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Federal Office of Civil Rights investigates Yale

Surbhi Bharadwaj

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into Yale for discrimination against men, in response to a complaint filed in February alleging that the University has violated Title IX with seven single-gender programs and scholarships that exclusively benefit women.

The complaint — which was taken up by the OCR on April 26, according to a department spokesman — was filed by Kursat Christoff Pekgoz, a doctoral student in English at the University of Southern California. Pekgoz filed similar complaints against two other universities, including one against USC that has also been taken up by the OCR. Pekgoz has no affiliation with Yale.

The complaint is not the first time Yale’s compliance with Title IX has been questioned. But unlike four recent lawsuits and two other OCR inquiries, this investigation has nothing to do with sexual assault adjudication.

According to Pekgoz, the complaint targets seven women’s organizations at Yale, arguing that women are no longer underrepresented in colleges and that therefore programs and scholarships that benefit exclusively women are no longer acceptable. He added that the complaint calls for such programs to be gradually phased out over several years and for Yale to adopt a gender-blind admissions policy.

“The main debate here is how to define the underrepresented sex and for us the main argument that you should look at [is] the overall enrollment rate,” Pekgoz said.

The OCR notified Pekgoz in a letter on April 26 that the federal office was opening an investigation into seven out of the 17 Yale initiatives that Pekgoz claimed in his complaint “exclude or otherwise discriminate against men.”

The seven initiatives are the Women Faculty Forum, Working Women’s Network, the Yale University Women’s Organization, Yale Women’s Campaign School, Yale Women Innovators, Smart Women Securities and Women Empowering Women Leadership Conference.

The OCR dismissed allegations against the other Yale initiatives that Pekgoz included in his original complaint — such as the Yale Women’s Center and the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale — on the grounds that they do not exclude men or are private or non-profit organizations that are not affiliated with the University.

The decision to open an investigation does not imply any stance on the merits of Pekgoz’s complaint, the letter said.

Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said Yale’s policies are “fair and balanced” and in accordance with the law.

Originally from Turkey, Pekgoz said he identified as feminist until he gradually realized that the fundamental assumptions of feminism are no longer valid. At Yale, the student body comprises roughly equal numbers of men and women. Pekgoz said it is unfair that, unlike the initiatives targeted in the complaint, Yale does not have equivalent programs exclusively for men.

Pekgoz’s complaint comes as the United States grapples with gender inequality

in higher education institutions, Hollywood, Capitol Hill and beyond. The #MeToo movement, in which women have spoken out against sexual assault and harassment by men in power, has brought down film producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Bill Cosby and most recently New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman.

The last time Yale came into OCR’s crosshairs was in 2017, when the federal office opened an investigation into a Yale alumnus’ allegation that the University discriminated against him in its Title IX procedures because he was a man.

The case alleges that the student, an anonymous member of Yale College’s class of 2015, first experienced discrimination when a teaching assistant for an introductory philosophy course reported him to Yale’s Title IX officials after he submitted an essay that included a discussion of what might drive someone to commit rape. After two female students accused him of sexual assault separately in the spring and fall of 2017, Yale put the student on probation for the rest of his Yale career and banned contact between him and the two women.

In addition to filing a complaint with the OCR, the accused student also filed a lawsuit in federal district court. The OCR dropped his case in September 2017, because of a rule prohibiting the office from investigating cases being adjudicated in federal court.

In total, four male students have filed lawsuits against the University alleging gender discrimination under Title IX.

Hailey Fuchs | hailey.fuchs@yale.edu

Jingyi Cui | jingyi.cui@yale.edu

Correction, May 15: An earlier version of this article misspelled Kursat Christoff Pekgoz’s name.

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