Jazz Stephens was handing out purple tape at Gate C of Ryan Field Friday morning as graduating seniors walked through the gates to their commencement ceremony.
The rising Weinberg senior did so as part of a campaign she had heard about on other campuses and then organized for Northwestern, “Tape for Title IX.” The event was meant to celebrate the university’s progress in relation to Title IX while also encouraging Northwestern “to take a stronger, more committed stance against the sexual and domestic violence and stalking that occurs on our campuses.”
Stephens created the Facebook event on Tuesday, inviting her friends to tape purple “IX”s on their mortarboards in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
On Wednesday, Peter Ludlow filed a lawsuit against the University and top officials on counts of gender discrimination, defamation and invasion of privacy. The philosophy professor alleges gender discrimination under the protection of Title IX, claiming the University’s investigation process produced a “discriminatory” report failing to “cite relevant evidence” in favor of Ludlow. Where Title IX was used in the February case against Ludlow for his alleged sexual misconduct with a student, this case now positions him on the other side of the gender discrimination aspect of the law.
The U.S. Department of Education made public a list of 55 colleges under investigation of Title IX offenses, a response to advocates calling for higher transparency and accountability from the Department in the wake of underreported instances of sexual assault on campuses across the nation. While Northwestern was not on the list, discussions about the law came to fruition with a previous case in February wherein a Northwestern undergraduate student filed suit against the University for mishandling her allegations of sexual assault against Ludlow.
An active voice in the original Title IX discussions, Stephens said she could not believe it when she heard the news about Ludlow’s suit. She said she was angry, but she also recognizes Ludlow’s right to Title IX.
“I think it’s horribly ironic,” she said. “But on the other hand it gets dangerous if we say who can and who cannot access certain laws.“
Ludlow’s case also claims defamation in statements made by Northwestern public relations vice president Al Cubbage and President Schapiro purporting he was taking a “leave of absence.” According to the case, he agreed with the University to give up his Spring Quarter classes to ensure safety of students following protests that resulted from the suit in February, but that this decision was not as a punitive measure. The suit argues that Cubbage's and Schapiro's statements to the media suggested the decision was punitive, citing articles from NBC Chicago, the Chicago Tribune, Inside Higher Ed and the Chicago Reader.
The most recent case also brings a new complaint into the picture, that of a graduate student with whom Ludlow previously had a relationship. In addition to suing the school and top officials, Ludlow is suing the grad student, her advisor and Northwestern Director of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office Joan Slavin for defamation, alleging they included "false statements" in their testimony to the investigation and then publicized these statements without the privilege to do so.
The investigation was targeted toward the graduate student's allegation of "non-consensual sex," to which the investigator found insufficient evidence to charge Ludlow. The investigator did, however, find Ludlow had violated Northwestern's sexual harassment policy, which Ludlow denied. Ludlow is ultimately seeking relief to be determined in court for damages including "emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and future lost income and benefits."
Thursday night's rain prevented Stephens and others behind the Tape for Title IX initiative from flyering more than they did. She and a small group also struggled to paint the rock in the rain. As decorating mortarboards is technically against university policy, Stephens was afraid she would hear more from university officials than she did. And when the news about Ludlow's case came out, Stephens said that she wondered if she should continue with her efforts. Since Ludlow was using Title IX in his defense, she did not necessarily want to be misunderstood as advocating on his behalf.
Despite these few obstacles, Stephens was satisfied with the work she and others put into their taping campaign.
"I think it's really important to recognize during a time like graduation that something like [sexual assault] makes getting to graduation that much harder," she said. "I'm glad that we did it."