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Law Books

Neutralizing Title IX: Hyperlegal Consciousness on College Campuses in the Age of #MeToo

In Neutralizing Title IX: Hyperlegal Consciousness on College Campuses in the Age of #MeToo, I examine how college campuses adjudicate sexual assault complaints, with particular emphasis on the competing legal jurisdictions at play.

In the book, I study how competing legal jurisdictions involved in the adjudication of campus sexual assault can illuminate the gap between the promise of equality in the law "on the books" and how it operates unequally "in action." In particular, at the understudied location of institutional practices between intersecting legal regimes, I investigate how changes to Title IX regarding sexual misconduct have been put into practice in university settings. Since the 2011 release of the “Dear Colleague” letter by the Obama administration, campus sexual assault has come to be considered a form of sexual harassment that constitutes unfair sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Administrators had to come to think of campus sexual assault as “their problem” rather than one they could hand over to the police and the legal system – a shift both administrators and legal actors have approached with concern.


To explore this policy implementation, I engage mixed-methods. In addition to analyzing primary data related to federal, state, and campus policies and outcomes, I use in-depth interviews and participant observation with over 50 police, attorneys, campus Title IX administrators, and students in six college towns. 

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My book manuscript discusses the different cultural changes in legal consciousness that have occurred between law enforcement and higher education (Chapter 1); how the “hyperlegal” consciousness among administrators working in higher education ends up leaving law enforcement behind, when it comes to adjudicating campus sexual assaults (Chapter 2); and the key role the concept of trust plays in higher education and law enforcement narratives of the extent to which they coordinate with one another to respond to sexual violence on college campuses (Chapter 3). The second half of the book then explores how institutional processes within higher education designed to neutralize the threats they face to their pocketbooks and reputation may perpetuate the gendered underreporting of sexual assault, through the very office created to increase reporting, Title IX (Chapter 4); and the outcomes of organizational attempts in higher education to neutralize risks they face, namely, the feeling by students of being “forced” either to transfer away following their “Title IX” or to take to news and social media to share their outrage with the process (Chapter 5).

By analyzing the contours and consequences of this neutralization process, I reveal a previously undertheorized reason for the underreporting of sexual violence. Universities have made drastic changes to their responses to sexual misconduct/violence, with the goal of increasing reporting. As my research reveals, however, in some cases these changes actually suppress the reporting and formal adjudication of sexual violence. I find that many students’ understandings of their sexual experiences are shaped deeply by campus administrators and legal officials. The rules for Title IX under the Trump administration highlight the importance of analyzing how these policy changes are implemented. In theorizing the social, legal, and cultural mechanisms involved in “Title IX gatekeeping” by colleges and universities, I reconceptualize underreporting as constituted through the professional production of gendered legal ideologies and the power of law through the pervasion of legality between and across legal jurisdictions. 


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