Dartmouth College says it is launching a new initiative to combat sexual harassment and abuses of power on campus. But a lawyer for seven women who are suing the university over its handling of sexual harassment allegations say the efforts "miss the mark."
The announcement comes nearly two months after a federal complaint was filed against the Ivy League school by seven current and former graduate students who allege three professors created a toxic environment where female subjects were routinely subjected to sexual harassment and even rape.
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A school inquiry led to the resignations of the three professors in 2018 and the school pledged to take steps to improve the campus culture. The new Campus Climate and Culture Initiative is the latest step in that direction, school officials said in a press release.
The new program will include the following components:
- A single policy to address sexual misconduct for faculty, staff, and students, with appropriate processes for adjudicating potential violations;
- A mandatory online sexual violence prevention training program for all faculty, staff, professional and graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars;
- Research advisory committees for all graduate programs "to ensure that all graduate students have access to multiple advisors."
The announcement comes as American universities grapple with how to handle allegations of campus sexual misconduct and their obligations under Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination based on sex, including harassment, in federally funded education programs and activities.
The Department of Education in November proposed new rules for dealing with sexual harassment and assault on college campuses that would bolster the rights of those accused of wrongdoing.
The lawsuit accuses the New Hampshire school of failing to create an environment free from gender-based discrimination, in violation of Title IX.
Dartmouth says the new program will expand the school's Title IX office, which is responsible for reviewing reports of sexual misconduct and conducting investigations. The school also pledged to increase mental health resources at Dartmouth and said that an outside expert who specializes in creating "inclusive communities" will review academic departments.
The lawsuit claims that the prominent researchers, who no longer are allowed on campus, coerced female students into drinking and made the women feel as if their success depended on their willingness to participate in their "alcohol-saturated" culture the men created.
The complaint claims that Dartmouth knew about the professors' behavior for more than 16 years and did nothing until 2017, when several female graduate students reported the allegations to the college's Title IX office. During the Title IX investigation, the lawsuit claims that Dartmouth failed to provide the plaintiffs with support, accommodations or guidance, then "unilaterally terminated" the disciplinary process without seeking their input.
Previously, school officials said they applauded the courage of the women who came forward. "However, we respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the characterizations of Dartmouth's actions in the complaint and will respond through our own court filings," they said.
Deborah Marcuse, an attorney representing seven women plaintiffs in the sexual harassment lawsuit, said the initiatives "miss the mark" and simply bring the school into compliance with federal law.
"To the extent that Dartmouth is now seeking to conform its policies to what federal law requires, we certainly support that though we think it's long overdue," Marcuse said. "What's striking about this is that Dartmouth continues to fail to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the damage that its long history of inaction has caused."
Marcuse faulted the school for not reaching out to her clients for their input. Dartmouth's formal response to their complaint is due in a little over a week on January 15.
"It appears to us that for all of the lip service to their courage, there has been no interest from Dartmouth in materially responding to or really listening to these women despite a lot of vague call outs to 'we want to include everyone and everything'," she said.
"If you just look at the nature of the various responses there really just isn't any acknowledgment that what these women experienced is something that has had any impact on Dartmouth at all."