The Diffusion of Title IX Sexual Harassment Complaints Throughout U.S. Colleges and Universities
Posted: 17 Apr 2019
Date Written: January 19, 2019
Title IX is an expansive U.S. civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. Specialized use of the law to combat sexual harassment—in the form of federal complaints filed against higher education institutions alleging their failure to address the problem—has become increasingly prevalent. The mechanisms driving this dramatic change are likely operating on the level of complainants but these are extremely difficult to observe because complainants’ identities are kept anonymous. What can be observed are the organizations targeted in complaints. Using a new data set comprised of all resolved postsecondary Title IX complaints filed with the Department of Education from 1994 to 2014 (N=10,255), this article examines whether and how sexual harassment complaints have diffused within the population of four-year nonprofit colleges and universities. Event history models indicate complaints flow more rapidly among schools of similar status as well as among institutions linked by a new indicator for social proximity that may allow multiple contagion processes to operate simultaneously. The article illuminates a pressing transformation affecting higher education and more general processes whereby society comes to shape law.
Keywords: diffusion, organizations, U.S. antidiscrimination law, sexual harassment, U.S. higher education
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