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Duke agrees to revise girls-only programs to resolve federal investigation

Much more work involved if it refuses to change the names of the programs

Before the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights could order Duke to modify its female-only programs to comply with Title IX, the private university agreed to end them or open them to males.

University of Michigan-Flint economist Mark Perry, who filed a federal complaint against the three programs last year, forwarded The College Fix the notice he received from the feds about the resolution of the investigation.

The programs he challenged are titled Girls Exploring Science & Technology, Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and Science, and Girls STEM Day @ Duke. (A fourth challenged program, “Duke’s Problem-Based Learning to Improve Girls’ Math Identity,” was determined early to not state a Title IX violation.)

OCR’s summary of its investigation said none of the programs explicitly prohibited boys or would exclude them if they tried to participate, but “noted concerns” that they all referred to participants or registrants as “female-identifying” or “girls.”

Duke “proactively began to remove” the gender-specific language from the first two programs’ websites before signing the agreement with the feds, but it pushed back on the third program:

The University asserts that registration for this event was handled by a local Girl Scout troop and that a representative from the Girl Scouts stated that the program was open to both members and non-members and that no one was denied registration.

The resolution agreement, also shared by Perry, gives the university three options each for the first two programs and four options for the third.

MORE: Perry challenges whites-only space at Brandeis

It can “cease its involvement” with GEST and FEMMES, as they are known; direct the student groups that run them to make them coeducational and “eliminate any suggestion” that they are for one sex, including by revising promotional materials; or keep the female-specific names but “develop and implement strategies to effectively communicate” they are open to all “notwithstanding the name.”

The last option is the most labor-intensive for Duke. It would have to share a “strategic plan” for communicating to to the public that each program is “coeducational despite its name,” and hand over statistics for this academic year and next on who applied (including their sex), whether they were accepted, and if not, the reason for their exclusion.

The options for Girls STEM Day @ Duke are more complicated. The university can cease involvement; demonstrate that the program is “hosted by and for” Girls Scouts of America members, making it exempt from OCR regulations, and modify the name to start with “Girl Scouts”; open the program to all students and communicate its coeducational nature, including by changing its name; or “modify its involvement … and/or augment” its involvement with youth organizations for boys.

The fourth option would similarly require the most work by Duke. It would have to show how its involvement with STEM Day is comparable to its involvement with organizations for boys and provide a list of all youth organization events each academic year comparable to STEM Day, including individuals who participated by name and sex.

Duke must inform OCR by Jan. 22 which option it chooses for each contested program.

Perry, whose side gig is challenging federally funded education programs that exclude participants by sex or race, wrote to The Fix:

I have now filed 244 Title IX complaints that have resulted in 108 federal investigations, including 8 that were opened in the last two weeks vs. the University of Connecticut, Loyola Marymount, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, Cal Tech, Lakeland Community College (in Ohio) and SUNY Albany. With the successful resolution at Duke, there have now been about 30 resolutions of Title IX investigations in my favor.

MORE: Yale under federal investigation for excluding men from several programs

IMAGE: John T Takai/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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