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Yale says yes to White House
on sex-assault survey

The White House challenged American universities this week to “show they’re serious” about campus sexual assault by conducting a student survey next year. Yale's response: we're on it.

Many recommendations in “Not Alone,” a report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, “are closely aligned with steps Yale is already taking,” Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler notes in an e-mail to the Yale Alumni Magazine.

But the very first recommendation is a notable exception.

“The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it—and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that,” says the report, released April 29. “We are providing schools with a toolkit to conduct a survey—and we urge schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year.”

Yale—beset by complaints and under federal investigation for its allegedly hostile sexual environment—issued a report on its “campus climate” in 2011. But that assessment was qualitative; the authors interviewed many members of the Yale community but didn't attempt to measure the prevalance of sexual violence or to quantify students' satisfaction or dissatisfaction with how the university handled their complaints.

As Yale moved to improve its systems for addressing sexual misconduct, and to disclose more information about complaints and their resolutions, it did a follow-up assessment last year—again using qualitative methods.

Now, Yale is working “to identify the most effective means to measure the prevalence and/or incidence of sexual assault on our campus,” Spangler writes. “We plan to conduct this type of quantitative survey in the 2014-2015 academic year.” She didn't immediately respond to a question about whether Yale will publish the data.

The prevalence of campus sexual misconduct—and questions of how university officials handle it—have been hot topics at Yale for the past several years. Now the issue is gaining national prominence, with politicians who have focused on sexual violence in the military turning their attention to the country’s campuses.

Today, the federal Education Department released a list of 55 colleges and universities that it's currently investigating for their handling of sexual violence. The list includes three Ivy League schools: Harvard, Dartmouth, and Princeton. (The department ended its Yale investigation with a "voluntary resolution" in 2012.)

The White House task force, established in January, calls this week's report its first step. Saying that one in five women is sexually assaulted during college—usually by someone she knows—the report declares: “we are here to tell sexual assault survivors that they are not alone. And we’re also here to help schools live up to their obligation to protect students from sexual violence.”

After "identifying the problem" through a campus climate survey, the report's second recommendation is "preventing sexual assault—and engaging men." It especially endorses “bystander intervention” programs, which encourage students to defuse sexually aggressive situations as they develop.

Yale has found bystander intervention training “extremely powerful” and requires it of all undergraduates, Spangler says. She concludes: “We are committed to eliminating sexual misconduct on our campus.”

The White House report draws cautious endorsements from some critics of how both Yale and the federal government have responded to campus sexual violence.

The task force recommendations “are generally to the good, and Congress should make them stick by enacting them into law,” writes Emily Bazelon ’93, ’00JD, in Slate. “And yet, I have to pause to say that I can’t believe how long it has taken to put this issue at the front of the national agenda—and how toothless the laws written to protect students remain.”

Know Your IX, a national organization cofounded by Alexandra Brodsky ’12, ’16JD, similarly calls for more enforcement.

“It is unconscionable that, in [the Department of Education]’s entire history, the agency has never once sanctioned a school for sexual violence-related violations of Title IX,” the group says. “Such tolerance allows institutional abuses to go unchecked at students’ expense.”

Also this week, the Connecticut legislature passed what advocates call a “landmark” bill on campus sexual violence. In addition to requiring that public and private colleges report information—much as they already do to the federal government—the bill mandates that each school sign a memorandum of understanding to work with a community-based sexual assault center.

Yale already has “a longstanding, excellent working relationship with New Haven’s Women and Families Center,” Spangler says. “We will of course” sign a formal agreement to comply with the new law.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Title IX, sexual misconduct, Stephanie Spangler, White House
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