Five things to know about Princeton violating Title IX



Sexual violence is an economic justice issue — and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) gets it.

On Wednesday, the OCR found Princeton University out of compliance with Title IX, the 1972 civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. As we’ve covered before, Title IX protects survivors of gender-based violence (female, male, and genderqueer) and requires schools to take steps to prevent violence and respond to it after it happens.

As an anti-violence organizer, I reacted to the OCR decision with all sorts of excitement/disappointment/cautious optimism and so, without further ado, here are the five things you need to know about the decision:

  1. OCR found that Princeton violated Title IX by perpetuating a hostile environment and failing to take prompt, equitable action to address complaints of sexual violence and harassment.

  2. In an increasingly frequent move, OCR issued a public finding of non-compliance against the university. This effort at transparency is new for the Office, which for years disclosed findings of rampant violations to victim-complainants behind closed doors while announcing vague non-findings to the public — which universities (like Yale) quickly spun as compliance. This new transparency represents a real victory for student activist groups, which have been calling on the Department for years to increase transparency both during investigations and at their conclusions.

  3. In addition to broader policy changes, OCR publicly required Princeton to take steps to support three individual victims — again, a new effort on the part of the Office. For instance, Princeton must remedy, in part, the financial impacts of violence on these survivors, including tuition reimbursement and counseling costs. Survivor activist groups like Know Your IX, the group I co-direct, have been working to highlight gender-based violence as an economic justice issue, and yesterday, along with the United States Students Association, called on the Department to clarify universities’ obligations to ameliorate the financial barriers that prevent gender-based violence survivors from accessing education. We wrote:

Survivors have testified to the effects of violence, including its economic consequences. These impacts include dropping out of school, taking leaves of absence, or seeing a drop in grades due to the trauma of the assault itself or mistreatment. Although further study is needed, it has become increasingly obvious that the violence survivors experience, compounded with the financial consequences of such, often jeopardizes their ability to get an education, with enduring consequences throughout their lives.

  1. The OCR investigation lasted four years. That’s unacceptable. In the life of a survivor on campus, four days — let alone four years — of being forced to eat in the same dining hall as one’s rapist or study in the same library as one’s abuser, is an eternity. Almost without a doubt, the survivors in the Princeton case must have graduated (or taken time off, or dropped out) before they could receive relief.

  2. OCR found Princeton violated Title IX but issued no formal sanction against it. That’s due in part to the bluntness of the only sanction available to the Department (removing all federal funds from the university, which would be devastating for students) and underscores the need for Congress to grant the Department more nuanced penalties. Fortunately, legislation is in the works!

Princeton was one of 85 colleges and universities under investigation for sexual violence-related Title IX violations. Here’s to hoping the Department keeps up the trend of holding institutions accountable, supporting survivors, and challenging hostile campus environments — much more quickly.

IMG_4962 Dana Bolger is a founding co-director of Know Your IX and contributor to Feministing. She tweets at @danabolger.

New Haven, CT

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and the co-founder of Know Your IX, the national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. She's also a student at Yale Law School, and you can find her on Twitter at @danabolger.

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School.

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