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2018 Wesleyan University Senior Thesis
Winner of the Prize for outstanding thesis in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

One in five women will be sexually assaulted during her college career. This fact has caused outrage among campus activists, led to high-profile investigations of esteemed universities, gained traction in national news coverage, and ultimately demanded attention from the federal government. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 governs campus sexual violence as part of its mission to ensure equal education for women. Campus assault and the policy surrounding it have emerged as a national issue, although one defined by extreme contention.


Survivor advocates argue universities have failed to take this crime seriously. Defenders of those accused of sexual violence are angered by the lack of protections guaranteed to them in the college adjudication process. Competing Title IX policy guidance published by the Trump and Obama administrations has come to serve as an outlet for the tensions of this debate.


With this thesis, I delve into the crux of this controversy, seeking to understand how to improve universities response to survivors without impinging upon the rights of those accused. I argue however, that the federal debate surrounding standards of evidence, investigative timeframes, and access to an appeals process for campus adjudications reveals itself as a limited scaffold for the stakes of this issue. Through an in-depth analysis of the implications of Title IX, I look beyond short-term and individualistic policy initiatives, exploring the underlying power dynamics and relations between individual survivors and perpetrators, community members, and the university, which in many ways define the law's operation and impact.

The questions I seek to answer in this work exist at the nexus of several fields. This project will draw on a wide range of sources including legal, historical, and theoretical feminist scholarship. In the Introduction I look to the history of Title IX to develop an understanding of its purpose as a civil rights law, meant to prove a holistic assurance of a woman's right to education. Throughout the thesis, I will argue for a renewed commitment to the law's original purpose as such, and work to redirect debate towards support and remedy rather than adversarial disputes and retributive sanctioning. In Chapter Two, I discuss more specifically what Title IX policy requires from educational institutions today and assess how the university's distinct positionality and approach impact the effectiveness of its intervention. In the Chapter Three, I contextualize campus policy within theoretical frameworks for conceptualizing consent and sexual violence and give particular attention the ways in which university regulations affect the campus environment. I use Chapter Four to explore possibilities for creating a more just response to sexual violence on campus by giving consideration to the needs of survivors in healing from sexual violence, of perpetrators in changing behavior, and of the community in grappling with the hostility caused by this crime. In the end, I advocate for restorative justice because I believe it can give way to a more holistic and humanistic response to sexual violence and provide genuine remedy within, and hopefully beyond, the university.

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