By: Sruli Fruchter and Jonathan Levin  | 

YU to Restructure Title IX Office, Improve Sexual Assault and Harassment Resources

Yeshiva University will implement a “restructured” Title IX Office and bring on professionals experienced in handling sexual assault and harassment complaints for the spring semester, among other changes. President Ari Berman announced this to students via email on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Berman’s email linked to a letter from Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences Karen Bacon that made various recommendations to the university regarding those issues. Earlier in the year, Bacon was asked to lead a committee to address sexual assault and harassment on campus after an anonymous YU student alleged that she was raped by a male athlete and the that university failed to help her last year. The committee is comprised of Rabbi Josh Blass and deans Sara Asher, Joe Bednarsh, Leslie Halpern and Danielle Wozniak. 

Currently, YU’s website lists Vice Provost for Student Affairs Chaim Nissel as its Title IX coordinator, along with three deputy Title IX coordinators, including Bednarsh. Although Bednarsh was promoted from athletics director to associate dean of students in July, the website still attributes him to his former role. It is unclear if Nissel and Bednarsh will continue to work in the Title IX Office after its restructuring.

Bacon’s letter also recommended that the university’s website should include a concise flow chart that easily demonstrates the policies and procedures for allegations of sexual misconduct. SHARE — sexual harassment and assault response & education — counselors should be “trained to be available to students” in navigating Title IX procedures, Bacon added. Last, the committee advised that YU’s Title IX educational program be enhanced with in-person and online materials and training. While the program is currently mandatory, the university has been unsuccessful in ensuring students participate in the program.

“Dean Bacon and her committee have concluded their committee’s work with a number of recommendations that we will begin to implement for the Spring semester,” Berman wrote in his email. “I thank her and her team for their thorough work and all of our compassionate professionals who work to safeguard our students’ well-being.”

Bacon also noted that the committee consulted with “third-party experts” to evaluate YU’s current tools and procedures regarding sexual assault and harassment on campus. The committee concluded that YU “follows all federal Title IX and NYS guidelines and procedures” for those issues. 

The letter added that YU’s current policy is to out-source sexual assault claims to “top tier third-party firms” that are “experts in conducting such investigations and fully investigate the allegations.” The investigative report is made available to the involved parties and each has the ability to appeal the final decision. 

“We care deeply about the safety and well-being of our students,” Bacon wrote in concluding her email. “Please feel free to reach out to me or any other committee member if you have any questions.”

“We’re making progress, and for that we are very thankful; this is a wonderful step in the right direction,” Noa Berman (SCW ‘23) and Cayla Muschel (SCW ‘23), co-presidents of Students Against Sexual Assault, said in a statement sent to The Commentator. “The next step is for the university to acknowledge past missteps and work toward correcting them. Accountability is extremely important, especially when mending the relationship between the administration and the student body.”

In recent weeks, the anonymous student’s story gained traction on social media and across media outlets. During the Macs' rising win streak, articles in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency mentioned the student’s allegations since her accused rapist was a player on the basketball team. 

More recently, Jeff Lax Live, a radio show on Zev Brenner’s Talkline network, interviewed the student using an app to alter her voice and let her retain anonymity. In the interview, the student spoke about the alleged rape and the events leading up to it. 

She explained that she and the other student had some mutual friends, but she did not personally know him. Then, they matched on JSwipe, a Jewish dating app. 

When they connected, they agreed to meet up at his building for their date. “I was pretty adamant beforehand that I was not going to go into his apartment [and] I would meet him outside of his building,” she explained in the interview. After their date, “he asked me to help him bring something upstairs, so I did, and that's when it happened.” The student said she now believes the athlete’s request was a trick.

She then spoke more directly about the alleged rape. “My mind blocked out a lot of it,” she said. “But from what I do remember, he was holding me down. When I went to the hospital I had marks on my neck and bruising on my leg as well.” Afterward, she went home, before going to the hospital the following day and completing a rape kit, which involved the hospital collecting DNA evidence and taking photographs of her bruises.

She eventually contacted the university about the alleged rape, and an investigation ensued. According to the university’s statement, published by The Commentator in August,  the university directed both students to sign a non-disclosure agreement before receiving the investigative report. The investigation’s conclusion did not support her case.

The student has since tried to reopen the case, but her requests have been denied. “They missed out on DNA evidence, they never accessed my rape kit at the hospital, [but] every time I brought that up to the school, the person in charge says that the case is closed, and that's that.”

Aside from that case, the student also said she contacted the university on multiple occasions to avoid having to encounter the other student and another athlete who harassed her on campus. The university told her that “it was up to him if he wanted to give me space on campus or not,” and that it is unlikely he would do so, because “there is a lot of anger from him.”

Midway through the interview, Lax asked her, “Are you scared of the player who did this to you, that he’s going to come after you? Is that why you’re keeping his name private?” 

“Yes,” she said. “And I’m worried he’s going to tell people who I am.”

Near the end of her interview, Lax asked the student why she partook in the interview. “At the end of the day, if it helps anyone else, that's all I want,” she answered. “I want other people to not be afraid to speak up and at the end of the day, as much as I also want justice for what happened, I’d rather other people be comfortable being able to speak up and have their voices heard as well."

Photo Caption: In recent weeks, the anonymous student’s story gained traction on social media and across media outlets.

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University