Colleges Should Pay Up When They Mishandle Harassment, a Title IX Pioneer Says (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
When Ann Olivarius and several classmates sued Yale University over sexual harassment, Title IX was just five years old. The 1972 law had made it illegal for colleges to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sex.
In a test of the new law, Olivarius and her peers made a groundbreaking argument: that Yale had denied women equal access to an education – in violation of Title IX – by failing to combat harassment and refusing to create a process that would allow them to report it.
Olivarius said she had first grasped the scope of harassment as a Yale undergraduate when she co-founded the Yale Undergraduate Women’s Caucus and then edited a report on the status of women at the university for the Yale Corporation, the insitution’s governing board. As part of that process, Olivarius complied testimony from many women at Yale who described professors’ making unwanted sexual advances toward them, according to her website. She and others were not satisfied with Yale’s response, which led to their lawsuit. The students lost their case, but Yale did create a grievance process for adjudicating sexual-misconduct complaints, as they’d asked. Most other colleges followed suit.
On Thursday, Title IX turns 50 years old. The lawsuit that Olivarius was a part of, Alexander v. Yale, was an opening salvo in a struggle that eventually led to Title IX offices on campuses across the country. Olivarius went on to Yale Law School and now represents victims in discrimination and sexual-harassment and sexual-assault cases, often within higher education. She has also come forward with allegations of her own that a classmate raped her while she was at Yale.