Sunday, October 28, 2012

Grad student can proceed with lawsuit

The 2008 lawsuit former graduate student Monica Emeldi filed against the University of Oregon will be allowed to proceed after a full panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the 3-judge panel that also ruled in Emeldi's favor last spring. Both panels said that Emeldi who filed her lawsuit after she felt her adviser stepped down as her dissertation chair in retaliation for her complaints about gender bias in the department, should be allowed to pursue her case. The university believes the ruling, which they may decide to appeal to the Supreme Court, makes all professors vulnerable to lawsuits from disgruntled students and impedes on academic freedom. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Amherst College responds

Students have been, it seems, emboldened by the national press their college has received over the climate on the Amherst College campus. They held a rally last Friday outside a Board of Trustees meeting. And the college is responding--publicly.
President Martin gave an interview to New England Public Radio yesterday morning. I was quite impressed by her statements. She gave a lot of credit to the students of Amherst College who have already been working on this issue. She referred to them as experts. She has hired an outside consultant to examine the policies around sexual assault and misconduct. She is bringing in outside counselors to the counseling center to specifically serve students who have been victims of sexual assault.
I was somewhat surprised by this. While I think it is a positive move, I am not quite sure why a college campus doesn't already have multiple staff members in their counseling center who are capable of working with students who experience sexual assault. This might be part of the issue around "climate," which the interviewer asked Martin about.
Policies can change, staff members can change--but how do you change a climate?
Friends and I had this discussion just last night in reference both to Amherst College and a recent article about the Boston University men's hockey team, which dismissed two players last season because of sexual assault allegations. An internal report found a "culture of entitlement" on the team which lead to the these assaults and was allowed to flourish because of lack of supervision or discipline by the coaching staff and university administration. BU has put several policies and practices in place in an attempt to change the culture.
But altering a culture, especially when it is so engrained, is difficult. According to the Globe article linked in the above paragraph, appealing to people's sense of right and wrong does not work. You have to tell them everyone else is doing it--whatever the it is. So in the case of a climate which fosters the sexual assault of women, do we tell people "hey, everyone else is NOT raping women--you shouldn't either"?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Will Amherst College change its culture?

It has been suggested that there is a somewhat underground culture of sexual misogyny at Amherst College in Massachusetts. An article on Jezebel last week discussed the issue of on-campus sexual assault, the seeming lack of support for alleged victims from "first responders", and how the underground, largely unacknowledged Greek system at Amherst has contributed to a dangerous sexual climate at the college.
One underground fraternity printed a t-shirt last year featuring a bikini-clad, woman hog-tied, with bruises on her body and roasting over a spit. According to the article, the administration held a meeting about the incident with fraternity members and other students which resulted in the fraternity having to issue an apology.
A recent story in the college's student paper was written by a former (she withdrew from the school) student who wrote of her experience being raped on campus and not receiving adequate help from college administrators. Other alleged victims have been coming forward complaining that administrators encourage them to forgive the men who assaulted them, or have discouraged them from moving forward with disciplinary action. One of the major offenders apparently is counseling services. I thought this was unusual. At my undergraduate institution the sexual assault organization, which offered counseling and advice negotiating the criminal and disciplinary process, was constantly criticized for being too sympathetic to female students who came to them reporting an assault.
The former student's report that she was denied even the possibility of changing dorms was very disturbing to read but also reminiscent of other cases we have written about where female students who was sexually assaulted and shushed by administration have tried to at least put physical distance between themselves and their assailants but have been turned down. These cases are Title IX cases and these stories are used as evidence that the college had prior knowledge about either a particular student's sexually violent behavior or a climate of sexual violence and took no steps to remedy it.
There are current and former students working to change the college's sexual assault policies (including that those found guilty of sexual assault receive a lesser punishment than students who steal another student's laptop!). Additionally there has to be something going on at Amherst that has so many students speaking out now--mostly anonymously--about their own experiences. Counseling services may require some alternations, but also a potential issue is the reporting and disciplinary systems. Are they up to snuff? Would they hold up if one of these students decided to file a lawsuit? Are these questions Amherst College is asking itself?
President Biddy Martin held a forum last weekend about the issues, allowing students to voice their concerns. The school has also issued formal statements, from Martin herself--whose convocation speech addressed the concept of sexual respect, as well as the Board of Trustees, all stating that these issues will be addressed.
I have a great amount of respect for Dr. Biddy Martin. I was quite pleased when she left Wisconsin and came to our Happy Valley. This is a problem she inherited. I hope she is very serious about her statements to change the culture at Amherst College.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

University of Tennessee Defends Title IX Lawsuits by Women's Sports Employees

In recent weeks, the University of Tennessee has been sued twice by employees or former employees in athletics, who allege counts of sex discrimination and retaliation by a university with one of the strongest reputation for success in women's sports.

On September 27, Debbie Jennings, long-time sports information director, sued the university over various alleged instances of discrimination and retaliation.  Receiving the most attention in the media has been Jennings's claim that she was ousted from her position in retaliation for her opposition to the Athletic Director's decision to replace Pat Summitt as head coach of women's basketball, which Jennings viewed as an act of discrimination.  The lawsuit made waves the following week when she amended her complaint to include an affidavit from Summit that corroborated Jennings's claims that it was Athletic Director Dave Hart's decision that Summitt would no longer be coaching and that Summit was "upset" and "hurt" by his decision, though Summitt later apparently renounced her claim that she had been forced out.  Separately, however, Jennings's complaint also alleges that Hart discriminated against female employees in the recent merger of men's and women's athletic departments, letting go 12 women and 3 men as part of consolidation of jobs.  The combined athletic department's executive staff now has 7 men and 1 woman; while its senior administrative staff has 13 men and 2 women. 

A second lawsuit was recently filed by two employees and one former employee of the women's athletic department: Jenny Moshak, head athletic trainer; Heather Mason, strength and conditioning coach; and Collin Schlosser, former strength and conditioning coach (one of the three men let go in the merger). All allege that they were paid less than their counterpart employees in the men's athletic department, and they they were subject to retaliation for complaining internally about pay discrimination complaint (the university's rejection of which we blogged about last year).  In particular, Moshak claims that after the internal complaint, she was demoted and foreclosed from the opportunity to apply for the head trainer position in the merged department. 

Given the high profile nature of Tennessee women's sports, I predict this litigation will call much attention to the problem of persistent employment discrimination in college athletic departments.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Girls' b-ball goes (more) prime time in Indiana

Two years ago this month, the lawsuit initially filed by a former girls' basketball coach in an Indiana high school was dismissed. It was appealed, and last January an appellate court found sufficient violations of both Title IX and the Equal Protections Clause in the way the state high school athletic association scheduled girls' and boys' basketball games. The boys received the "prime time" spots--weekends, while girls' games where scheduled on weeknights.
This week a consent decree was filed with the court, which states that over the next few years two more girls' games will be moved to prime time slots (each year). 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Former Employee Files Retaliation Suit Against Yale

A former security education coordinator has reportedly filed a lawsuit against Yale University, claiming that her position was terminated in retaliation for blowing the whistle internally on Yale's under-reporting of campus sexual assault.  Plaintiff Susan Burhans alleges that over a 10-year period, she observed that Yale was not devoting adequate resources to address the campus climate of sexual violence.  When she brought the issue to the attention of University administrators, she was ignored or criticized.  And when she allegedly notified a university vice president that Yale was underreporting cases of sexual misconduct, the administration blocked Burhans's new programs to promote a safe environment in compliance with Title IX.

Aspects of Burhans's complaint seem particularly plausible in light of the fact that Yale has since entered into a voluntary agreement with OCR to fix many of the problems Burhans allegedly complained about, including the underreporting. 

A university spokesperson is quoted as denying the charges of retaliation and vowing to vigorously defend the lawsuit. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gaps in the progress narrative, or Why I hate the "posts"

There are some among us who dislike the term post-feminist. For some it is because the term suggests that our feminist work here is done. Even when "here" is the US, that statement remains untrue. For some, post-feminist means a new brand of "we've brought the sexy back" feminism. Also, problematic. As are the other posts: post-racial and, for our purposes here, post-Title IX.
I have tried, when possible, to point out to users of the term that the work of Title IX is ongoing and certainly not "post." Post suggests that we reached a place of contentment, even if we may not have equity yet. Things are going along and will continue to do so and that change comes slowly and this is a process, etc., etc.
The problem with this is that progress is not self-perpetuating. It continues to require work. Also, progress is difficult to measure, and even the measurement tools we do employ often leave gaps in the progress narrative. Around the time of the 40th anniversary, I noted to a reporter that while there are many more opportunities for girls and women now than 40 years ago, that is only one marker of progress. In other words, what about equal treatment measures? It is fine to celebrate progress in one area, but not to forget about other areas in which we have not witnessed such growth.
Progress along a single axis is a problem when we discuss Title IX. The above example (opportunities versus treatment) is one that we have focused on. But there are others. Progress for whom? Progress for African-American girs? For Latinas? For girls from working class backgrounds? For queer athletes?

So what's this diatribe about? Well it appears that the dominant progress narrative in Title IX discourse (ever-growing opportunities) has encountered some resistance. The Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls (SHARP) at University of Michigan released a report this week, along with the Women's Sports Foundation, noting that opportunities for high school girls might not be growing as fast as we thought and offered the possibility that they might decline in coming years. Tracking the data from high schools has always been a challenge, as the report notes, because of the lack of mandatory reporting (which is required of colleges). But it appears that the economy is taking a disproportionate toll on girls' sports. Less growth, the cutting of sports programs in schools with greater numbers of female students, and the ongoing disparity in opportunities are all issues.
It shouldn't be surprising that the economy would affect sports at the high school levels. What's surprising is that we haven't really talked about the potential disproportionate effects things like cutting high school sports or implementing fees for sports has on girls. There seems to be a general failure to truly embrace intersectional thinking around Title IX. We know Title IX has benefited more white girls than any other race. We must suspect that it benefits more middle and upper class girls as well. But these issues don't seem to get raised enough--also, I believe, an effect of the proliferation of the "posts." With the threat of a "backward" trend on the horizon, will this change?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Former Student Sues Wesleyan Over Campus Rape

A former student of Wesleyan University in Connecticut filed suit yesterday, according to news reports, alleging that the University violated Title IX by failing to protect her from being locked in a room and raped at a party at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, which allegedly had a known reputation as a "rape factory."  Wesleyan's response to her reporting of the rape was also indifferent, the complaint alleges, in several ways: the R.A. she reported it to the next day did not call university officials or the police; when the victim reported it to university officials the day after that, she was told she could go to the hospital, but received no offer of transportation or accompaniment; nor did they did not contact a rape counselor or offer any kind of services.

The complaint also suggests that the university failed to protect her from retaliatory harassment she experienced after having reported the incident.  In particular, there were protests outside her dormitory after the university revoked Beta's status the following year, and her identity became known.  The plaintiff eventually transferred to another college.  The assailant, a non-student guest of a Beta Theta Pi member, was convicted of assault and is serving a 15-month sentence. 

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Butte to Seek Resolution Agreement Over Softball Field

Regarding the pending Title IX complaint over softball fields in Butte, which Kris first blogged about last March, the school board recently voted to pursue a voluntary resolution with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, in settlement of the matter.  The complaint was filed last year by two former assistant coaches, who alleged that the school district discriminated against girls by giving the softball team access to an inferior facility off the high school campus, while sinking over $1 million into a stadium renovation for use by boys' teams.   According to the press, the school district decided to seek a resolution agreement because it will provide officials with a "clear path" to compliance, without having to admit that any violation had occurred. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Merrimack College adding women's sports

We won't lie. We're pretty excited to see another women's hockey team at the DI level. What's also nice is that the team is being added along with five other women's sports at Merrimack College, for a total of 80 new opportunities. The additions are part of the college's resolution agreement with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which settles a complaint about inequitable athletic opportunities for women.

Prompting this resolution agreement was OCR's finding that Merrimack was in violation of Title IX's requirement to maintain an equitable number of athletic opportunities, as measured by one of three prongs.  First, Merrimack's male students make up 52% of the population, yet receive 64% of athletic opportunities, so it could not claim compliance under the proportionality prong.  Second, prior to OCR's commencing its investigation, the last time Merrimack added a women's sport was in 1998, so it could not demonstrate a"history and continuing practice" of expanding opportunities for the underrepresented sex.  Third, Merrimack could not demonstrate that it was satisfying the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex, especially in light of women's growing interest in club and intramural sports at Merrimack.  The 80 new opportunities that will result from the new teams, some of which were added while OCR's investigation was pending, will bring Merrimack into compliance under the proportionality prong.  The resolution agreement also details Merrimack's obligation to provide equal treatment in terms of scholarship dollars, facilities, and other resources.  

Specifically Merrimack will add five women's teams to compete in Division II: swimming and diving, water polo, track and field (actually added in 2010-11, during OCR's period of review), crew, and golf. It will also add women's ice hockey, to which Merrimack will commit the resources for a team to be ready to join the premier, Division I Hockey East conference in five years.  Merrimack otherwise competes in Division II, but has a men's hockey team that competes in Hockey East, so this will bring parity within Merrimack's top tier sports.

As fans of another Hockey East team, the Title IX Bloggers say: Welcome Merrimack. Bring it! 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Richmond Drops Men's Soccer and Track In Order To Add Men's Lacrosse

The University of Richmond recently announced plans to eliminate men's soccer and track, in order that it may elevate men's lacrosse to varsity status.  This article reports on a "contentious" forum last weekend, at which the University explained the decision and confirmed it as "final." 

While the University of Richmond seems to deserve much of the criticism it has received for this move -- in particularly, the fact that it had earlier announced that men's soccer and track were safe and later reneged on this -- it does appear, at least from the above-mentioned article, that the role Title IX played in the decision has been accurately conveyed.  This is refreshing, as universities frequently use Title IX as a scapegoat to take the blame for unpopular decisions to eliminate teams, even though noting in the law requires it and the agency that enforces Title IX calls it a "disfavored practice."

In Richmond's case, the message seems to be that Title IX requires that the university  maintain equitable number of opportunities for men and women, but that it was Richmond's choice to elevate lacrosse (a sport with some generous donors, apparently) at the expense of other men's sports.   Richmond considered the possibility of adding lacrosse and another women's sports, but ruled this out based not only on financial considerations, but a desire to keep the varsity student-athlete population at its current level -- which, the President noted, is high for schools with student demographics similar to Richmond's.  The President was also open about its decision to elevate lacrosse in the first place, noting that the relatively number of Division I teams who compete in lacrosse gives Richmond a good chance to be a competitive. 

In 2006 James Madison University sacrificed 10 athletic teams in order to devote more resources to football.  It didn't say this, however.  Instead, it said it was eliminating 10 teams in order to comply with Title IX.  This engendered anger, protests, and even litigation -- not directed at the university for playing favorites with one sport at the expense of so many others, but at Title IX, and women's sports.  Say what you want about Richmond -- as I said, it certainly seems to deserve some of the criticism its getting for how it rolled out this decision -- but to the extent it's avoiding the Title IX blame-game and taking responsibility for its own role in deciding what and how many sports to field, this is a refreshing change.