The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Feb. 12 2016 5:32 PM

Kanye West Reignites Feud with Taylor Swift Over “Misogynistic” Lyric

America’s king of unhinged rants has reignited his feud with America’s queen of image control. On Kanye West’s new album The Life of Pablo, which he premiered at Thursday night’s Yeezy Season 3 event at Madison Square, the rapper drops a line that conjures memories of his 2009 VMA disruption: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. / Why? I made that bitch famous."

The lyric comes from “Famous,” a duet with Rihanna, and it didn’t sit well with Swift fans. Her brother, Austin, Instagrammed himself throwing his West-designed Yeezy sneakers into the garbage; others spoke out for Swift on Twitter:


Kanye defended himself with his usual tiresome babble, calling the lyric “art.” “First thing is I’m an artist and as an artist I will express how I feel with no censorship,” he tweeted. “2nd thing I asked my wife for her blessings and she was cool with it. 3rd thing I called Taylor and had a hour long convo with her about the line and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings." Swift came up with the idea, he said, and “Bitch is an endearing term in hip hop like the word Nigga” so everyone’s just misinterpreting his artwork, which he cribbed from a conversation he heard about secondhand.

On Thursday night, Swift’s publicist issued a statement that contradicts West’s account: “Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.’”

It hardly bears mentioning that West didn’t make Swift famous—Swift made Swift famous. West has made himself famous, too and this is how he does it: by tweeting incendiary, unbalanced outbursts about Bill Cosby’s innocence and Wiz Khalifa’s pants and Amber Rose and her son. Watching an artist who once provided real social commentary detach from any remaining cables holding him to earth and become completely consumed by his own borderline personality is sad. Watching him try to drag a more successful woman with him is worse.

Feb. 12 2016 4:25 PM

That Brutal Charter School Video Shows that Rich People Love No-Excuses Discipline... For Other People’s Kids

Today, the New York Times published undercover video taken at a Success Academy elementary school in Brooklyn that’s part of the controversial charter network known for “no excuses” discipline. It shows a first grade teacher berating and humiliating a girl who stumbles when solving a math problem. The teacher, Charlotte Dial, rips up the student’s paper and barks, “Go to the calm-down chair and sit!,” though by all indications, the girl was already sitting calmly. “You’re confusing everybody,” the teacher says, her voice seething. “I’m very upset and very disappointed.” I found the video shocking and disturbing; other parents I know said they couldn’t bear to watch the whole thing.

According to reporter Kate Taylor, an assistant teacher who was concerned by Dial’s “daily harsh treatment of the children” filmed the scene surreptitiously. Success Academy’s founder, Eva Moskowitz, as well as some of the parents whose children attend the school insisted that Dial’s behavior was anomalous. “But interviews with 20 current and former Success teachers suggest that while Ms. Dial’s behavior might be extreme, much of it is not uncommon within the network,” Taylor writes. She quotes a former Success Academy assistant principal: “It’s this culture of, ‘If you’ve made them cry, you’ve succeeded in getting your point across.’”


As it happens, the Success Academy where the video was filmed is a few blocks from my apartment in the hyper-gentrifying neighborhood of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Cobble Hill has been affluent for a while, but in recent years, there’s been an influx of the really rich; early this year, a nearby townhouse sold for $15.5 million. Last year, a friend whose son started kindergarten at our local public elementary school, P.S. 29, was shocked when she realized his class was entirely white. By contrast, if you watch the Success Academy video, you’ll notice that the students, whose faces are blurred out, are largely children of color.

The schools in my neighborhood where white kids go are known for being nurturing and holistic. P.S. 29 has a newspaper club whose parent overseers include Peter Rothberg, associate publisher of The Nation. Earlier this year, the students reported on opposition to high-stakes testing: “The P.S. 29 community is strong and outspoken about keeping enrichment programs at the school and making sure students are well rounded and not just test takers.” We also have two Montessori schools, which emphasize children’s creativity and give them the freedom to follow their own interests. First grade tuition at one of them is $35,600.

Charter schools are a popular cause among elites in New York, particularly on Wall Street. “Hedge fund managers supply the millions that enable charters to thrive,” education scholar Diane Ravitch writes. “They are big givers to charters, and they are big givers to political candidates who support charters.” But if you look around a neighborhood like mine, you’ll see that in many cases, when rich people are educating their own children, only the most progressive, touchy-feely methods will do.

I know that there are Success Academy parents who love the charters for saving their children from chaotic, poorly run public schools. Today, Success Academy posted a recording of Taylor, the New York Times reporter, interviewing several parents whose children attend the Cobble Hill school; many praised Dial. Watching the undercover video, one parent says it sounded like the way she talks to her own children: “It’s a tough love thing.” Perhaps my horror at Success Academy’s methods might strike these parents as a form of elitism. Still, one thing seems to be undeniable: The schools in my neighborhood teach some children to challenge authority, and others to submit to it.

Feb. 12 2016 3:06 PM

Butchers Marry Other Butchers: The Most Common Career Match-Ups in the U.S.

If you’ve ever fantasized over the forbidden intrigue of a workplace romance, you should consider a career as a grade school teacher—two grade school teachers are more likely to marry one another than any other career pair. So says a fascinating interactive from Bloomberg Business, which maps the most common marriage matches for each occupation in a mesmerizing web of pink and blue lines. Using data from 3.5 million households polled in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, Bloomberg charted love matches for same- and different-gender couples across 463 career categories.

Some occupations show up in many common matches by virtue of their general prevalence—lots of people are married to factory workers, housekeepers and janitors, teachers, nurses, and administrative assistants—but others intersect in surprising ways. Female dancers are most likely to marry male welders—maybe it’s the Flashdance effect? A gay male private detective is most likely to marry an athlete, coach, or umpire. Heterosexual air traffic controllers and musicians are most likely to marry one another, but lesbian ones are most likely to marry announcers and “textile knitting and weaving machine operators,” respectively. Lots of female bartenders, teacher assistants, bus drivers, and telephone operators marry male truck drivers, but lesbian truck drivers marry each other.


Bloomberg’s analysis notes that salary dynamics play a major role in many common different-gender match-ups. Women in high-paying careers—doctors, lawyers, CEOS—often marry other doctors, lawyers, and CEOs, while lower-earning women “marry up.” Gay male CEOs are likely to marry other male CEOs; heterosexual ones are likely to marry grade school teachers, secretaries, or “miscellaneous managers.” Male engineers are most likely to marry grade school teachers, too. Women in public relations, a well-paying field that still isn’t at the top of the pay scale, tend to marry higher-earning managers, CEOs, legislators, and lawyers. Meanwhile, men in public relations marry lower-earning nurses, high school teachers, and secretaries. This dynamic is easy to spot in the medical field, too: Most female physicians and surgeons, gay or straight, marry other physicians and surgeons; male ones, gay and straight, marry nurses. Female nurse anesthetists marry male physicians and surgeons. Male ones marry other nurses.

Last year, Priceonomics analyzed the 2012 data from the American Community Survey and noted that heterosexual men and women were most likely to marry someone in their same career field when they were gender minorities—male kindergarten teachers and female police officers, for instance. The 2012 study found that nearly 40 percent of female construction workers in two-career households were married to other construction workers. It also showed a full 25 percent of farming, fishing, and forestry workers married within their field, probably because there are a limited number of career options in rural communities. The Bloomberg interactive shows a similarly high romantic overlap between heterosexual farmers and ranchers.

Many of the match-ups invite adorable fantasies of shared interests and lives: Butcher-on-butcher romances are quite common, as are upholsterer-on-upholsterer and barber-on-barber affairs. Some pairings seem to indicate on-the-job meet-cutes: Many male “entertainers and performers” marry female travel guides; gay male actors tend to marry camera operators; female probation officers marry male police officers or female lawyers and judges. Others just sound like smart financial setups: Female photographers, writers, and authors are most likely to marry to male “miscellaneous managers,” who probably have steadier sources of income. Postsecondary school teachers—gay and straight, male and female—are incredibly incestuous, which probably isn’t surprising to anyone who’s spent time with a crew of college professors. Where tenure arrangements fall short, academic love prevails.

Feb. 11 2016 10:48 PM

Clinton Appreciates Sanders’ Pro-Choice Voting Record but Says America Needs a Leader

Within the first round of questions in Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders got into the weeds of gender politics. Moderator Judy Woodruff pressed Clinton on the gender breakdown of her base, noting that 55 percent of female voters backed Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. “What are women missing about you?” Woodruff asked.

Rather than outline the entrenched sexist narratives she's up against or point out any of the myriad reasons why New Hampshire voters might support Sanders over her, Clinton stepped delicately around the question. “I have spent my entire adult life working toward making sure that women are empowered to make their own choices, even if that choice is not to vote for me,” Clinton said. “I have no argument with anyone making up her mind about who to support. I just hope that by the end of this campaign there will be a lot more supporting me.”


Woodruff asked Clinton to agree or disagree with the controversial remarks made by her fellow former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women,” seeming to chide young women who are backing Sanders. Clinton was well-prepared for this one and took it in stride with a smile. “I think she's been saying that for as long as I've known her, which is about 25 years,” she said. “It doesn't change my view that we need to empower everyone, women and men to make the best decisions in their minds that they can make.”

Clinton was smart enough to avoid the kind of kerfuffle that rose around Albright and Gloria Steinem’s remarks from last weekend, avoiding any pleas centered on gender. “I am not asking people to support me because I'm a woman. I am asking people to support me because I think I am the most qualified, experienced, and ready person to be the president and the commander in chief,” she said. But she did highlight the already-historic nature of her campaign in a moment of solidarity with the two female moderators: “Somebody told me earlier today we've had like 200 presidential primary debates, and this is the first time there have been a majority of women on the stage. So we'll take our progress wherever we can find it.”

In response, Sanders did what he could to talk up his women-related accomplishments: winning the majority of women’s votes in his Vermont elections, maintaining a “lifetime 100 percent pro-choice voting record,” and supporting current congressional legislation that would address the gender wage gap. Clinton touted her endorsements from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America (organizations Sanders previously pooh-poohed as “establishment”) and drew a line between her leadership on women’s issues, particularly reproductive justice, and his allyship:

I appreciate greatly Senator Sanders' voting record. … I have been a leader on these issues. I have gone time and time again to take on the vested interests who would [make] women's health care decisions the province of the government instead of women ourselves. ... We need a leader on women's issues. Somebody who, yes, votes right but much more than that, leads the efforts to protect the hard-fought gains that women have made that, make no mistake about it, are under tremendous attack, not just by the Republican presidential candidates but by a whole national effort to try to set back women's rights.

One of the best, bluntest questions of this debate cycle came from moderator Gwen Ifill, who brought up an issue that’s fun to imagine floating around Sanders’ head at night. “Senator,” Ifill asked, “do you worry at all that you will be the instrument of thwarting history, as Senator Clinton keeps claiming that she may be the first woman president?” 

No, he doesn’t. “I think from an historical point of view,” Sanders said, “somebody with my background, somebody with my views, somebody who has spent his entire life taking on the big money interests—I think a Sanders victory would be of some historical accomplishment as well.”

Feb. 11 2016 5:02 PM

From One White Lady to Another: No, Meryl Streep, We Are Not “All Africans.”

You’re a white lady, Meryl Streep. I’m also a white lady. It is because of our shared whiteness that I feel compelled to notify you that your characterization of white people on Thursday—that “we’re all Africans, really”—is false.

It’s true that our species, Homo sapiens, evolved on the continent some hundreds of thousands of years ago. But when our early common ancestors started to migrate out of Africa (hey, remember when you starred in that that romantic, racist, colonialist fantasy in the ’80s?) between 125,000 and 60,000 years ago, they were barely even humans. In fact, almost as soon as Homo sapiens evolved from Homo erectus, they began to decamp the continent, becoming, in your parlance, Asians and Europeans. Since their original land mass was not yet called Africa—the word has origins in ancient Rome—it’s a safe bet that these early ancestors did not identify one another as Africans. Neither should you.


Even if that weren’t so, claiming African ancestry when you have none, at least not in the past few millennia, is insulting to people whose actual family history roots them in that continent and the diverse cultures, triumphs, and struggles it’s seen. I’m sure you know that Africa is not a country, and the countries within its bounds cover a wide spectrum of political systems, religious traditions, social customs, and major industries. So, what kind of Africans are we? Tunisian? Somalian? Malawian? Basotho? How ridiculous does “we’re all Malawians, really” sound to you?

The context of your remarks, which were uttered in defense of the lack of diversity on the Berlin International Film Festival panel, makes them even more troubling. You are the president of an all-white jury (when’s the last time that phrase led to something good?). You must have expected some probing questions, especially as a leading actress in an industry that just produced its second annual all-white Oscar nomination slate.

Instead, you diminished the very real, pertinent differences between white Western filmmakers and Arab and African filmmakers: “There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all, we're all from Africa originally,” you said, insinuating that our contemporary lives bear more relevance to early Homo sapiens than the thousands of intervening years of colonialism, globalization, cultural advancement, and geopolitical conflict. "At least women are included and in fact dominate this jury, and that's an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions," you said, "so I think the Berlinale is ahead of the game."

You aren’t the first white feminist (oh, sorry, humanist) to decouple race from gender and prioritize one over the other—Patricia Arquette can tell you why that’s a no-no—but it’s a tired act that gets even less defensible as more and more of us white ladies get schooled. I sighed with deep disappointment when you wore that T-shirt emblazoned with a truncated quote from Emmeline Pankhurst, who you played in Suffragette: “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,” it said. The phrase drew a disturbing connection to the Confederacy and American slavery, a link that was surely unintentional but apt nonetheless, as plenty of American suffragettes drew their boundaries of liberation around racial lines. Still, I was inclined to forgive you, since it was a silly photo shoot and you might not have had the time or presence of mind to fully grasp the implications of what you were wearing.

But this time, it’s different. If your humanism denies the value of diverse perspectives and dismisses the modern-day realities of racism, I can’t take your humanism seriously. Yes, I’m aware that nearly all of my faves are somehow problematic. But not all of them take their philosophies on whiteness from a Richard Dawkins T-shirt.

Feb. 11 2016 2:45 PM

Texas Is Trying to Classify Immigrant Detention Centers as Child-Care Facilities

Texas may soon classify two immigration detention centers as “child-care facilities” to circumvent a judge’s 2015 ruling that ordered them shut down. A new rule submitted to the state’s Health and Human Services Commission would create a new category of child-care license that would keep family detention centers open in Karnes City and Dilley that currently house migrant women and their children caught crossing the Mexican border.

The rule has been in the works since September, as the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services grappled with a decision from federal Judge Dolly Gee that came down in July. Gee ruled that the country’s three family detention centers (the third, which is currently being shut down, is in Pennsylvania) release the children they were hold in “deplorable conditions” that “failed to meet even the minimal standard” for a safe and clean environment for children.


The subpar conditions, she wrote, violated 1997’s Flores v. Meese settlement agreement, a class action suit that set standards for how unaccompanied migrant children stopped at the border should be treated—namely, that they must be held in licensed facilities. Gee’s decision applied that standard to children apprehended with their parents, too. At the time, there were about 1,400 children and parents in the country’s three family detention centers.

If the Texas HHC approves the rule, the detention centers could be licensed as child-care facilities even if they don’t comply with all the regulations other child-care centers must follow, such as keeping children from different families segregated by gender in their living and sleeping spaces.

Last May, 136 members of Congress signed a letter asking Department of Homeland Security head Jeh Johnson to release children from these facilities, citing stories of sexual assault, physical violence, kidnapping, and sex trafficking. Advocates testified against the practice at a December hearing at at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) headquarters, urging officials to reconsider the human-rights implications of holding children in shabby, prison-like environments. According to a DFPS spokesman, the federal government asked Texas to consider adding the new child-care licensing category instead of shutting the centers down, and Texas complied.

Feb. 11 2016 11:41 AM

Republicans in Congress Urge Women With Zika to Accept Microcephaly, Not Abortion

Republicans in Congress say that microcephaly isn’t all that bad, and women in South and Central America who contract the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus shouldn’t terminate pregnancies if they are concerned that their fetus may have the associated birth defect. At a hearing about Zika on Wednesday, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., decried calls by global health experts, including the highest-ranking human rights leader in the United Nations, for increased access to abortion and contraception in the countries beset by the fast-spreading virus. “This push for more abortion access is heartbreaking, especially since there are different degrees of microcephaly,” Duncan said, and some children born with the birth defect, which has spiked in Brazil in the months since the onset of the Zika epidemic, “go on to lead very normal lives.”

Several Latin American and Caribbean government officials have recommended that women in their Zika-afflicted nations avoid pregnancy for the next year or two to prevent microcephaly, a rare birth defect that causes stunted brain and head development, plus associated problems with hearing, seizures, motor functions, and cognition. The Helms amendment has prevented the United States from providing foreign aid for abortion-related services since 1973, but aid for contraception, which can be hard to access and afford in the countries currently grappling with the epidemic, should be on the table.


In Wednesday’s hearing, Duncan admitted that asking women not to get pregnant for two years is an impossible order. (It’s especially absurd without equivalent conversations with men about preventing pregnancy and halting rape.) But he stopped short of recognizing that contraception access in Latin America would help prevent a regionwide crisis. “Each child is made in the image of God and has inherent worth,” he said, recommending that women simply accept their children if they’re born with microcephaly.

Because of the harsh restrictions on abortion throughout Latin America, microcephaly is a greater threat to the region’s public health than Zika, which is largely harmless and only causes symptoms in 1 out of every 5 infected patients. Abortion is severely regulated in Brazil, which criminalizes the procedure in nearly all cases, and it’s banned in Haiti, Honduras, and Suriname, which have all begun to see the spread of Zika. Zika has also taken hold in El Salvador, where women and doctors have been sentenced to up to 40 years in prison for abortion-related charges; even women who have miscarriages or stillbirths are often reported to the police for investigation. Congressional Democrats and advocates like Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N.’s human rights head, have urged these countries to make abortion and contraception available to women to avoid a microcephaly crisis. “Laws and policies that restrict [women’s] access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations,” Al Hussein said earlier this month.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., disagrees. Instead, he recommends measures to “ensure that any child born with disabilities from this or any other infection is welcomed, loved, and gets the care that he or she needs.” He cited a BBC article, “Microcephaly: ‘It’s Not the End of the World,’ ” a personal narrative from the mother of a child born with the birth defect, as an argument against aborting an afflicted fetus. “I wouldn't choose to have my child to be born with microcephaly, and people should take precautions,” the mother writes.

Even without the threat of Zika, women will get abortions whether it’s legal or not—the safety of the procedure is what’s at stake. As more Latin American women see an uptick in microcephaly, more will seek abortion services to prevent them. Of course children with microcephaly should get the best medical care. Willfully denying women safe prevention measures won't do anything to help those children.

Feb. 10 2016 4:34 PM

If Male Characters Were Introduced in Scripts Like Women

Screw the Bechdel test—even when women get leading roles onscreen, it turns out, their characters get written as if they were dreamed up by salivating teenage boys. On the @femscriptintros Twitter account, producer Ross Putman noticed some trends in introduction lines for women’s characters in film scripts: They are by turns “a raw sexual force, impeded,” “lithe, leggy, spirited,” “attractive, even now with dark semi-circles underlining her closed eyes,” and “stunning and trying her best to hide it.” They all kind of sound like they’re starring in erotic novels.

Male characters simply don’t get the same loving attention to their individual body parts and precise brands of sex appeal. All they get are fully realized characters noted more for their inner qualities and motives than their shapely silhouettes or the shininess of their hair. Here, we attempt to recitfy this imbalance by introducing iconic male characters with all the sensual specificity they deserve.


Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope


• A vision in brown robes that caress his shapely curves, OBI WAN strides toward LUKE, placing his thick, pleasure-ready fingers over LUKE’s eyes before revealing the supple visage beneath his hood in a rapid striptease.*

• New Boston Globe editor MARTY BARON, as quirky as he is adorable, gazes through spectacles and afringe of sultry lashes. His muscular, feline torso is poured into a “fuck-me” button-down.

• All conversation stops, all eyes turn to look JED BARTLET up and down. Though he’s an alluring, auburn-locked looker, he will let slip a few crucial bits of knowledge from inside his pretty little head.


Little Fockers

• The two men spot BERNIE FOCKER, a silver fox in a silky low-cut blouse, practicing an erotic dance on his lawn. Focker is unaware of the two voyeurs with dropped jaws ogling the perspiration glistening on his collarbone, his chest bouncing with every snap of his limbs.


The Shining

• JACK strides with purpose into the hotel ballroom. Fit but not fussy, his is a solid, powerful body you want to be under; his carelessly masculine features inspire a heady mix of attraction and intimidation. His hair may be thinning, but his cock-confidence is as full as ever.

• With a boom and a thud befitting of his sinewy legs for days, enter the sparkly-eyed, pink-lipped RUBEUS HAGRID. He was once a sought-after sex god, but his many years as groundskeeper of a large boarding school have taken their toll. Nevertheless, his capable manhood hasn’t shrunk a bit.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

• QUEENIE notices a string of sensual moans emanating from a small bulge beneath a blanket. It is BENJAMIN (robotic baby replica). Though he is but an infant unaware of his sex appeal, and folds of aging flesh envelop his features, his indisputable virility begs her touch.

*Correction, Feb. 10, 2016: This post originally misstated that Obi Wan Kenobi's robes are black. They are brown.

Feb. 10 2016 1:26 PM

Forget What You’ve Read. Swabbing Your Baby With Vaginal Juices Is Pointless and Weird.

As an OB-GYN physician, I’ve seen my fair share of strange and quirky birth plans. I’ve talked women out of encapsulating and eating infected placentas. I have kindly asked male partners to please not get naked and push alongside their laboring counterparts. All of this I’ve done for reasons of hygiene or hospital policy—if it’s freaky but doesn’t hurt anyone, well, you do you. I love a good birth plan.

The latest hipster birth trend, however, known as vaginal seeding, gives me pause. Intended for babies born via cesarean section, vaginal seeding is the practice of rubbing your vaginal juices all over the baby’s face, mouth, skin, and anus in order to let him experience the same bacteria as a vaginally delivered baby. It’s a subject of conversation at the moment due to a small pilot study from the University of Puerto Rico that followed just 18 babies (seven delivered vaginally and 11 delivered by C-section) from birth through the first month of life. Babies born by C-section were split up to receive either routine care or vaginal seeding. For the second group, gauze that was placed inside the mother’s vagina one hour before delivery was then rubbed all over the baby in an effort to recreate the vaginal flora environment. The idea here is that good bacteria in the vagina help the newborn by boosting his or her immune system, fighting off potential infections, and preventing autoimmune disorders ... maybe.


This study presents very preliminary data that has probably inspired a few last-minute birth plan revisions. But let’s be clear here: The results of the study are not so clear. We have no idea if this practice protects anyone. And there are several scenarios wherein it may actually cause harm to the baby. For example, if the mother is Group B strep positive. Group B strep is a bacteria that is present in roughly 25 percent of all women in the U.S. and is the leading cause of meningitis and sepsis in the newborn’s first week of life. Another example is the presence of chorioamnionitis, which is an infection of the baby’s bag of waters that affects up to 70 percent of preterm deliveries, 13 percent of full-term deliveries, and 12 percent of C-sections. It’s not rare.

I am all for reducing maternal and fetal infection numbers, but let’s instead focus on preventive medicine: exclusive breastfeeding where possible, skin-to-skin contact after both vaginal and C-section deliveries, and decreasing the overall number of C-sections in the U.S.

If one thing is clear from years of delivering babies, it’s that no two births are the same. That’s why it’s ironic that “individualized” birth plans are, in fact, anything but that: Everyone and her mother now wants skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping. And yet every birth is different, because birth is a natural, humbling event—regardless of the mode of delivery or whether you swab your baby with your vaginal juice. 

Feb. 10 2016 12:46 PM

Major Title IX Lawsuit Says University of Tennessee Is “Indifferent” to Athletes’ Alleged Rapes

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, six women accuse the University of Tennessee of enabling and covering up sexual assaults committed by campus athletes, “fostering a hostile sexual environment,” and discriminating against alleged rape survivors through a biased adjudication system unique to Tennessee’s public university system.

The university violated Title IX laws, the suit alleges, by exhibiting “deliberate indifference” to sexual assaults and athletes’ misbehavior, depriving the plaintiffs of their right to an education and exposing them to further harassment. It names top university officials, including Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Athletics Director Dave Hart, as among those who knew of the athletes’ history of rapes and sexual assaults but “failed to take corrective action.”


The suit centers on six cases of sexual assault, five of which were committed by current and former student athletes—football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams, Riyahd Jones, and a John Doe, plus basketball player Yemi Makanjuola—and one committed by a non-athlete after a party in a campus dorm. It also mentions several other episodes of criminal behavior, sexual and nonsexual, committed by football players, including an incident wherein UT football players beat up a fellow player who assisted the woman who’d accused Johnson and Williams of rape.

The plaintiffs, some of whom dropped out of school soon after reporting their alleged assaults, are seeking tuition reimbursement and prepayment, payments to cover expenses incurred as a result of the sexual assaults, and damages for emotional suffering and their lack of access to equal educational opportunity. But they’re also trying to change the way Tennessee universities handle sexual-assault cases. The lawsuit asks for an injunction that would eliminate the state’s current court-like system of adjudication, which gives alleged perpetrators the right to an attorney, an evidentiary hearing, and a cross-examination of their alleged victims. The judge who presides over these cases is appointed by Cheek, allowing for any potential university biases to slip into a highly legalistic process.

“Athletes knew in advance that UT would: support them even after a complaint of sexual assault; arrange for top quality legal representation; and then direct them to the…hearing procedure that denies victims the right to a hearing and to the same equal procedural, hearing, and process rights as given to perpetrators of rape and sexual assault,” the lawsuit states. It also accuses the university of prolonging investigations of its athletes until the alleged rapists graduated or transferred to other colleges. Makanjuola, for one, decamped for the University of North Carolina Wilmington “with public well wishes from his coaches,” the Tennessean reports, soon after UT learned of his alleged assault. Johnson, too, was lauded by university officials who knew that he’d been accused of sexual assault.

"In the situations identified in the lawsuit filed today, the university acted lawfully and in good faith, and we expect a court to agree,” the university said in a statement. “Any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true.” Since last summer, the university has been the subject of two separate and ongoing Title IX investigations launched by the federal government. UT has also come under fire in the past for failing to disclose rape allegations against student athletes. Florida State University recently paid a landmark $950,000 settlement to the plaintiff of a Title IX lawsuit that accused the university of covering up football player Jameis Winston’s alleged rape of a fellow student in 2012—an indication that schools may be finally held to task for preferential treatment of student-athletes.