These documents include three statements issued by the Yale Undergraduate Women's Caucus and Grievance Committee and the New Haven Law Collective addressing developments in Alexander v. Yale. They include statements by African American plaintiff Pamela Price about how her race influenced her experience of harassment and litigation of the case.
NEW HAVEN LAW COLLECTIVE
LAW OFFICES OF BERKAN, HARVEY & SIMON
938 CHAPEL STREET
NEW HAVEN. CONNECTICUT 06510
TELEPHONE (203) 777-3401
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
On December 7, U.S. Magistrate Arthur Latimer approved the addition of two women plaintiffs to the lawsuit against Yale University for sex discrimination by condoning sexual harassment of women students by male faculty and administrators. The two new undergraduate women joined three present students or recent graduates and one faculty member who filed the suit in July, 1977. "Although the suit was already very strong," said Anne Simon, attorney for the plaintiffs, "the presence of these two women broadens the range of facts brought before the court." One of the new plaintiffs had complained to Yale officials immediately after the sexual incident, to no avail. One was given a low grade in a course; one was not granted an athletic letter for managing a varsity team. Supporters of the case noted the fact that the plaintiffs now include a black woman and one woman sexually harassed by an athletic coach, raising two crucial dimensions of the problem which had not previously been represented.
The next developments in the case should come soon in two new judicial decisions. The first must resolve the request by the NOW (National Organization for Women) Legal Defense and Education Fund and the WEAL fund for admission of their amicus curiae brief in Support of the plaintiffs' view that a private lawsuit may be brought under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funds.
The other judicial decision will resolve Yale's motion to dismiss, in which they argue that the plaintiffs' complaint is inadequate to ground a legal claim under Title IX. The plaintiffs argue that the lack of an adequate grievance mechanism effectively condones the imposition of sexual pressures on women students, which in turn deprives them of equal access to the benefits of a Yale education - access which male students enjoy free of comparable sexual demands. Yale's out of court position has been that its current grievance procedures are fully adequate to the problem - if, indeed, there is a problem at all. "The circumstances of the two new plaintiffs give additional insight into the inadequacies of Yale's current practices," noted Harriet Dichter, a member of the Yale Undergraduate Women's Caucus.
Women's athletics is a particularly sensitive subject for Yale women, who recently complained to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare about unequal funding and facilities. Athletics has always been important in the development of women's self-confidence and physical self respect. As Emily Howe, president of the Yale Athletic Association, observed, "To be sexually harassed by a coach can be devastating to women who are striving to overcome learned physical inferiority and to become a part of the athletic community."
"Black women have always been sexually harassed, have often protested it, and have been ignored even more thoroughly than white women," said plaintiff Pamela Price. "For a white man to sexually harass a black woman can be a sexist way of expressing his racism," she continued. Abbe Smith, head of the Yale Undergraduate Caucus Grievance Committee, commented,
"We hope that the courage of this black woman will encourage others, who may feel that women's issues have been defined in terms of the experiences of white women, to join this fight."
Plaintiff Lisa Stone spoke for the plaintiffs and all concerned in expressing the hope that Yale would understand the need to settle for an adequate grievance procedure soon. "It seems so obvious," she said," and so much more sensible than a lengthy and expensive trial, which would only get more and more embarrassing to Yale."
Yale Undergraduate Women's Caucus
Box 4761 Yale Station
New Haven, Connecticut 06520
Telephone through (203) 777-3401
In November, 1977, I petitioned the Federal Court to become a plaintiff in the pending suit, Alexander vs. Yale, publicly known as the sexual harassment case. I petitioned the court for redress on two counts in the absence of any effective action being taken by Yale University to investigate my complaint and/or to offer relief. The two counts are inextricably linked, the one being the direct result of the other. On the one hand, I was sexually harassed by a professor employed by the defendant; on the other, I received a grade unreflective of the merit of my work at that time which can and/or will possibly irrevocably damage my career opportunities. On both counts I remain unsatisfied as to the nature and the extent of the action taken by Yale.
The primary issue on both counts is one of sexual discrimination. I entered Yale University in the fall of 1974, aware of its reputation as a bastion of male supremacy. Like most freshman and undergraduates in general, I did not take that reputation seriously. Yet, my experience over the next two years proved the reputation well earned in the past and in too many cases perpetuated in the present. In too many instances, I was subjected to the assumption of my inferiority as a black person as well as the assumption of my lack of seriousness as a woman. The particular incident which brings me here today was only a reflection of assumptions perpetuated and reinforced by the failure of Yale University to confront and effectively deal with the issue.
The issue is that as a woman student at Yale I am subject to prejudicial judgements prior to the beginning and completion of my course of study. The issue is that some, acting upon archaic and feudal assumptions, will attempt to compromise my respect for myself as a human being (i.e., as more than a sex object). The issue is that professors particularly are in a position of power; whether or not and how I will complete my education is determined as much by them as by my own efforts. Their position is totally based on the legitimacy granted by the institution which employs them. As such, that legitimacy should be restructured to more appropriately meet the needs of the students, male and female. More important, what is and is not legitimate in the relationship between the professional and his/her student should be defined by the institution which confers that legitimacy. Yale University has not only failed to confront and accept that responsiblity in any systematic manner, it accepts, upholds and defends the right of a professor to act in a manner detrimental to a student's education. (i.e. by a pattern, practice and policy of neglecting and refusing to process and consider seriously complaints of sexual harassment of women students).
That detriment can be manifested in various ways, each of which intimately connects a woman's intellectual growth, both to herself and others, to a man's judgement of her sexuality. In my particular case, this detriment has manifested itself not only in terms of my
own intellectual development but also in the form of a concrete obstruction to my educational advancement. I received a grade which is a reflection of the professor's personal defects rather than the quality of my work. This grade is a concrete expression of his racist and sexist appraisal of me as a person — in my case the one attitude is inherently linked with the other. This grade not only excludes an evalustion of the quality of my work, it includes a historical conception of the relationship between my racial heritage and my sexuality. I am offended on both counts.
At this point, the arbitrary nature of the grade threatens my educational advancement beyond my relationship with Yale. It can and will have a substantial impact on my chances of being accepted at the law school of my choice. Not only must I strive to overcome the general racist and sexist attitudes prevalent in society, I must also deal with a specific manifestation of those attitudes on a very personal and individual level.
Hence, it becomes clear that the acceptance of that grade with no investigation whatsoever of the circumstances surrounding which it was given, requires an assent to sexual harassment and racism not only at Yale University but also in the attainment of my own academic goals. While others may be prepared to give their assent, I cannot in all reasonableness give mine. Consequently, I have petitioned the court not only to require the establishment of a procedure within the university to effectively deal with these issues, I have also requested that the offending grade be temporarily removed from my transcript until this matter is resolved. As the transcript is crucial to my application to law school (which must be made soon), unless immediate and effective action is forthcoming it will be too late. Six months from now, the grade will have no effect upon my admission to law school in 1978. Now it could mean everything. Yale's failure to deal in any systematic and effective manner with the issues raised by this suit and numerous complaints from women at Yale, and the invocation of the "sanctity" of the grading procedure and of this grade in particular, reflects a completely inadequate and repressive perspective on the position of women within the university. It follows that this perspective serves to condone, uphold and defend a practice of racist sexual discrimination and consequently subordination of women not only within the University, but within the society as a whole.
Pamela Price 21 December 1977
New Haven, Connecticut
Alexander v. Yale: Collected Doucuments from the Yale Undergraduate Women's Caucus and Grievance Committee.
- STATEMENT -
On July 2, Judge Ellen Bree Burns issued her opinion in the case Price v. Yale, finding, after a trial, that the plaintiff had not proved her allegations of sex discrimination based on the university's lack of adequate grievance mechanisms to handle complaints of sexual harassment. The Judge based her decision on her findings of fact that the incident did not occur and that Price had not shown any adverse influence on her grade in the course.
The Judge noted that when Price first complained, "Yale University had no … regulations setting forth any procedures to provide for resolution of such complaints." She further agreed with the plaintiff that, when Yale did have regulations setting forth procedures, "the procedures … give no real guidance to students or to faculty as to procedure to be followed with respect to claims such as Miss Price had made." She concluded, however, that the absence of such procedures did not adversely affect Ms. Price's educational opportunities.
"It is hard to imagine," said Anne Simon, one of the attorneys for Pamela Price, "how the judge could have come to this conclusion when the legal basis of the case was Title IX, which requires regularized procedures as part of universities' obligation not to discriminate against their students on the basis of sex. The decision fails to take seriously the possibility that Yale really is under some legal obligations to its students." By focusing on the individuals rather than on Title IX, the judge reduced the case to a black woman's accusation and a white man's denial of improper sexual conduct, with all too predictable results. Judge Burns found that the incident did not occur, but the opinion offered no support for this conclusion. "It is appalling, in this day and age, that a finding of this sort, which amounts to saying that Price made the entire thing up, can be made without providing any evidence from the trial to back it up," commented Phyllis Crocker, a legal worker on the case.
"It's the same old story," said Ms. Price. "Where sex is concerned, black women's accusations are considered lies and white men's denials are believed. Unfortunately, the trial, which was presided over by a woman, was merely another manifestation of the racism and sexism pervasive in society and reflected in its laws. It is symbolic that I entered this case primarily because I am a woman and lost it primarily because I am a black woman. But that is all the more reason for us to continue to fight back against all forms of oppression.
"This decision makes clear that Judge Burns lacked the guts and insight necessary to really listen to a woman's painful experience of sexual harassment and to challenge Yale's neglect of her complaints. The irony, however, is that we lost this round, but achieved other important goals. Women in universities all over the country are now coming forward with their complaints, breaking the debilitating fear and isolation which have rendered sexual harassment invisible for so long," said Linda Hoaglund, of the Grievance Committee of Yale's Undergraduate Women's Caucus.
Price's lawyers are considering appealing the decision. "We lost the wrong case," Anne Simon observed. "Judge Burns did not allow any evidence that would have shown that Yale discriminates against women. Her decision is vulnerable to attack on appeal for that reason, although her emphasis on the ‘facts’ might make an appellate court less likely to reverse her decision. It's unfortunate that an issue of such legal and political importance to women was so constricted in the way it could be presented in court, but one unenlightened decision is not going to stop women from speaking out about sexual harassment."
What is the price of a woman's education? We are asking your support to help insure that it will no longer include sexual harassment by male professors.
Alexander v. Yale is a landmark lawsuit charging that Yale University condones the sexual harassment of women students in violation of Title IX*. The plaintiff was offered an "A" in a course in her area of specialization if she would comply with her professor's demands. She flatly refused and walked out of his office. She complained orally and in writing to responsible Yale officials even before the grade of "C" was given. Because she is a black woman, her complaints were not only viewed as inconsequential, but were ignored more blatantly than complaints of white women. Not until one and a half years later, after Alexander v Yale was filed, did Yale act. Officials then claimed to review the grade, but ignored the sexual incident entirely. The grade was not changed.
The lawsuit asks for a grievance procedure as a remedy and preventive measure, not for damages from individual offenders. With a procedure, the responsibility for abuse of faculty power will remain within the University, but students will be guaranteed an effective channel for complaint for the first time.
Sexual harassment ranges from sexual propositions and pressures for intimacy to molestation and rape. Sexual harassment in education is particularly oppressive because of faculty power over student grades, recommendations and eventual employment and careers. Sexism makes higher education a difficult experience for women. Sexual harassment threatens and can destroy women's intellectual autonomy and opportunities for advancement.
Legally, the case has already won major victories for women students across the country. Magistrate Latimer, in his decision on Yale's Motion to Dismiss, held that sexual harassment is sex discrimination and that the plaintiff can sue a private institution under Title IX. Connecting sexual harassment in education with employment, he stated:
… It is perfectly reasonable to maintain that academic advancement conditioned upon submission to sexual demands constitutes sex discrimintion in education, just as questions of job retention or promotion tied to sexual demands from supervisors have become increasingly recognized as potential violations of Title VII's ban against sex discrimination in employment…
He held institutions responsible when victims complain to officials who fail to act.
Politically, the case connects women's education with fair treatment for women workers. It has stimulated widespread organizing and consciousness-raising on campus. It unites black and white women against a common expression of their subordination. It allows supportive men to ally themselves with women against this form of male domination.
Before the suit was filed, a group of concerned women from the Yale Undergraduate Women's Caucus asked the administration to investigate complaints of sexual harassment and to take appropriate action. Since
*Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §1681)
the case was filed, the Grievance Committee has been investigating the scope of the problem, educating the University and New Haven community about it, and working to establish a grievance procedure. We are organizing student, faculty and staff support for the suit, and raising money to fund it and our other activities.
What is the price of this lawsuit? This attempt to challenge the policies of a wealthy university has cost thousands of dollars in expenses and lawyers fees — and the bulk of the work is yet to come. We need your help. The Grievance Committee has raised some money and is planning benefits. But this will cover only a fraction of the costs. We need your financial contribution to continue our fight against Yale's defense of the power of male professors to sexualty harass us. We attend college to study, not to be playthings or sex objects for male faculty members.
Your contribution will support the next steps the lawsuit requires and enables the Grievance Committee to continue its organizing. Tax deductible checks may be made out to The Capp Street Foundation and returned in the enclosed envelope.
If you would like more information about the lawsuit, the Grievance Committee or The Capp Street Foundation, please contact us at the above address.
Phyllis Crocker for the
Grievance Committee of the
Yale Undergraduate Women's Caucus
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