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Reflect Exhibit

This online exhibit is part of the UHS Survivor Services and Violence Prevention’s 2023 Sexual Assault Awareness Month series “Reclaiming Campus: Ground & Reflect.”

This exhibit spotlights significant historical events related to campus sexual assault activism throughout the last 50 years.

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In person exhibit dates and locations

A silent gallery experience that spotlights significant historical events related to campus sexual assault activism over the last 50 years.

2024 dates coming soon

1970s and 1980s: Passage and push back

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” – The first 37 words of Title IX

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Title IX

On June 23, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, as part of the Education Amendment Act of 1972. Although Title IX eventually gained notoriety as a law mandating equal funding, access, and facilities in public sports, and later became interchangeable with campus sexual assault, its origin stories stemmed from cases of faculty employment discrimination in academia.

Title IX is designed to protect individuals from discrimination based on sex in educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance. While Title IX is celebrated (and hotly debated) today, it passed with little fanfare or national attention in 1972.  In fact, at the time, the Education Amendments were far more controversial for its inclusion of anti-busing and anti-desegregation measures

Key people

Bernice Sandler pictured in 1970.

Bernice “Bunny” Sandler
“you come on too strong for a woman…”

Bunny Sandler was a soon-to-be graduate of a University of Maryland’s doctoral program, job hunting for a postdoctoral or faculty position, to no avail. After receiving feedback, “you come on too strong for a woman,” she fell into a deep research hole of gender discrimination law. Upon discovering the existence of a 1968 Executive Order that prohibited sex discrimination by federal contractors (and making the connection that colleges receive federal contracts), Sanders used her new legislative knowledge to file complaints against hundreds of campuses and mailing letters to Congressmembers, one of which caught the attention of Edith Green.

Edith Green
Representative
Edith Green (D-OR), sometimes referred to as the “mother of Title IX” was instrumental in leading the 1970 hearings that became the legislative foundation for Title IX. At the time of the hearings, there were just 11 women in Congress. All fifteen members of the House Special Subcommittee on Education overseeing the hearings were men—seven did not bother to attend the hearings. At the time, the most controversial point debated in the hearings was whether sex discrimination was a bigger problem in academia than race discrimination. Putting the plights of marginalized groups in competition with each other is still a commonly used political tactic of oppression used today.

Patsy T. Mink
“Blacks, women, all ethnic minorities, our children, and our college students—all the truly underrepresented groups in our society were placed in the rubble heap of this saddest day of my Congressional experience.”

Representative Patsy T. Mink (D-HI), often honored as the author of Title IX, was also the first woman of color and Asian-American ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Inspired by her own experiences of gender discrimination in her pursuit of a medical degree, Mink remained a fierce and lifelong advocate for equal opportunity in education for her entire career. Interestingly she was one of the few representatives who voted against the original versions of the Higher Education Amendments that contained Title IX, because it contained a key compromise that exempted undergraduate admissions from adhering to the gender discrimination policies.

Inspired by her own experiences of gender discrimination in her pursuit of a medical degree, Mink remained a fierce and lifelong advocate for equal opportunity in education for her entire career.

Pamela Y.  Price
“I was subjected to the assumption of my inferiority as a Black person as well as the assumption of my lack of seriousness a woman. 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.”

Alexander v. Yale
was the first case to demonstrate that Title IX protections apply to sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination.  

The case was originally named for Ronni Alexander—a Yale sophomore who reported being raped by the university’s band leader, who had been accused of rape and sexual harassment by other students—with Pamela Price being added as the last plaintiff in the now infamous case. 

Pamela Price Photo by Yalonda M. James, 2023

Price was asked to join the case with Alexander and three other complainants to establish a pattern of unchecked sexual harassment at Yale. Price reported being sexually propositioned by a professor who proposed he would give her an A in exchange for sex. She refused and the professor graded her a C. Uncommon for the time, Price filed a written complaint with a university dean. At the time, there was no established grievance procedure and nothing came of Price’s complaint. 

 A district court affirmed that Title IX could indeed apply to sexual harassment, but dismissed the four other parties on technicalities. The case proceeded with Price as the lone plaintiff. For Price and many watching, it felt like a decision pitting a Black woman student against a white male professor and white institution. 

 “Academic advancement conditioned upon submission to sexual demands constitutes sexual discrimination in education.” –federal magistrate judge’s ruling in first judicial proceeding of Alexander v. Yale 

Price lost the trial and appeal, but the precedent sent a chilling warning to universities around the country. Soon, many major universities, including the UW-Madison, adopted formal sex discrimination policies and grievance procedures. 

 Price became a successful civil rights attorney and, as of 2023, serves as the District Attorney in Alameda County, California. She argued Patricia H. v. Berkeley Unified School District in 1993, another important case in Title IX’s history which argued that schools have a responsibility to address sexually hostile environments.  

Backlash and new precedents

Throughout the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s, dozens of court cases and congressional bills attempted to challenge Title IX. Cases begin to challenge Title IX’s implementation on college campuses. Even the NCAA challenged the legal basis with a suit in 1976 (the case was dismissed two years later). Most are shot down and actually strengthen the legal precedent for Title IX protections.

Two important cases helped define the role of the campus in ensuring student safety:

  • Mullins v. Pine Manor
    Decided in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Mullins v. Pine Manor set case precedent for clarifying campuses’ role in protecting student safety. In 1977,  student Lisa Mullins was abducted form her on-campus dorm room, dragged across campus with a pillowcase over her head, and raped in the campus dining hall. Mullins brought charges against the university, arguing that both the campus requirement to live in university housing and the faulty security measures in place made them liable for the attack. The University argued that they had no duty to protect its students against criminal acts of third parties. The court sided with Mullins and the case captured public attention, laying the groundwork for later legislation on campus safety that defines college life today.
  • Grove City College v. Bell
    In 1976, the president of Grove City College, a private Christian college, refused to participate in the Department of Educations assurance of compliance procedures for Title IX regulations. Grove City argued that, because they did not receive federal funding, a key parameter of Title IX, they did not need to comply with the law. The Supreme Court clarified that, even if a university itself does not receive government assistance, the flow of financial aid from the DoE through student loans does constitute federal funding and that the College either needed to comply or stop accepting federal student loans.To this day, Grove City College maintains it was in the right and includes propaganda material about the case on its website. In order to circumvent Title IX and other federal regulations, Grove City students are no longer able to use federal financial aid and must instead fund their education through self-pay, private loans, or scholarships.

1990s: Laying the legal precedent

Today, expectations for American universities to prevent and respond to campus sexual violence are largely shaped by
the legislative relationship between the Title IX, the Clery Act, and VAWA. 
 

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The Clery Act

Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (known as the Clery Act) 

Congress passed the Clery Act in 1990, which requires colleges and universities to keep and disclose up-to-date logs of crimes that take place on campus property. The statute was named to honor Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University who was raped and murdered in her dorm by another student in 1986. Jeanne’s parents were convinced that the university could and should have done more to prevent this tragedy and became tireless advocates for change, influencing the eventual passage of the law. 

Today, college students are familiar with timely crime warnings and the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report that share information about campus crimes—both are legacy of the Clery Act. 

Franklin v. Gwinnett

Christine Franklin was a high school student at North Gwinnett High School in Georgia who was the target of ongoing sexual harassment and abuse from Andrew Hill, a coach and educator employed in her school district. The school administration was made aware of the behavior, did nothing, and discouraged Franklin from pursuing charges. Franklin sued the school district for personal injury, demonstrating years of sexually explicit comments, forced kissing, and coerced intercourse on school grounds from the teacher. For the first time, the Supreme Court ruled that monetary damages are available under Title IX. The court’s decision was unanimous. Previously, the only justice available was the hope that the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights would complete an investigation, determine that the school violated Title IX, and issue a citation requesting they do better. 

Violence Against Women Act

Democratic House representatives introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1991 (VAWA). VAWA was signed into law by President Clinton, and was the largest federal effort to address gender-based violence. VAWA established the first national domestic violence hotline and changed law enforcement policies for arresting and prosecuting domestic violence offenders. In a 2012 report, the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that national rates of intimate partner violence fell 64 percent between VAWA’s passage and 2010.  

2000s and 2010s: A movement decades in the making

“The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination…”

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Laura Dunn: A survivor advocate in our midst

“It was late, I wanted to be safe. I had no reason not to trust them. I thought rape was a stranger jumping out of an alley attacking you with a knife. I didn’t have any narrative where it’s someone I knew.” 

Laura Dunn, a UW-Madison student athlete, was sexually assaulted while incapacitated from alcohol during her freshman year by members of the men’s rowing team who walked her home. 

Dunn reported the assault to the Dean of Students Office and the UW Police Department one year later, by which point one of the assailants had graduated. The university concluded its investigation the following year, finding the men not responsible; the District Attorney’s office also declined to press charges. At the time, Wisconsin law did not consider alcohol a legal intoxicant capable of altering the ability to consent in rape cases.  

“It was late, I wanted to be safe. I had no reason not to trust them. I thought rape was a stranger jumping out of an alley attacking you with a knife. I didn’t have any narrative where it’s someone I knew” 

Common for sexual assault survivors, Dunn managed safety measures and retaliation on her own. She dropped her sport to avoid seeing the attacker who remained on campus and cut ties with mutual friends who did not want to get involved. Dissatisfied by how the university handled her disclosure and case, she became one of the first students to file a Title IX complaint against a large, public university. In 2008, after Dunn graduated, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) ruled in the UW-Madison’s favor and found that the university was not responsible for violating Dunn’s Title IX rights. 

Motivated by the injustice she faced, Laura earned a law degree and became involved with federal campus sexual assault legislation. She served on the 2014 rule-making committee to shape the regulations of the Campus SaVE Act. 

Dear Colleague Letter

“If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its affects.”  

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Education releases its most consequential “Dear Colleague Letter” on Title IX to date. For the first time, it clarified that sexual violence—including sexual assault, rape, and sexual coercion—is not only a crime, but constitutes discrimination. The letter and subsequent guidance explicitly outlined universities’ obligations to both respond to and take meaningful steps to prevent sexual harassment and violence. This put universities on official notice that the Office of Civil Rights would pay closer attention to how schools’ handle sexual assault cases and established that the preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred) is most appropriate for investigating allegations. 

“The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination…” 

As part of the VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2013, the Clery Act was amended with a series of changes referred to as the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE Act). The Campus SaVE Act expanded Clery reporting and transparency requirements to include disclosing statistics on dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It expanded victim rights, accommodations, and protective measures to survivors, regardless of whether they choose to report to law enforcement. Colleges also became required to provide education and awareness programs to its students, which is why most campuses to this now require some sort of sexual violence education program during orientation.  

In 2014, OCR released a list of universities under Title IX investigation. The list started with 55 university and has since grown to more than 250.  

Between 2011-2016, OCR issued more Dear Colleague letters providing guidance on students’ civil rights related to gender discrimination, including rights of pregnant and transgender students. A 2016 Dear Colleague letter made clear that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity includes transgender identity status and that schools have an obligation to protect these students’ rights. 

Nationwide activism and attention

Andrea Pino and Annie Clark
Pino and Clark were two student survivors attending University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, meet each other through a survivor advocacy installation project. While the sexual assaults they experienced were very different—Clark was attacked by a stranger and Pino raped in a bathroom at an off-campus party—their shared experienced of being dismissed and discouraged by the university administration upon reporting was eerily similar. The women learned everything they could about campus sexual assault legislation on their own and filed a 34-page complaint to OCR against UNC, citing violations of Title IX, the Clery Act, the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They traveled the country assisting other student survivors in filing suits, marking their progress on a map of the U.S. When the Department of Education released the list of 55 universities under Title IX investigation, the list nearly matched Pino’s and Clark’s map. Their cases and advocacy work brought national attention, including the front page of the
New York Times. 

Know Your IX

Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky, photographed by Diane Russo, 2016.

Frustrated and motivated by how t each had to piece information about rights and resources together for their own sexual assault cases, Amherst College student Dana Bolger and Yale Law School student Alexandra Brodsky banded together to create the Know Your IX website. What was initially thought of as a short-term project to host crowd-sourced resources for legal action, campus organizing, and self-care blossomed into a comprehensive web resource for students across the country seeking information about complaint filing procedures and statutory requirements.  

Kamilah Willingham and Wagatwe Wanjuki
In 2015, the documentary film The Hunting Ground premiered and highlighted the problem of campus sexual assault and systematic inadequacies of college administrations to address the issue. Wagatwe Wanjuki and Kamilah Willingham, two survivor activists featured in the film, detailed what they believed to be their campus’s mishandlings of their cases. 

Wanjuki reported the sexual violence she experienced at Tufts University. The university declined to take action. When Wanjuki’s grades began to fall—which she attributes to the trauma experienced by the assaults and lack of institutional support—she was told she to withdraw from the university when she was less than a year away from graduating. 

In 2011, Willingham reported that she and a friend had been sexually assaulted by a fellow Harvard University student. An independent attorney hired by Harvard to conduct the investigation initially found the case credible, and recommended expulsion. The accused student appealed, and the case was heard again by a panel of Harvard Law faculty. The panel overturned the original findings, using a standard of evidence that would eventually be considered a violation of Title IX. Willingham faced public backlash from her alma mater after appearing in The Hunting Ground. A group of 19 Harvard professors issued a press release and penned an open letter disputing Willingham’s claim and offering support for her assailant. 

The Hunting Ground was met with critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award and won an Emmy.

Emma Sulkowicz
In 2014, Columbia University art student Emma Sulkowicz made national news with their endurance art piece titled Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight). The senior thesis performance involved Sulkowicz carrying a 50-pound mattress across campus to represent the dorm bed they reported they were raped on. Sulkowicz vowed to carry the mattress until the named attacker was expelled or graduation, whichever came first. The accused party was found not responsible, and Sulkowicz carried their mattress, assisted by fellow students, across the graduation stage. In solidarity with Sulkowicz’s cause, many mattress-carrying protests took place at campuses in 2014.

UW-Madison: 1990s to today

A national survey administered to UW-Madison students in 2015 revealed that more than one in four
undergraduate women reported experiencing sexual assault during their time on campus. 

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1990s

University Health Services hired its first prevention coordinator to work on issues of campus-based violence.

2001

UW-Madison student Angela Rose forms PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Student Empowerment). Today, PAVE is a national organization with chapters all around the country.

2007

University Health Services is awarded a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant.

2010

UW-Madison conducts its first comprehensive student needs assessment, identifying dating violence survivors as an underserved population.

2013

In anticipation of new regulatory guidance, UW-Madison begins requiring interpersonal violence education for first-year students rather than encouraging it. Similar requirements for graduate students and employees follow soon after.

2014

The Violence Prevention and Survivor Services office expands from one to three full-time staff

2015

The first AAU Campus Climate Survey is administered to UW-Madison students, with results released in the following year. Among other key findings, the survey revealed that more than one in four undergraduate women reported experiencing sexual assault during their time on campus. The survey also found concerning rates of sexual harassment reported by graduate student from faculty, staff, and administrators

2016

UW-Madison hires its first full-time Title IX Coordinator. Three additional full-time positions are added to Violence Prevention and Survivor Services, totaling a team of seven.

Today

Between UHS Prevention, Advocacy, campus research, and Title IX compliance, UW-Madison employs 20 full-time employees dedicated to campus violence prevention. 

Looking ahead

Circling back to sports: Rights of transgender students

After 50 years, Title IX has changed the landscape of the American education system, athletics, and civil rights. What was originally conceived as an employment discrimination law later became known to the public as a gender parity in sports law, then a campus sexual assault law. Since its implementation in the 1970s, women’s participation in high school sports has grown from fewer than 300,000 to more than 3.5 million students.  

 Today, the specifics of Title IX regulations pendulate with each presidential administration and is used to debate transgender students’ equal access to sports and facilities, including bathrooms. Guidance concerning transgender students’ rights from the Secretary of Education during the Obama administration was rescinded under the Trump administration, only to be reinstated by the Biden administration in 2021. 

 One future, hopeful direction may be to finally bringing cohesion in civil rights across protected statuses like sex, gender, orientation, race, color, national origin, and ability, in and beyond the education sector. Rep. Edith’s Green’s first draft of Title IX borrowed language directly from Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, replacing, “race” with “sex,” not adding to it.  

 History has often witnessed legislation divide identity groups, often out of political strategy to advance change. One unintended consequence of this divide-and-conquer strategy is that students who face discrimination based on multiple, intersecting identities are left to navigate several offices and varying procedures. A forging of anti-racism and anti-sexual violence efforts may help to address root causes of race- and gender-based oppression.