Oct 272010
 
 October 27, 2010  Youth & Schools

A student at Emory University told a fellow reveler at a fraternity party early Saturday morning that he was gay. In return, he was allegedly showered with anti-gay slurs and dragged out by his neck as onlookers cheered, according to the Emory Wheel. Though the incident is still under investigation, it has already prompted calls for greater campus harmony.

Incidents like this, and the suicide last month of the Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, could grow rarer, say legal experts and student advocates, following the U.S. Department of Education’s release Tuesday of anti-discrimination guidelines.

Read more on Inside Higher Ed.

Note that not all kinds of discrimination have legal protection under the Office of Civil Rights but may have protection under other federal or state laws.

Interestingly, one of the case examples the U.S. DOE  Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides in the letter as a Title IX issue sounds remarkably like the Phoebe Prince case in Massachusetts:

Shortly after enrolling at a new high school, a female student had a brief romance with another student. After the couple broke up, other male and female students began routinely calling the new student sexually charged names, spreading rumors about her sexual behavior, and sending her threatening text messages and e‐mails. One of the student’s teachers and an athletic coach witnessed the name calling and heard the rumors, but identified it as “hazing” that new students often experience. They also noticed the new student’s anxiety and declining class participation. The school attempted to resolve the situation by requiring the student to work the problem out directly with her harassers.

Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Thus, sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX can include conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e‐mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.

In this example, the school employees failed to recognize that the “hazing” constituted sexual harassment. The school did not comply with its Title IX obligations when it failed to investigate or remedy the sexual harassment. The conduct was clearly unwelcome, sexual (e.g., sexual rumors and name calling), and sufficiently serious that it limited the student’s ability to participate in and benefit from the school’s education program (e.g., anxiety and declining class participation).

The school should have trained its employees on the type of misconduct that constitutes sexual harassment. The school also should have made clear to its employees that they could not require the student to confront her harassers. Schools may use informal mechanisms for addressing harassment, but only if the parties agree to do so on a voluntary basis. Had the school addressed the harassment consistent with Title IX, the school would have, for example, conducted a thorough investigation and taken interim measures to separate the student from the accused harassers. An effective response also might have included training students and employees on the school’s policies related to harassment, instituting new procedures by which employees should report allegations of harassment, and more widely distributing the contact information for the district’s Title IX coordinator. The school also might have offered the targeted student tutoring, other academic assistance, or counseling as necessary to remedy the effects of the harassment.

Related:  “Dear Colleague” letter (pdf)

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