Harassing the Harrassment

During her time at Yale University, Ronni Alexander, a student from the class 1977, experienced sexual propositions from her flute instructor. She found herself unable to continue her learning in order to pursue a professional career in music because of the uncomfortable and inappropriate learning environment. Alexander, along with four other female classmates, sought help from the administration after experiencing sexual advances and harassment from her professors. Because of these experiences, Lisa Stone stated that she was often “in fear of her own associations with men in positions of authority at Yale” (Alexander v. Yale 181-2).  These Yale students suffered both emotionally and in regards to their education and future careers. The trauma occurred because of the systemic gender discrimination present on college campuses.

Not only did Title IX benefit female college students as a whole, but the Alexander v. Yale case exemplified the power Title IX gave to students to fight for themselves. Sexual harassment proved to be a major factor in the inequities found in educational environments where both males and females are present. After Yale University became coeducational in 1969, unwelcoming attitudes among the male students did not surprise the female students. However, Ann Olivarious, Lisa Stone, Pamela Price, Ronni Alexander and Margery Reifler fought back when they filed a Title IX complaint against Yale University in 1977. The students were advised by Catharine Mackinnon, then a Yale law student, and represented by Nadine Taub from the Women’s Rights Litigation Clinic at Rutgers School of Law (Kingkade). Mackinnon argued: “sexual harassment on campus was discrimination, and it interfered with a woman’s ability to attend college” (Kingkade). The young law student, along with the five plaintiffs, fought back against systemic sexism that limited women’s opportunities to succeed.

Although the students lost their case, and their 1980 appeal, they still affected change at Yale and other universities. Yale University started a grievance board in 1978, which caused many others to follow the lead. These students forced Yale to “establish…a mechanism for students to report sexual harassment” (Kingkade). One student who filed her own complaint against Yale in 2011 cites the 1978 group of women as the ones who paved the way to her ability to take action.

“We knew that we were able to take this action because of students who had been on the same campus decades earlier.” Alexandra Brodsky (Kingkade).

 

 

Mackinnon, Price, and the others did not achieve their initial goals, but they decreased the silencing of female voices university administrations systemically committed.

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