Friday, September 12, 2014

Opportunity for Emerson

Emerson College in Boston has already found itself on the wrong side of Title IX compliance after being accused of mishandling sexual assault complaints. Some investigating by the campus paper has found that there was also a complaint against the school (and 99 other New England colleges and universities) alleging insufficient athletic opportunities for female students.
The mass complaint format is not new. We have seen it in states including Washington, California, Idaho. All these were aimed at high schools. The commonality is that they have all been done by an entity calling itself The Old Guys for Title IX. Friend of the blog Herb Dempsey, who counts himself as a member of The Old Guys, spoke to the Emerson paper about the complaints--all of which have been dismissed. The Office of Civil Rights does not believe the complaints have sufficient evidence to prove denial of opportunities. And based on the comments of students at Emerson who were interviewed in the article, they don't feel wanting either. The numbers show the opportunities provided to female students are not proportional to their representation in the undergraduate population. The participation gap (based on 2013 numbers) is 16% or 39 opportunities.
This does not mean Emerson is not in compliance, but we don't actually know that because, now that the complaint has been dismissed by OCR, they don't have to prove either prong two or three. As an Emerson alum (from the grad program admittedly), it didn't seem that athletics was an integral part of the Emerson experience. This, of course, does not mean that the female students are less interested than the male students who attend the liberal arts school. But Emerson should be required to ask, at least. If, as one student contends, students are more focused on the arts (and that is somehow more applicable to female students) and everyone is fine with what exists right now, it should not be too difficult for Emerson to assess that. With such a drastic participation gap, Emerson is setting itself up for future problems. Even if the complaint by The Guys was not successful, a future student complaint might be considered by OCR. And if Emerson has not chosen a prong and has data at the ready to prove it is indeed in compliance, it will be vulnerable. It continues to astound me that athletic departments are not crossing their t's and dotting their i's when it comes to Title IX. It does not matter if the program is not "big time" or even if it is a smaller part of student life, it still has to comply with the law.