Date Available


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Year of Publication


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Jane Jensen


Gender discrimination, such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and inequitable treatment has long been considered a prominent issue on higher education campuses and is regulated under the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, commonly known as Title IX. Title IX is enforced by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) who responds to gender discrimination complaints on campus through investigations resulting in what are called OCR Resolution Letters. These letters define numerous policies and procedures Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) must put in place pertaining to the prevention of gender discrimination. This qualitative study looks specifically at the ways that gender discrimination on campuses of higher education was defined by the OCR from 1997-2011. The study explores the research questions (1) How have the types of conduct determined to be gender discrimination changed over time? (2) How have expectations of IHE responsibilities for gender discrimination issues changed over time? and (3) What gender discrimination issues have surfaced as priorities in the implementation of Title IX, as reflected in OCR resolution letters?

Analysis of the letters using a social construction framework demonstrates that while the definitions of specific types of gender discrimination remained constant, the context in which they occur and the types of behaviors determined to be gender discrimination have both expanded in response to societal attitudes. The OCR tends to take the stance of being an ally vs. a punishing body when aiding IHEs in implementing Title IX; however IHE’s required investment in addressing the problem in both response and preventive measures has grown. Finally, OCR Resolution letters demonstrate that student on student interactions have been less common than faculty on student interactions. Implications for IHE practices and future research are discussed.