It was the last week of classes in May 2014 when a female Stony Brook University student contacted editors Rebecca Anzel, Giselle Barkley and Hanaa’ Tameez about her difficulty reporting a sexual assault to the university. On June 29, reporters Kelly Zegers and Arielle Martinez wrote an article detailing the complicated process by which Stony Brook University handles sexual assault complaints.
That August, The Statesman learned that Stony Brook University was under investigation for Title IX compliance by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights due to a complaint filed by another female student. This page is the culmination of a year’s worth of reporting on everything from the continuing investigation to a recent lawsuit filed against the university.
Title IX as defined by the U.S. Department of Education
Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Scope of Title IX: Title IX applies to institutions that receive federal financial assistance from ED, including state and local educational agencies. These agencies include approximately 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, as well as chart schools, for-profit schools, libraries, and museums.
Some key issue areas in which recipients have Title IX obligations are: recruitment, admissions, and counseling; financial assistance, athletics; sex-based harassment; treatment of pregnant and parenting students; discipline; single-sex education; and employment. Also, a recipient may not retaliate against any person for opposing an unlawful education practice or policy, or made charges, testified or participated in any complaint action under Title IX.
Office of Civil Rights Enforcement of Title IX: OCR vigorously enforces Title IX to ensure that institutions that receive federal financial assistance from ED comply with the law. OCR evaluates, investigates, and resolves complaints alleging sex discrimination. OCR also conducts proactive investigations, called compliance reviews, to examine potential systemic violations based on source of information other than complaints.
Forcible Sexual Assault as defined by the U.S. Department of Education
A. Forcible Rape
The carnal knowledge of a person, forcibly and/or against the person’s will; or, not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity (or because of his/her youth).
B. Forcible Sodomy
Oral or anal sexual intercourse with another person, forcibly or against the person’s will; or, not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her youth or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity.
C. Sexual Assault With an Object
To use an object or instrument to unlawfully penetrate, however slightly, the genital or anal opening of the body of another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or, not forcibly where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity.
D. Forcible Fondling
The touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or, not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her youth or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental incapacity.
Scratching the Surface:
Understanding Title IX at Stony Brook and within SUNY
An investigation into Stony Brook University’s compliance with Title IX, a federal clause prohibiting gender-based discrimination at federally-funded institutions, was opened by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on Tuesday, July 23, 2014.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s website, this type of investigation begins when the state’s OCR enforcement office receives a complaint about an institution where an act of discrimination allegedly occurred. If, after an investigation, the OCR determines a violation of Title IX was made, it will first try to work with the institution to “obtain voluntary compliance and negotiate remedies.”
In more extreme cases where compliance and remedies cannot be reached, the OCR can “initiate enforcement action” and take steps to terminate the institution’s federal funding.
“Enforcement usually consists of referring a case to the Department of Justice for court action, or initiating proceedings, before an administrative law judge, to terminate Federal funding to the recipient’s program or activity in which the prohibited discrimination occurred,” according to OCR’s website. “Terminations are made only after the recipient has had an opportunity for a hearing before an administrative law judge, and after all other appeals have been exhausted.”
Investigations like this one are not unheard of, in part because one clearly-defined process specifically for conducting cases of sexual discrimination does not exist. This lack of procedure causes a myriad of other problems, including the failure to train university faculty and staff properly about the requirements of Title IX; a mishandling of internal cases of alleged sexual discrimination; and often, an inability to hold accountable those guilty of sexual discrimination.
As specified by the Title IX clause, the way in which a federally-funded educational institution complies with Title IX is specified by at least one individual appointed by that institution to do so. In section 25.140, the clause goes on to explain how information concerning an institution’s compliance is disseminated:
“Such notification shall contain such information, and be made in such manner, as the designated agency official finds necessary to apprise such persons of the protections against discrimination assured them by Title IX and these Title IX regulations, but shall state at least that the requirement not to discriminate in education programs or activities extends to employment therin, and to admission thereto…”
In essence, a school’s Title IX coordinator is ultimately tasked with deciding what Title IX-related information to share and how to share it with the campus community. At the very least, the Title IX coordinator needs to clearly communicate that the institution does not discriminate in any way based on sex.
The Title IX coordinator at Stony Brook is Marjolie Leonard, who is officially known as the University’s Director of Title IX and Risk Management. She also heads the Office of Discrimination and Affirmative Action. Leonard was appointed by Stony Brook on Sept. 9, 2014 after serving as the interim director earlier during the summer. Raúl M. Sánchez previously held the position for 11 months.
One of Leonard’s duties as SBU’s Title IX coordinator is ensuring cases of sex discrimination are handled in a timely fashion as per the law.
“Anyone who is harassing [a] student, which would include rape, by another student or faculty member, any faculty member who is harassing or assaulting a student anyone who is discriminating, this is all a violation of Title IX and the school needs to respond promptly,” Bernice Sandler, a senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute, said. Sandler is often referred to as the “Godmother of Title IX” due to her suggestion that institutions have a Title IX coordinator. This regulation was passed in 1975 at Sandler’s urging.
This is not the case at Stony Brook.
A student who files a complaint on the basis that he or she was sexually assaulted may not have his or her hearing until six months following his or her complaint or incidence. Though it is unclear whether this is a result of apathy or a lack of staffing within the Title IX department, Sandler said it could be “a little bit of both.”
At Stony Brook, the options for reporting an instance of sexual discrimination can be overwhelming. The information presented by the University seems to hold that any incident will always be between students. It does not mention any changes in the process if one of the involved parties is, for example, a staff or faculty member.
Those making a complaint have 30 days to do so, according to the chart, and can choose to go to the University Police Department, Office of Community Standards or the Title IX director. From there, a University employee from the Division of Student Affairs office conducts an investigation into “whether further action is necessary.” This includes getting accounts of the situation from the alleged victim and assailant as well as any witnesses.
There are two possible outcomes at this point. In some cases, a written notice will be sent to the accused student notifying him or her of the specific charges and a hearing will be scheduled no sooner than ten days after that notice is sent. It is unclear if the written notice is sent out by post or by email.
The accused can “take responsibility” and waive the right to a hearing and accept the sanctions, according to the chart. If the student chooses to contest the allegations, he or she can appeal to start a hearing process. The type of hearing varies based on the severity of the accusation.
The second route is to hold a Disciplinary Counseling meeting, which will be scheduled between the student involved and a university official. It is unclear if the student called into the counseling meeting is the accuser or the accusee.
Overall, these problems are not unique to Stony Brook. There are often no defined processes because the Title IX legislation does not outline one.
However, on a national level, it is difficult for the House of Representatives to pass specific legislation detailing a procedure for every educational institution the federal government funds. The problem of discrimination based on sex on campuses does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. It would make more sense for the law to say a federally-funded academic institution needs to implement its own specific, clearly-defined process.
Beyond Stony Brook:
Sexual assaults on 13 New York campuses under investigation
Stony Brook University is not the only higher education institution in New York currently under review for Title IX violations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. As of March 4, 2015, there are 12 others, making New York the state with the highest number of open investigations.
The diagrams below show the number of forcible sexual assaults for each institution under investigation by OCR, the information for which was obtained using the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool on the DoE website. Both diagrams are organized in chronological order of when OCR opened its investigation into each institution.
The bubble chart above shows the relationship between each institution’s enrollment total and how many reported cases of sexual assault occurred for the three-year period of 2011 through 2013. For instance, hovering your cursor over the first bubble reveals that CUNY Hunter College has an enrollment total of 23,019 students and a three-year total of seven reported cases of sexual assault.
For each institution of higher education in New York under investigation by the OCR for Title IX violations, the chart above breaks down the total number of cases of forcible sexual assaults reported in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Clicking a year in the legend below the chart deactivates that year and allows for a year-by-year comparison. Selecting the year again reactivates it.
(Pace University’s New York City campus is under investigation by OCR for Title IX violations but is not represented here due to a lack of reported cases. According to the Huffington Post, the review was opened on July 22, 2014 due to a complaint filed by the victim of an alleged sexual assault. The DoE’s website shows the university’s NYC campus has no reported instances of forcible sexual assaults.)
Q&A with Title IX lawyer Wendy Murphy
In April 2014, Wendy Murphy came to Stony Brook University to speak at a Title IX panel. An adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England School of Law, Murphy spoke candidly to students about the law, problems universities have complying with it and her opinions regarding Stony Brook. She expanded upon those ideas in this Q&A interview.
Coverage of “deliberate indifference” lawsuit against Stony Brook University
Plaintiff Sarah Tubbs is suing Stony Brook University for “deliberate indifference” in handling her sexual assault case. Since the lawsuit was filed in late January 2015, The Statesman has been covering the case. Read the coverage.
Title IX Documents
Take a look at the raw documents related to Title IX at Stony Brook and within the State University of New York system.
NPR — “A closer look at sexual assaults on campus”
As the issue of sexual assault on college campuses became a national issue, NPR began broadcasting stories to its audience. Ones with a broad angle, at right, are well worth the listen for those interesting in learning more about the issue and how higher education institutions and state and federal governments are working to alleviate it. Listen to the complete series.
What do you think of Title IX at Stony Brook University? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @sbstatesman.