford undergraduate learned this past semester. (Not a great week for Stanford.) This student is being held responsible--by the masses--for getting the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity kicked off campus. She never reported the behavior she saw on pledge night; behavior that she found offensive and so left after 30 minutes. But she was asked to give a statement as a witness. She was not assaulted and never claimed to be. Somehow fraternity members found out her name and began harassing her. So despite the other factors that contributed to SAE's expulsion, this undergrad is being blamed. And when the harassment started against her specifically, this triggered an additional investigation into the fraternity. It was going to happen with or without her participation and after much thought (given her that her initial participation had gone so badly) she did decide to participate.

Her editorial is also startling and speaks to the climate of retaliation on college campuses that is barely (if at all?) being addressed as part of these larger issues.  She writes:
"My only chance to protect myself was to participate in the same Title IX process that had made me a target in the first place. I knew that any decision I made would affect not just me, but the culture surrounding reporting on campus. I am a victim of harassment and retaliation, and this experience has been among the hardest I have ever had to deal with. I cannot imagine what it must be like for victims of violence and assault. Given the retaliation I faced for merely being thought to have reported harassment, I don’t know if I could face actually reporting a case of assault. And I am not willing to become a cautionary tale, an example of the reasons why people shouldn’t report."

These stories, in addition to the ones presented in The Hunting Ground,  of women who spoke out  all include anecdotes about other victims who come to them for advice because they are too afraid to report. Too afraid of the treatment they will receive by administrators, by law enforcement, and from their peers. This is an integral part of how rape culture is perpetuated and more needs to be done specifically addressing this component.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cost-of-Living Stipends Raise Gender Equity Challenges

On August 1, a new NCAA rule will take effect that allows college athletic programs in the five "power" conferences to increase athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance by providing athletes with a stipend to cover living expenses beyond tuition, books, and room. Will these new benefits to college athletes be distributed in compliance with Title IX?  If one institution's plans are any indication, it's not looking good for gender equity.

University of Nevada Las Vegas reports that it is committed to funding stipends for athletes participating in football and men's and women's basketball.  That means 98 men will benefit (85 scholarship football players and 13 basketball) compared to only 15 women. The university also reports that the average stipend award (which is not necessarily the same for each player but varies to reflect their own individualized costs) is $4500. That's amounts to a dollar-figure disparity of about $373,500 in favor of men's athletics at a university that already allocates 59% of its athletic financial aid resources to men's teams. 

In contrast, some schools plan to award the stipend to full-scholarship athletes in every sport, something that comes closer to equitable since the NCAA has women's volleyball, gymnastics, and tennis  (along with football and men's and women's basketball) to be full-scholarship instead of partial-scholarship (i.e., "equivalency") sports.  Some schools have also suggested they may award partial stipends to those on partial scholarships. 

These diverse approaches suggest a need for the NCAA and the power five conferences themselves to ensure that all member institutions are factoring gender equity in to their decision to award stipends, or, alternatively, that the Office for Civil Rights clarify an institution's compliance obligation under Title IX.  Such guidance could treat stipends like other athletic financial aid that is regulated by Title IX, and  requires the dollar figure amount be proportionate to the breakdown of male or female athletes.  Alternatively, given that the stipend amounts are individualized to each athlete taking into account factors other than sex, I think it would also be reasonable to instead require that the number of stipends (comparing full and partial separately) be equitable between the sexes.  Either way, however, it seems clear that athletic departments are not going to spontaneously comply with Title IX, and that guidance of some kind is in order.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Punishment and reforms for Stanford band

This week Stanford University announced the results of its investigation into the university's marching band. At issue was a climate of sexual hostility marked by harassment of members, especially upon initiation. In addition there were violations of hazing and alcohol policies. This has all resulted in a ban on the band's travel to away events next year. They will perform at home events and other unnamed non-athletic events.

We had not heard of this situation; it certainly has not made headlines like the OSU band scandal. (Though apparently the band has a reputation and have a history of rude behavior at schools.) The descriptions--admittedly vague--of the incidents suggest common issues among bands (and probably other college groups): alcohol, initiation rituals based on public humiliation, and sexual harassment/assault. What is interesting is the way these problems are framed when the group in question is a college marching band. The Dean of Residential Education commented on the findings and punishment: "The university's objective is to ensure a safe and harassment-free environment while honoring the band's traditions and its unique, irreverent identity." So band hazing/harassment is because they are quirky? When sports teams do this it's about team camaraderie. When fraternities and sororities do it, it's about loyalty to the organization.

It's all a form of violence. The commonality is that students largely think these things are fine and they are "part of the culture."

The band has the option of  appealing their partial suspension.

A few weeks ago we heard about another problematic culture within a university group: the swim team at Western Kentucky. Their investigation was more explicitly Title IX focused as it looked into numerous accounts of hazing. The punishment at WKU was far more extensive: three fired coaches, a 5-year suspension, and at least one athlete who will face criminal charges.

Again, the exact events that occurred within the Stanford marching band and the WKU swim team are unknown and comparing is impossible. However...there was no discussion of adult leadership in the Stanford case. I find this curious. Where were the university employees in all this? There are, of course, numerous cases of hazing within intercollegiate athletics where coaches claim they had no idea what was going on. But that excuse that the non-student adults are really oblivious as to what their charges are up to is not as readily accepted anymore as evidenced in the WKU case and of course in the OSU band case where the director was fired.

Hazing and harassment cases call for a greater questioning of the practices of any group culture and also inquiring into how that culture has been created and perpetuated. Did this really happen at Stanford?