Monday, April 29, 2013

Students raising visibility around sexual assault

Disturbed by a recent spate of sexual assault and homophobic and racist incidents on their campus, a group of Dartmouth students staged a protest during Prospective Students Weekend. A video of the protest can be found here at Jezebel along with a commentary about the effectiveness of such a disturbance. I am not going to comment on whether it was "rude" or effective in making incoming students aware of the climate on Dartmouth's campus or if just deterred students who might be victims from coming at all.
I will say that visibility and voice are crucial components to raising awareness of campus climate. With so many schools misreporting data about sexual assault, how can anyone--including the students--be expected to stay silent? Some called the protest at Dartmouth rude. But deliberate indifference and misreporting are illegal. I do not know what students had done prior to this protest to raise these issues with the administration. But if something illegal and dangerous is happening on their campus--whether it is one incident or a series of them--and these are not being openly addressed by administrators, then students have every right to protest--loudly even. There has to be transparency.
When sexual assault and discrimination occur administrators should not be telling students (and I am not suggesting this is happening at Dartmouth rather that it happens frequently) that things will be handled. There needs to be a balance between privacy and transparency. Dealing with individual cases in accordance with privacy laws is fine. But the measures that will be taken to deal with a hostile campus climate need to be developed cooperatively and openly. And every student needs to be made aware of campus policies regarding sexual assault and incidents of discrimination.
I was browsing the Amherst College website today and found a page titled Sexual Respect and Title IX. It was under the "About Amherst College" tab on the front page of the school's website. Students can easily find information about reporting sexual assault and seeking counseling. It also notes the steps Amherst has taken to deal with an arguably hostile climate for female students. It also shows prospective students and their parents that Amherst College does have sexual assaults on its campus. I think that is a pretty bold move. They are not hiding that fact. (Arguably after all the negative press last year, it would be hard to do so.)
So many schools are hiding the extent of sexual assault that occurs on their campuses, though.
In another effort to increase visibility of these issues, a group of students and recent alums are trying to fund the Know You IX Campaign which will be aimed at informing every college student about her rights under Title IX. More about what the group will do and how to donate can be found at the above link.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Settlement Ends Ongoing Title IX Litigation Against Quinnipiac

A settlement announced today will, pending court approval, end the litigation against Quinnipiac University that's been ongoing since 2006, when the university announced plans to terminate its women's volleyball team.  Under the terms of the settlement, Quinnipiac will not to terminate women's volleyball for the three-year term of the agreement.   It further agrees that if it terminates any other women's team during that time, it will replace that team with an NCAA-championship sport.  This provision of the agreement reflects the influence of decisions of the federal district court (see here and here) which had refused to count towards Title IX proportionality two sports -- competitive cheer and rugby -- that had not yet attained NCAA championship status.  Quinnipiac also agrees that it will not create additional men's teams without also simultaneously adding women's teams while the agreement is in effect. 

Additionally, Quinnipiac agreed to numerous provisions to enhance its outdoor track team, ensuring that despite overlapping participation by members of the cross-country team, the sport is truly a separate and distinct sport rather than merely a glorified off-season for distance runners.  Quinnipiac will secure access to an off-campus facility for the purpose of training and hosting an outdoor track meet, it will devote scholarship dollars to track athletes who do not specialize in distance, and will seek to expand the number of events in which Quinnipiac track and field athletes compete.  Quinnipiac will also add resources to women's rugby by improving their playing facilities, opportunities for NCAA-level competition and increasing scholarship dollars devoted to that sport.

In general, the agreement ensures that Quinnipiac's women's sports teams will award at least 50% of the scholarships authorized by the NCAA, and that some women's teams -- field hockey and one other designated a "tier one" team -- will receive the full number of scholarships authorized by the NCAA.  Women's volleyball will receive two additional scholarships over the next two years.   And Quinnipiac will devote $5 million to facilities for its women's teams, as well as additional hundreds of thousands of dollars for other upgrades to their uniforms, equipment, supplies, and the compensation of women's coaches.

Earlier today, the Women's Sports Foundation posted a summary of the settlement terms, along with a list of the all of the positive Title IX precedent to emerge from this litigation. Summing it up rather well, the Foundation also expressed gratitude for the volleyball plaintiffs and their coach, lawyers and experts for enduring many years of litigation to eventually "obtain broad relief for all Quinnipiac University athletes" and establishing "a powerful precedent for all future female athletes."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Plans for New Athletic Complex Disputed in North Reading, Massachusetts

The Boston Globe reports today about a Title IX dispute brewing in North Reading, Massachusetts, over the construction of a new athletic complex for the high school and middle school.  The complex had initially been designed to provide a new field for both baseball and softball, but was recently modified by the committee supervising the project to provide two fields to baseball, one primary field and a second, smaller practice field.  Many in town are contesting this development, since the softball team currently plays at a field off campus, at a local elementary school, in conditions that are inferior to the existing baseball field already located at the high school. In particular, the softball field lacks a dugout, bathrooms, and locker rooms. That disparity could have been corrected with the construction of two new fields of comparable quality. For that reason, softball advocates are working to convince the school board to return to the initial proposal, and have threatened to file a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights if the plan for two baseball fields remains in place. 

I think the softball advocates are right to see this as a Title IX issue.  As I told the reporter for this story, “It’s not equitable for the girls to have to pay for their own transportation off campus or to not have fields of comparable quality,” she said. “And it’s even more egregious that at a moment when the school is adding new facilities, it’s not seeking to correct that inequity but is perhaps going to exacerbate it.”  Hopefully, the school district will decide on its own to return to the gender equitable plan. If not, I think the softball advocates will easily prevail by leveraging Title IX.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Madison Area Technical College Agrees to Enhance Women's Athletics

Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin has agreed to add opportunities and resources for women's sports, as part of a voluntary resolution agreement with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to ensure compliance with Title IX. We noted last December that the school was under investigation by OCR after receiving a complaint about inequities in MATC athletics. The college, with a 53 male student body, presently offers 62 athletic opportunities (and a near identical percentage) for men in a total of four sports, with the support of 16 coaches.  Female students, who make up 47% of the student body, have 37 opportunities in three sports, with 3 coaches.  No female students receive athletic scholarships, while members of the men's baseball team do.

To remedy these imbalances, the college has committed to adding women's soccer, a step it had already announced while the OCR investigation was underway.  The college is planning to hire a coach later this year and field a team in 2014.  In addition, it will elevate its softball team to Division II of the National Junior College Athletic Association, so that it may provide scholarships to its members.  OCR will monitor MATC's compliance with this agreement for the next three years.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Study Correlates Sex-Segergated Classes and Gender Stereotyping

Earlier this year, the journal Educational Studies published research finding that the more boys and girls were segregated for their junior high classes, the more they engaged in gender stereotyping the following semester, as measured by students' responses to a questionnaire with the questions "who [boys or girls] is better at math?" and "who is better at language arts?"

Here is the article's abstract:
Concern has been raised that segregation of girls and boys into separate classes leads to increased gender stereotyping. We tested this in a sample of 365 seventh-grade students attending a junior high school that offers both gender-segregated (GS) and co-educational classes. It was found that for both boys and girls, the more GS classes they took in the fall, the more gender stereotyped they were in their responding in the spring (controlling for initial levels of gender stereotyping). We concluded that GS likely heightens the salience of gender in the classroom thereby reinforcing and increasing gender stereotypes. As such, we argue that GS is a misguided approach to addressing any educational difficulties girls and boys might be having.

Citation: Richard A. Fabes et al.,  Gender-Segregated Schooling and Gender Stereotypes, Educational Studies (2013).

Friday, April 19, 2013

More Sexual Assault Complaints Filed

On the heels of yesterday's report that 12 students at Swarthmore collaborated on a complaint challenging the inefficiencies of the university's response to sexual assaults on campus, today brings news of an even larger effort to expose similar problems at Occidental College in Los Angeles.  The Department of Education received a complaint against Occidental containing accounts by 37 students and alumni of the college's mishandling reports of sexual assault, including by seeking to deter victims from reporting, dragging out the disciplinary process, and allowing guilty offenders to remain in school.  Several of the students involved in the complaint made public statements yesterday, coming forward about their own experiences in an effort to raise awareness about what is starting to look like a national epidemic of suppression of campus sexual assault.  

In related news, a former high school student in Michigan, represented by the National Women's Law Center, filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday, alleging that the Forest Hills School district in Michigan violated Title IX by responding indifferently to her allegation of sexual assault against a male student athlete in 2010. The lawsuit alleges that school officials sought to deter the victim's parents from reporting the assault to the police (which they did anyway), failed to investigate her claim, delayed changing the alleged attacker's schedule to remove him from the victim's schedules, and failed to protect her from harassment by other students who supported the alleged attacker.  During this time, a second female student complained of an assault by the same male student.  Yet, according to the complaint, the school district failed to investigate that report as well.   Police eventually charged the student with two counts of criminal sexual assault, and the student pled guilty to reduced charges.  Yet the school district's only response was to temporarily suspend him from the basketball team.  The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate the plaintiff for emotional distress, as well as injunctive relief that would require the school district to improve its prevention and response to sexual assault. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Swarthmore Students File Complaint Over Sexual Assault Reporting

Twelve undergraduate students at Swarthmore College filed a complaint with the Department of Education, alleging that the college inadequately addressed known reports of sexual assault, including by failing to report them as required by law.

The Daily Swarthmore lists the specific allegations as follows:
1. Discouraging students from reporting crime to local law enforcement and from going through formal judiciary proceedings
2. Persistently underreporting incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape in the Annual Clery Security Report
3. Persistently underreporting incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape in the daily crime log
4. Failing to issue timely reports of incidents of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape
5. Failing to publicly report potential sanctions for sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape
6. Intimidating, discriminating, and retaliating against sexual assault and rape survivors and their advocates
Several of these allegations -- 1, 5, and 6, at least -- are violations of Title IX, while the others -- 2, 3, and 4 -- are violations of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.  The Department of Education has jurisdiction over both statutes.

If this complaint reminds you of the allegations against UNC, there's a reason for that.  The Swarthmore complainants reportedly consulted with Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, the students who filed the complaint that is pending against their university on similar charges. (The complaint is still pending, though UNC is reported this week to have begun to address some the charges by hiring a Title IX Coordinator.)  In fact, as also reported in the New York Times, undergraduates at UNC, Amherst, Yale, and other colleges have been collaborating about strategies to expose and address campus sexual assault.  By taking concerted action against and within their respective universities, these students are exposing a national epidemic that has been ignored for too long. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Maryland Legislature Appropriates $2.3 M for Softball Stadium at Towson

In the wake of the Maryland governor's decision to appropriate $300,000 to save the Towson University  baseball team from elimination, it's reported that the state's legislature will provide $2.3 million in state funds for the purpose of constructing a new facility for the university's softball team.  This capital improvement addresses the university president's concern that keeping baseball would put the university at risk of liability under Title IX, though she notes that the university still need to address the disparity in the number of athletic opportunities available to Towson's female students. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

OCR Investigations Underway In...

...Framingham, Massachusetts, where students have been complaining and protesting that high school officials took it easy on a male student-athlete accused of sexual assault, even after his second offense.  The students note that the school's drug and alcohol policy carries stronger sanctions than the five-day suspension he eventually received.  The accused student was allowed to continue to play football despite both reports of assault, and still sees both victims at school every day.  The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights received a complaint that the school district's response violates Title IX, and has begun an investigation into whether the school district had in place, and followed, appropriate procedures for handling allegations of assault, and whether it had designated the required Title IX Coordinator position to someone on staff. 

...Longview, Texas, where a former high school girls soccer coach has filed a complaint with OCR containing allegations of inferior treatment for his and other girls' team, compared to boys' teams who have access to better facilities and equipment and more coaches. The complainant, a high school teacher named Eric Yoder, earlier complained to the school district's Title IX coordinator and then the school board, and filed a complaint with OCR after both earlier complaints were rebuffed.  The high school's athletics director, for one, has accused Yoder of being interested only in his salary, though it's clear that the scope of Yoder's complaint is much broader.  OCR officials arrived in Longview last week, and reportedly talked to over 250 student-athletes as part of its investigation. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lawsuit Challenges Softball Fields in Batavia, NY

Batavia City School District in western New York is under fire for the alleged unequal treatment of its girls softball team.  A public interest law firm called Empire Justice Center filed a class action lawsuit against the district, maintaining that its inferior treatment of the girls softball team is a violation of Title IX.  The boys' baseball team at Batavia plays at Dwyer Stadium, a facility that is owned by the city for the primary purpose of hosting the city's minor league team, the Batavia Muckdogs, which has grandstand seats, lighting, a ticket booth, an outfield fence, an electronic scoreboard, press box, covered dugouts, concession stand and bullpens.  The city makes the stadium available for local high school games for a generous $175/game. 

While acknowledging that the girls' softball field lacks all of the amenities of Dwyer Stadium, the school district argues that the city provides those benefits, rather than the school.  They also point out that the softball facilities are comparable to those of the team's competitors.  Yet, as I told a local news station in Batavia, neither of these arguments constitute a legal defense to a Title IX violation.  Title IX requires a school to provide equal treatment to boys and girls athletic programs, whether that treatment is high quality or low, the law is only concerned that is equal.  And the Department of Education has also made clear that if the district accepts from sources outside the school a benefit for the team of one sex, it still has to provide comparable treatment to a team of the other sex. 

The lawsuit should put pressure on the school district to concrete plans for upgrading the softball field.  Batavia residents reportedly voted down an effort in March 2011 to commit public funds to improvements to the field

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Boston University drops wrestling as varsity sport

After the of 2013-14 season, Boston University will no longer support a varsity wrestling team. Wrestling has been a varsity sport at the university for just under 50 years. Officials within the athletics department said that the decision was made for several reasons including BU's imminent conference move to the Patriot League which does not have wrestling and the team's mediocre performance in the past decade+. To remedy the latter, a lot more money would have to be put into the program including into facilities, something the department says is not feasible. They immediately ruled out the possibility of fundraising as a possibility to save the team. It seems the decision has been made.
The good news is that the articles I have read have not invoked Title IX as a "the law made me do it" excuse. And BU eliminated football in the late 1990s so we know they aren't shuffling the money over to that program.
But that hasn't stopped critics from participating in the Title IX blame game. A quick look at Twitter:
Some named Justin S tweeted "Wrestling programs get cut so girls can take lots of cute uniform pics in the lockerroom before games" with the TitleIX hashtag. This was right after he tweeted that "football and wrestling have literally destroyed my body." Hmm...
Jason Bryant, a sportswriter in Minnesota, tweeted that that was another case of Title IX forcing a school to cut a sport and that it was the addition of men's lacrosse that forced the school to cut wrestling--because it couldn't keep both.
Well it certainly has a numbers problem. Men comprise, as of the 2012 EADA reporting, just a smidge under 40 percent of the undergraduate population. The same data show that there is a 7.7 percent disparity between the percentage of female undergraduates and the percentage of female student-athletes. That is equivalent to 52 opportunities. So they have to keep the number of male student-athletes in check or add a woman's sport--or increase the number of men in their undergraduate population. Adding men's lacrosse made the school vulnerable. If a woman's club team, for example, came forward and asked for elevation to varsity status the school might have trouble denying them that opportunity given that their numbers are off and that the last women's team they added was in 2005.
If BU had all the money in the world, maybe wrestling would have been retained and two more women's sports added. But maybe they are simply trying to maintain a highly successful athletics program in which all their sports are regionally popular and given what they need to succeed.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Article Examines Standing Issue in Title IX Case

In the current issue of Sports Lawyers Journal, student author Colton Puckett criticizes the federal court's standing analysis in American Sports Council v. Department of Education, the case in which ASC sought to have courts declare the three-part test inapplicable to high school athletics.  The federal court dismissed the case on the grounds that ASC did not suffer a concrete injury that would be redressed by a ruling against the Department of Education, i.e., that ASC did not satisfy the jurisdictional prerequisite known as standing.  (We blogged about that decision when it was announced last March.)  The author concludes:
To be clear, this Note is not commenting on the merits of the ASC's complaint. Whether one believes that Title IX is the savior of public athletic programs, the embodiment of all that is wrong with government regulation, or anything in between is irrelevant to the question at hand. The question is whether the ASC has a right to have its case heard in court. Whether one agrees with the ASC or not, it seems clear that its shotgun-style approach to standing should have garnered at least one hit. If this was indeed a case where the standing inquiry acted as a means to dismiss on the merits, the court should have let the ASC be heard, and let the merits of the case stand, or fall, on their own.
Colton Puckett, American Sports Council v. Department of Education: Forty Years of Title IX and Still Standing (Or Not), 20 Sports Lawyers J. 261 (2013).

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Maryland Governor Restores Towson Baseball

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has allocated $300,000 to Towson University for the next two years, in order to reinstate the baseball team cut that had been eliminated last month by the university president and athletic director.  Towson claimed that cutting baseball, along with men's soccer, was necessary to rein in athletic department finances and achieve Title IX compliance, although the universities Board of Visitors had earlier questioned the accuracy of the Title IX rationale. Towson will reportedly use the additional state money to support baseball as well as explore adding an additional women's team.  Based on public reports about equity in athletic opportunity, Towson provides 52% of athletic opportunities to women, though women constitute 61% of the undergraduate student body.

It is unclear to me whether the Governor's gift has truly saved the team or simply provided a two-year reprieve for its varsity status. The university president noted that even with the additional money, the university will have to raise student fees by $8 and fundraise an additional $100,000 per year in order to keep baseball.  What happens after that?  This report states that the team must become "self-sufficient" by 2015, but if self-sufficient means that the team pays for itself with little university support, I think there's another label for that -- a club team.