Logics in Conflict: Campus Sexual Assault in a Time of Legal Uncertainty
Elizabeth Armstrong & Sandy Levitsky, U of M Sociology
In 2011, the Office for Civil Rights, the Department of Education unit responsible for compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, circulated a “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL) clarifying that peer sexual assault was sexual harassment and thus negligent responses could place schools in violation of Title IX. The 2011 DCL had major implications for the adjudication of peer sexual violence. Compliance with the DCL required American universities receiving federal funds to change their policies. Most did, a few did not. Among those that did, responses were more heterogenous than might have been expected given that federal funding is at stake. This heterogeneity is also puzzling theoretically, as socio-legal theorists expect organizations to display at least symbolic compliance with legal mandates. We argue that one reason for this puzzling response was that prior to 2011, most universities had policies to address what they referred to as “student sexual misconduct.” Peer-to-peer sexual violence was understood as a form of student misconduct, to be handled by student conduct professionals. While civil rights lawyers had come to understand peer sexual assault as a Title IX issue, this was not obvious to student conduct professionals. Nor were student conduct professionals prepared to cede their turf to civil rights experts. The ensuing collision between civil rights and student conduct logics generated a range of heterogeneous outcomes. Theoretically, we will discuss how organizational change is produced out of processes of organizational bricolage, or hybridization.
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