Katie Sims / Sun Staff Photographer

Dean Eduardo M. Peñalver asked lawyering faculty and section instructors to talk to their students about the reported group chat in which male students ranked female students based on appearance.

October 11, 2018

Cornell Investigating First-Year Law Students’ Reported Ranking Female Peers by Appearance in Private Group Chat

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Cornell is investigating a report that male, first-year Cornell Law School students ranked female first-year students on their appearance in a private group chat, according to an email from the school’s dean.

Dean Eduardo M. Peñalver ’94 on Oct. 5 said in an email to law students that Cornell’s Title IX Office is investigating the reported behavior. He said that “ranking women on their appearance is inherently degrading,” adding that it was “childish and unprofessional.”

Peñalver asked lawyering faculty, who teach first-year law students, and section instructors to talk to their students about the reported group chat and to tell students that, if true, “the behavior may well violate” the University’s Policy 6.4, which outlines discrimination, sexual harassment and other conduct prohibited by Cornell.

A Cornell spokesperson, John Carberry, said the University cannot comment on an active Title IX investigation.

In a statement to The Sun, Peñalver said “Cornell Law School is committed to providing all of our students with a welcoming and inclusive environment.”

“We have asked our students to support this effort, and are confident we will both sort through the facts in this situation and be able to work with the University to apply the appropriate remedies,” the dean wrote.

Peñalver urged students to use Cornell’s Bias Reporting System to report any information that could help the Title IX Office’s investigation.

Women comprise 52.5 percent of the law school’s first-year class, but Emily Szopinski, a second-year law student, said “it is clear that there is still a culture of sexism within this profession and our community that needs to be addressed.”

“Members of Cornell Law School will go on to be leaders in their communities and their profession,” said Szopinski, president of the Women’s Law Coalition at Cornell. “This type of behavior has concerning implications for the future positions of power that Cornell Law students have the potential to hold.”

Szopinski said she first learned of the report on Sept. 26 and that faculty members began discussing the report with students on Sept. 28.

Ryan Norton, a second-year law student, said it was good, but unusual, that Peñalver had acknowledged the reported behavior in a public email.

“Normally the law school administration handles things quietly,” Norton said. “The general consensus is that the relevant people can be punished without having to let everyone know about it.”

Norton also noted that students began learning of the incident in the same week that Palo Alto University Prof. Christine Blasey Ford testified that Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court justice, had sexually assaulted and tried to rape her at a party when they were both in high school.

Students’ reported behavior in the group chat is “utterly repugnant to the unified front the law school community has taken in that regard,” Norton said, pointing to an open letter in The New York Times that was signed by more than 2,400 law professors — including 19 at Cornell — urging the Senate not to confirm Kavanaugh.

“I think that these circumstances highlighted how awful it is that there was a group chat among Cornell Law students dedicated to demeaning women,” Norton said.