Yale University Under Investigation for 'Hostile Sexual Environment'

Students allege life at Yale University is "hostile" for women.

April 1, 2011, 1:26 PM

April 1, 2011 — -- Yale University is under federal investigation after a complaint filed by several of its Ivy League students alleges that the school fails to curb what they call a "hostile sexual environment."

Hannah Zeavin, one of the 16 students who are complainants in the case, told ABC News that she has felt uncomfortable during her three years at the New Haven, Conn., university.

"Yale is obviously a prestigious and excellent academic institution that I feel honored to be part of every single day," said Zeavin, who will graduate in 2012 with a major in American Studies. "I am constantly astounded both positively and negatively by my peers."

"But I feel like because I have had to deal with certain sexual misconduct from my peers that I don't have equal access," she said. "I can't sleep well anymore and when I walk around Yale campus at night I'm scared."

Zeavin said she joined with classmates and alumni and filed a Title IX suit against Yale on March 15, alerting the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights of the university's "inadequate response to a long trend of public sexual harassment" on campus.

In a written statement provided to ABC News by the U.S. Department of Education, the agency confirmed that they would launch an investigation into the allegations against the university.

The statement said that the 26-page complaint formulated by the students alleges that a "sexually hostile environment exists on campus at Yale University."

"The complaint also alleges that the University has been on notice regarding the alleged incidents of harassment and has not responded promptly or effectively, and that this has resulted in the denial of equal opportunity to education for numerous University students," read the statement.

In an email message to ABC News, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said that the school has not yet received the complaint, but has been contacted by the Office of Civil Rights.

Yale Women Claim Hostile Sexual Environment

"We will respond fully to the investigation, and cooperate with the Office of Civil Rights," said Conroy. "Yale takes extremely seriously all allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, including allegations of a 'hostile environment.'"

While Zeavin and the other complainants are not releasing the full complaint to the media to protect those who wish not to be identified publicly, a press release by the group outlines some of what they consider the more egregious instances of sexual misconduct on the New Haven campus.

In October 2010 a group of fraternity pledges surrounded an area on campus known to house freshman women and shouted, "No means yes! Yes means anal!" according to the release.

"A band of loud men shouting threatening and pornographic language at the home of young freshman women creates hostile environment, thereby limiting women's equal access to education opportunities at Yale," read the release.

And in September 2009, the complainants say that a group of male Yale students circulated an email that listed 53 freshmen women and proceeded to rank them in order of "how many beers it would take to have sex with them."

Also mentioned in the release was an incident in January 2008 when a group of fraternity pledges held up signs reading, "We Love Yale Sluts" in front of the university's women's center.

According to Zeavin, these are just a few of the many examples that she says makes her and other women feel that they have tried everything short of federal intervention to try and improve campus life.

"At this moment we have exhausted all of our internal Yale resources to try and combat this," she said. "We feel like we must change the current Yale environment to one that is less hostile to women."

"We love our university and we want to see that change happen," she added. "We have simply asked the Office of Civil Rights to assist us in mediating that change."

Zeavin said that the next step in the investigation is for the agency to conduct a "climate check," during which it will send representatives to the campus to speak with the students and administration.

If Yale University is to be found in violation of Title IX, it could be denied federal funding.