The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently announced an investigation of Title IX violations at Yale University.
Sixteen Yale students and alumni filed an official complaint for their university’s “failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus,” according to a March 31 article in The Yale Daily News.
If Yale loses the suit, the university risks losing its federal funding, amounting to around $510 million.
Though Yale administrators deny any violation of Title IX, the university’s statement on the issue stated, “we will cooperate fully with the investigation. We share the same goal — to combat sexual misconduct effectively — and we hope the process will strengthen our and other schools’ ability to achieve that goal.”
It is unclear how the investigation at Yale might affect other Ivy League campuses.
“We take this issue very seriously, and thoroughly investigate all allegations of sexual harassment,” Penn spokeswoman Phyllis Holtzman wrote in an email.
While the specifics of the complaint itself have not been made public, media outlets — such as The Huffington Post, Yale Daily News and ABC News — have cited several prominent incidents that may have spurred the investigation.
One such incident occurred in 2010, when a group of Yale Delta Kappa Epsilon brothers shouted “No means yes! Yes means anal!” in front of freshman residences on campus as part of pledging activities.
Another incident occurred in 2008, when a group of fraternity brothers stood in front of the Yale Women’s Center and took a picture with a sign reading “We Love Yale Sluts” after shouting “Dick! Dick! Dick!”
A third event involved an email sent through a Yale listserv in 2009. The “Preseason Scouting Report” focused on 53 incoming freshman females and rated their desirability based on a sobriety scale of “five beers,” “ten beers,” or “blackout.”
Little to no disciplinary action was taken against these acts, according to The Yale Daily News.
The allegations have brought the Department of Education’s inquiry to Yale’s campus, but not all students see sexual harassment as a regularly present problem on campus.
Yale freshman Nadia Ahmad said the investigation “came as a shock” to many on campus. She did not believe that Yale has a “sexually hostile environment.”
“I didn’t think it was that out of control,” she added. “I think that the media has been blowing it out of proportion.”
However, Ahmad did acknowledge that because she was not targeted specifically, she was less affected by such an atmosphere. Had she been a subject of the “Preseason Scouting Report,” she said, “I probably would have been a lot more upset.”
Nevertheless, she said these types of incidents are not unique to Yale, or any college campus. “These kinds of things happen all the time, whether it’s right or wrong,” Ahmad added.
Though there is no current Title IX investigation at Penn, some students believe the University faces challenges on the road to gender equality.
College senior Matt Amalfitano — a member of the all-male sexual assault peer-education group One in Four and former Undergraduate Assembly president — said he believes the incidents at Yale reveal an underlying and unbalanced power dynamic between men and women. A hint of that underlying attitude may be present at Penn, he added.
“I think that women [at Penn] are empowered,” Amalfitano said, “but we can always be doing better.”
Negative attitudes toward women “don’t have to result in something large-scale. It happens in conversations and opinions,” Amalfitano explained.
College junior Meg Hlousek said, “Women at Penn have many great accomplishments, hold many leadership positions and do well, but at the same time are still confronted with sexist behavior and language.”
Hlousek, vice chairwoman of University Relations for the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women, added that such attitudes are not unique to Penn or any college campus.
“Obviously, nothing is perfect,” College senior Ali Huberlie said. However, with a female University president and active women’s center at Penn, the environment for women is comforting, Huberlie added.
“At the end of the day, you can’t control the attitudes of the people that come here,” she said. “You can foster an environment that is welcoming and open.”