Last week, University of Maryland officials announced that students participating in the semiannual Clothesline Project could not write the full names of sexual assailants on the T-shirts that will be hung around campus. The Clothesline Project takes place in hundreds of communities and campuses around the country each year to raise awareness about sexual violence against women and to promote healing among survivors. A participant will decorate a T-shirt that represents an event of sexual violence against herself or another woman, and local organizers will collect the T-shirts and display them together on clotheslines.
Student organizers and supporters of the Clothesline Project at the University of Maryland are protesting the University's policy against naming assailants. The University's fraternities joined together in a letter of support for the Clothesline Project organizers and objection to the ban, while organizers are considering seeking an injunction against the University. If they do pursue legal action, they have indicated that they will argue that the policy violates Title IX because of its disparate impact on women.
If this controversy were to reach a judge, I think it would be difficult for the University's opponents to prevail on a Title IX claim. I think a judge would be persuaded that the University is limiting victims rights for a permissible, nondiscriminatory purpose, that of avoiding libeling individuals whose names appear on the shirts but who have not been convicted of assault. Notably, the founding Clothesline Project advises local organizers to encourage participants "not to name their perpetrators by both the first and last name unless they have been convicted of that particular crime" for this very reason. University officials would probably also argue that the policy against naming is the least discriminatory means of accomplishing this purpose, as it still leaves open the opportunity for victims to name and challenge their assailants through the University's disciplinary process.
Interestingly, one student who opposes the ban suggests that the University is responding to two specific shirts that have been included in past Clothesline Projects in College Park that name football players, one of whom plays for Maryland. Even if the University feels confident in the legality of its position, it may strike some kind of compromise with the Clothesline Project to avoid giving the appearance that it is silencing a victim of sexual assault in order to protect a football player.