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Yale settles Title IX complaint, launches new sexual misconduct policies

The Department of Education had accused Yale University of violating Title IX by not having an adequate system for reporting and resolving incidents of sexual harassment and assault.

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To settle a Title IX civil rights complaint, Yale University has agreed to take a wide range of actions to improve its handling of charges of sexual misconduct.

The voluntary agreement, announced Friday by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, resolves 16 complainants’ charges that the university violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by not responding adequately to sexual-misconduct reports.

Title IX, which marks its 40th anniversary this month, requires gender equity in educational settings that receive federal funding.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has been actively pushing for a wider understanding that sexual harassment and assault are violations of Title IX. It sent guidance to universities and schools last year detailing their obligations to create an environment that treats alleged victims sensitively, deals promptly with charges, and works to prevent such behavior.

“Students cannot learn if they don’t feel safe, and sexual harassment and sexual violence interfere with a student’s right to receive an education free of discrimination,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali said in a conference call with reporters Friday.

Between 2008 and 2011, the OCR has seen a 78 percent increase in sexual harassment complaints. In addition to investigating such complaints, it has been conducting proactive compliance reviews of eight higher education institutions and two K-12 settings.

The issue at Yale arose before the OCR's guidance letter was sent. Rather, it came into public view because of widely publicized incidents in the fall of 2010, when Yale fraternity pledges chanted comments outside dormitories that some students felt created a hostile environment – including slogans that appeared to support rape, such as “No means yes.” The civil rights complaint stemmed in part from such incidents.

Long before the agreement announced Friday, the university prohibited the fraternity involved from any on-campus activity for five years, and took other steps to improve the campus climate. It also delayed fraternity/sorority rush for first-year students until the second semester.

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