Tag Archives: Title IX

Columbia University suspends wrestling program amid allegations of racism and homophobia

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Columbia University’s wrestling program has been halting while racist and lewd texts that members of the team allegedly sent out.

According to a university statement, the wrestling team will not compete while the investigation is underway until they reach “a full understanding of the facts on which to base the official response to this disturbing matter.”

— Nate Parker accused of exposing himself to female trainer — 

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“Columbia University has zero tolerance in its athletics programs for the group messaging and texts sent by several members of the men’s varsity wrestling team,” the university said in the statement. “They are appalling, at odds with the core values of the University, and violate team guidelines.”

The alleged messages go back as far as 2014 and include both racist and homophobic slurs as well as lewd comments toward women.

An online petition is already urging Columbia President Lee Bollinger to expel team members and had reached almost 1,000 signatures as of Tuesday.

How Women Are Harassed Out of Science

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When Joan was an undergraduate, in the 1970s, she asked her boyfriend why one of his roommates was finishing up a Ph.D. while another, in the same department, still had several years left.

“Barbara’s rigid,” her boyfriend said. His other roommate, Karen, had slept with her advisor, but Barbara refused to sleep with hers. Chuckling with approval, the boyfriend recounted how Karen had asked to use his waterbed and left a pair of sexy underwear scrunched in his sheets.

Today, this kind of quid pro quo may be less common, but sexual harassment at universities persists. The spate of lawsuits, investigations, and recent resignations at the University of California, Berkeley, University of Chicago, and UCLA,  accompanied by older cases leaked to the press and an increase in women going public about their experiences, have made that clear. Grad students and postdocs are particularly vulnerable, because their futures depend so completely on good recommendations from professors. And STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students are more dependent than others. Their career progress hinges on invitations to work on professors’ grants or—if students have their own projects—access to big data sets or expensive lab equipment controlled by overwhelmingly male senior faculty.

A 2015 report that one of us co-authored found that one in three women science professors surveyed reported sexual harassment. There’s been a lot of talk about how to keep women in the STEM pipeline, but it fails to make a crucial connection: One reason the pipeline leaks is that women are harassed out of science. And sexual harassment is just the beginning.

* * *

We recently spoke with a group of senior scientists who confirmed the prevalence of sexual harassment. Kim Barrett, the graduate dean at the University of California, San Diego, said she did not know of a single senior woman in gastroenterology, her subfield, who had not been sexually harassed. Margaret Leinen, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, described a conversation she once overheard between one male and five female scientists at a meeting where harassment was being discussed. “I don’t see what the fuss is about,” said the man. “I’ve never met anyone who has been sexually harassed.” The women just looked at each other. “Well, now you’ve met five,” they said.

Another established scientist—who, like several women we interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing professional repercussions for speaking out—expressed specific concern about sexual harassment in the summer training courses that feed into prestigious academic jobs. She recalled the lead professor of one such course taking photos of a student, zooming in on her breasts, and making jokes about her. In another course, a different lead professor hand-fed ice cream to a graduate student. “It can be devastating,” she said. “[It happens] at the moment when a woman feels she is finally getting to be a real scientist and one of the gang.”

Other scientists worried about harassment at annual conferences. Leinen, who was president of the American Geophysical Union last year, said that shortly before their annual conference a young woman scientist—emboldened by a resolution widely seen as censure of Berkeley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy—came forward with a report. A colleague had sexually harassed her during graduate school, and continued to do so at AGU’s annual meeting. The AGU sprang into action by holding a town-hall session at the conference, and is now discussing concrete steps to address sexual harassment at its next meeting, according to Leinen.

The American Association of Physical Anthropology was similarly rocked by a sexual assault allegation at its annual conference last year. The women we spoke with in that association agreed that conferences, fieldwork, and business travel are the worst. One recalled a male colleague who once said the only reason to go to conferences is to have an affair. A 2014 study of anthropologists and other field scientists found that 64 percent of 666 respondents had experienced some sort of sexual harassment while doing fieldwork.  

Then, there’s pregnancy harassment. One former doctoral student recalled having her job at a large research center cut due to “lack of funding” when she told her advisor she was expecting, only to see the position offered the next week to one of her friends. “I confided in my department chair that I believed I had been fired and discriminated against due to my pregnancy,” the student wrote. “She replied (and I can quote from memory verbatim because I was so horrified) ‘Are you sure? Because women in your condition have pregnancy brain and can often misinterpret situations.’ I realized I was screwed. No job, no, support, and no health insurance for my upcoming delivery.”

This student’s experience is far too common. Pregnant undergraduates and graduate students are frequently told that their only option is to withdraw from their programs, with no guarantee of readmission. Withdrawing can mean losing academic progress, tuition, fellowships, on-campus jobs, health insurance, and sometimes housing, according to the university policies we have studied and the people we have spoken with. (We currently have a National Science Foundation grant to work on this issue; the views expressed in this article are our own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the NSF.)

Postdocs, who fuel scientific research in the U.S., are equally at risk. For years, we’ve heard stories of Principal Investigators (PIs) who insist that pregnant postdocs return to the lab weeks after giving birth. A 2009 survey of postdocs by the social welfare researcher Mary Ann Mason and her colleagues found that of the women who entered their postdoc program intending to be research professors, 41 percent who had children during their postdoc decided against that career. By contrast, men who became fathers during their postdoc years changed their trajectory half as often—roughly the same rate as childless postdocs with no intention of having kids.

Our forthcoming report, Parents in the Pipeline, discusses postdocs’ experiences of parenthood. Nearly 20 percent of the roughly 1,000 postdocs who responded to our survey said their PI’s response to their parenthood had a negative impact on their training experience overall.  According to our preliminary results, only 59 percent of postdoc women respondents said their institution had a maternity leave policy that applied to them, and just 15 percent of all respondents had access to a parental leave policy that covered care taking. Nearly one in 10 of the postdoc respondents were denied leave altogether. “No one explicitly said ‘Do not take leave,’” reported one scientist, who instead faced “threats of pulling funding, constant pressure and reminders mere weeks after birth … insulting remarks about my inability to complete deadlines and astonishing hostility as if having a child equals slacking off.” We have heard many similar stories through our website that’s dedicated to this issue.

Why don’t women just wait to have children until they get their first professor jobs? They can’t: The average age for getting a doctorate in science and engineering fields is nearly 32, right when female fertility significantly decreases. Even after graduating, researchers spend upwards of five years as a postdoc before moving into faculty positions, and there is evidence that those who spend more time as a postdoc are the ones who advance into tenure-track research positions.

* * *

Wherever it occurs, sexual harassment of students or professors is a violation of Title IX when there’s federal funding involved. There almost always is. Sexual harassment of professors, students, or postdoc employees may violate employment laws as well. Moreover, it’s profligate as public policy: The U.S. faces a projected deficit of 1 million college-educated STEM workers in the coming decade, according to a recent White House report. Women can fill that gap; nationwide, educators, activists, politicians, and celebrities are all scrambling to encourage girls to choose STEM careers. Yet once those girls reach the final stages of their education—after dedicating over two decades of study—we lose them. The sunk cost of training a postdoc, conservatively, is $500,000—much of it public funds.

Here’s how we can stop harassing women out of science—two easier steps and two harder ones. The first is to break the silence surrounding sexual harassment. The decade-long behavior of Marcy, the Berkeley astronomer, was an open secret in the field until other astronomers finally organized in support of his victims, leading to his resignation. After molecular biologist Jason Lieb was found to have sexually assaulted a student and harassed others at the University of Chicago, the university came under fire for hiring him because it had received warnings that Lieb had been accused of harassment at two other universities.

“Reputation is the way we control behavior,” points out Ben Barres, a Stanford neurobiologist and trans man who has been vocal about the treatment of women in STEM. “These are serial perps. They go to another school, and the same behavior starts at the next school. Why don’t we make this public?” In Congress, Representative Jackie Speier is calling for a requirement that universities report findings of sexual harassment to federal funding agencies.

The second easy step is for funding agencies to send a clear message, backed by Title IX enforcement: Universities need to stop harassment and other illegal behavior towards students who become parents. Our preliminary survey data show that 53 percent of postdoc women report that their PI was very supportive of their pregnancy or parenthood; clearly, hounding mothers out of science is not mandated by the nature of scientific research. Discriminating against women based on pregnancy, or against either parent based on family responsibilities, is illegal sex discrimination. The lack of codified leave policies at institutions leaves the door open to unbridled discretion. Institutions need formal policies, if only as a risk-management measure.  

The first hard step: Universities need a best-practice sexual harassment policy that protects the rights of survivors while also giving alleged harassers due process—not immunity. The hysteria suggesting that these two goals are irreconcilable is unjustified. Many advocates are working on this, from well-established national groups like American Association of University Women to grassroots efforts such as Know Your IX.    

The final step is hard because it involves our wallets. The National Science Foundation provides supplemental funding for graduate students and postdocs working on NSF-supported projects who need parental leave. This funding makes it possible for PIs to cover both the parental leave and the salary of a temporary replacement. Yet these programs typically only apply where an institution has a formal leave policy. They also need to be adopted by more funding agencies.

“Don’t bother doing a postdoc,” a male neuroscientist advised aspiring postdocs who want to have kids. His advice? “Work at McDonalds, which would pay you equally or more, would give you more respect, and [offer] a ray of hope through promotion.”

If the U.S. wants to compete in a globalized world, where science and technology are developing at warp speed, we can’t afford to keep harassing women—or anyone—out of science.

What Should the Standard of Proof Be in Campus Rape Cases?

A college student is accused of rape or sexual harassment by a classmate and denies the allegation. A campus investigation follows. At the end of the process, the presiding administrator must judge whether the charges against the accused have merit.

What standard of proof should be used?

That’s one of the key questions posed in Doe v. Lhamon, a federal lawsuit filed by a former University of Virginia law student and the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn recent efforts by the Department of Education to lower the standard of proof in sexual-misconduct cases, forcing institutions of higher education to determine culpability based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” Under that standard, students are found culpable and punished if the chance that sexual misconduct occurred is even slightly more likely than that it did not occur.

In criminal cases, allegations must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Prior to the Department of Education’s push, many institutions of higher education required “clear and convincing evidence” to find a student guilty of sexual misconduct.

Princeton University required “clear and persuasive evidence.”

But starting in 2011, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began to insist that colleges would run afoul of Title IX and risk losing federal funding unless they adjudicated cases using the weaker “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

A 2014 communication reaffirmed the change.

The Department of Education’s actions were part of a larger effort to decrease sexual assault on college campuses by threatening institutions with the loss of federal funds if they didn’t making sweeping changes to their disciplinary procedures.

Most institutions complied. But critics say that students are now being denied due process. After Harvard University revised its sexual-misconduct policy, for example, numerous members of its law faculty signed a protest letter declaring that “we find the new sexual harassment policy inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach. We also find the process by which this policy was decided and imposed on all parts of the university inconsistent with the finest traditions of Harvard University, of faculty governance, and of academic freedom.”

Another group of law professors from numerous institutions of higher education co-signed an open letter objecting that the Office of Civil Rights “unlawfully expanded the nature and scope of institutions’ responsibility to address sexual harassment”––a procedural objection––“thereby compelling institutions to choose between fundamental fairness for students and their continued acceptance of federal funding.”

They added:

…relentless pressure on institutions to respond aggressively to sexual assault allegations has undermined the neutrality of many campus investigators and adjudicators by forcing them to consider the broader financial impact of their actions. In an effort to preclude a costly Title IX investigation, some institutions interrogate accused students before informing them of the specific conduct code they are alleged to have violated and many deny them access to witnesses or potentially exculpatory evidence. In the aftermath, innocent suspended and expelled students have become mired “in academic and professional
limbo,” impairing or destroying their access to a college education, thereby relegating them to a lifetime of diminished income and social stigmatization as sexual offenders.

Some students who were found guilty in campus proceedings sued their colleges, claiming that their due process rights were violated, and won victories in court.

The complaint in Doe v. Lhamon states that the plaintiff, John Doe, had a sexual encounter with Jane Roe on August 23, 2013. A year-and-a-half later, on March 6, 2015, Roe alleged misconduct, saying that due to alcohol consumption she could not consent to sexual activity. Doe responded that on the night in question, Roe did not appear to be intoxicated let alone incapacitated. UVA investigated the matter.

Previously, the university had used a “clear and convincing” standard. According to an old student handbook, that standard “means that the claim is highly probable and has produced a firm belief or conviction that the allegations in question are true.” But due to changes undertaken at the behest of the Department of Education, the Doe case was decided on the “preponderance of the evidence.”

Says the complaint:

On January 20, 2016, Ms. Roe’s claims were adjudicated during a nine-hour hearing.

The adjudicator––a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania––called the matter a “very close” and “very difficult case.” She found Mr. Doe responsible, she said, because the evidence “slightly” tipped in favor of responsibility, and she was “required” by “the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education” to apply “the weakest standard of proof” available––preponderance of the evidence––which is satisfied whenever the evidence is “tipped very slightly” in favor of responsibility.

The adjudicator also explained that two other commonly used evidentiary standards––the “clear and convincing” evidence standard and the “reasonable doubt” standard––would “tip the scale much more,” thereby indicating that, but for UVA’s mandated use of the preponderance standard, Mr. Doe would not have been found responsible.

After explaining why, in her view, the evidence before her “made it slightly more likely than not” that Mr. Doe had not properly obtained “effective consent” from Ms. Roe given her intoxication, the adjudicator again emphasized, at the end of her ruling, that the case was a close one. She stated that its closeness “will be reflected by me in any sanction that I impose.”

Ultimately, Doe was sentenced to four months counseling and a lifetime ban from all UVA property and activities. He subsequently took and passed the Virginia State Bar and was awarded his degree. His lawsuit argues that both the ban and what he says is the unjust label of someone who has committed sexual assault will affect him for the rest of his life, and that he would not have been found culpable if not for the lower standard of proof demanded by the Department of Education.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has a substantive interest in the case, declaring in a statement, “OCR has acted as though decreasing due process rights will increase justice. In fact, the opposite is true. Real people’s lives are being irreparably harmed.” But its legal argument is largely procedural––that is, it argues that the Office of Civil Rights is required by law “to notify the public of proposed rules and solicit feedback before imposing new obligations on regulated entities, like colleges and universities. OCR did not fulfill this obligation.”

Put another way, regardless of whether the newly relaxed standard of proof is superior or inferior, FIRE argues that the way in which the federal government imposed it was unlawful––the same procedural objection raised by the law professors in their 2014 letter. Time will tell whether that procedural argument carries the day.

On the substantive question, though, I’ve read about too many cases of wrongful convictions in the criminal-justice system, where the accused are afforded a right-to-counsel and the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof, to think that “a preponderance of the evidence” is sufficient in proceedings with no right to counsel.

I’m also struck by a little-discussed way in which “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “clear and convincing evidence” differ from “preponderance of the evidence.”

Under the stronger standards, it’s possible to find against an accuser without implying or seeming to imply that he or she is a liar. After all, a “not guilty” finding could mean that there was strong evidence, but that it did not meet the high standard of proof that the institution imposed as a safeguard against wrongly punishing innocents.

Whereas under a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, an adjudicator who finds against an accuser is arguably saying that it’s more likely than not that he or she is lying (though it is technically possible that the evidence is split right down the middle).

I suspect that will cause many adjudicators to feel some pressure, if only self-imposed, to render verdicts that validate the claims of accusers––pressure that either endangers innocents or is a long overdue corrective to “rape culture,” depending on your perspective. I wonder if accusers whose accusations are not validated will find it harder to bear. Regardless, if the “preponderance of the evidence” standard survives both litigation and debate, it ought to at least be paired with procedural reforms that guarantee that the accused on campuses are transparently told the charges against them, given access to evidence, allowed legal representation, and otherwise afforded at least the same rights and safeguards against injustice that they’d have in a civil case with comparable stakes.


An earlier version of this piece erroneously used "burden of proof" rather than "standard of proof" in a few places.

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Ex-Stanford Swimmer Gets 6 Month Sentence for Rape Despite Victim Requesting ‘Proper Punishment’

In January 2015, Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was arrested for raping an unconscious woman outside of a fraternity house. Turner, who was the subject of a very sympathetic “once-promising” Washington Post write up, was caught mid-rape by two men who happened to be riding their bikes nearby.

According to testimony in Turner’s March trial, one of the bicyclists yelled, “What are you doing?” at Turner, who proceeded to run away. The bicyclists managed to wrestle Turner to the ground. The former Stanford swimmer, now 20, was convicted of multiple felonies including assault with attempt to rape.

On Thursday, prosecutors asked sentencing judge Aaron Perksy to sentence Turner to six years in a state prison, though the maximum for his crimes is 14 years. But the judge instead decided to side with the probation officer and sentenced Turner to a mere six months in county jail. The Guardian reports that Persky cited Turner’s age and lack of previous criminal history as the reason for his decision. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him…I think he will not be a danger to others,” Perksy said.

Perksy’s sentencing factors have shades of that “once-promising” narrative, singularly focused on the well-being of rapist rather than the victim; it’s concern—the emphasis on the “severe impact” punishment could potentially have Turner—over the real, tangible crimes Turner committed. Perhaps the sentence shouldn’t be surprising, after all, only three out of every 100 rapists will spend a day in prison. Those numbers dwindle significantly for other sex-related felonies, like the ones Turner was convicted of.

Yet this sentencing seems particularly callous, particularly given the statement delivered at Turner’s hearing by the 23-year-old victim. In the courtroom, the victim looked directly at Turner and asked him, “I was awake, right?”, refuting Turner’s insistence throughout the trial that she was conscious throughout the encounter and verbally consented.

She also, Palo Alto Online reports, directly refuted large portions of Turner’s statement in which he blamed “campus drinking culture” and “the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that,” for raping a woman. She took particular issue with Turner’s false repentance (“I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life,” Turner wrote in his statement). The victim said in court:

“Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”

In her statement, too, the woman seized on the story that surrounded Turner—one that made him a victim of some inevitable circumstances, rather than a felon. A familiar narrative about rape and assault in which the effect of his crimes are diminished so that an upstanding young man could be mourned, so that he could be the victim:

“In newspapers, my name was “unconscious intoxicated woman”, ten syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am. That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster, while you are the All-American swimmer at a top university, innocent until proven guilty, with so much at stake. I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt, who waited a year to figure out if I was worth something.”

She also spoke directly about the probation officer’s recommendation, saying that she didn’t want Turner “to rot away in prison,” but rather for him to “understand and admit to his wrongdoing.” It, however, became clear to her after reading Turner’s statement (where he reiterated that he was drunk, she was conscious, the encounter was consensual, and drinking and hookup culture were the real culprits), that he was unable to “exhibit…remorse.”

“I fully respected his right to a trial, but even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol. Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of promiscuity. By definition rape is the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.”

After hearing and reading her statement, the judge still sentenced Turner to six months, though, as Palo Alto Online notes, it will more than likely be reduced to three months “with credit for good behavior.”

The county prosecutor said, “The punishment does not fit the crime.” It hardly ever does, but at least Turner’s future is still promising.

Read her full statement here.


Screenshot via ABC 7

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‘I was expendable’: how UC Berkeley failed a woman being sexually harassed | US news | The Guardian

Exclusive: University provost who resigned amid scandal expresses ‘regrets’ over handling of Tyann Sorrell’s case, who says she was denied basic protections

Source: ‘I was expendable’: how UC Berkeley failed a woman being sexually harassed | US news | The Guardian