Elizabeth Tang headshot
Elizabeth Tang L’17, WG’17
Working to Bring Sexual Assault and Harassment to the Surface

he statistic is both stunning and sobering. One in five women are sexually assaulted during their time in college.

Elizabeth Tang L’17, WG’17 first learned that figure (now one in four) when she was an undergraduate at Harvard and it prompted her to volunteer at the school’s peer hotline for sexual assault survivors.

“A lot of my friends and acquaintances confided in me during college that they had been sexually assaulted,” Tang said. “They pointed out who their assailants were. I knew their rapists. I had been in many cases friends or acquaintances with their rapists, so I knew firsthand how true that one in five statistic was. And I think that’s what really drew me to the peer counseling hotline in college. And then I continued learning about gender justice.”

The more Tang studied and learned about gender justice and other types of oppression people face, the more it became clear that fighting those injustices would fuel her life’s work. She has since advocated for gender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and Apne Aap Women’s Collective in Mumbai, India. She does so now at the National Women’s Law Center, where she is Counsel for Education and Workplace Justice and where she focuses on ending sexual harassment and violence in both K–12 schools and higher education.

Tang first joined NWLC as an Equal Justice Works Fellow to fight sexual harassment of students with a focus on girls of color in K–12 schools.

Her project involved three components: public education, by creating educational materials so that the public can know and learn about the law in an accessible and easy to understand way; policy advocacy, by advocating with legislators on both the state and federal level, and in some cases, at school districts; and litigation, by representing students who had experienced sexual harassment, including sexual assault, in court.

Among her accomplishments were settling three Title IX cases alleging that the school districts ignored students who reported sexual assault or dating violence and instead punished the survivors by suspending them or pushing them into inferior alternative schools.

As a result, Tang said, the school districts had to implement systemic reforms.

As Counsel at the NWLC, she and colleagues are currently suing the Department of Education for a recent Title IX regulatory action. Tang claimed the Department of Education has been taking steps to weaken Title IX protections for students against sexual harassment.

Their latest regulatory action, she said, “is extremely harmful. It requires schools to ignore many complaints of sexual harassment and assault. It requires schools to impose uniquely burdensome and traumatizing procedures in their investigations of sexual assault but not for any other type of misconduct. So, basically, if you get into a fistfight you get one set of rules. But if you report sexual assault you get a whole different set of rules that are much more harmful to the person that is reporting it. We’re suing the department saying, ‘what you are doing is arbitrary and capricious. It’s discriminatory on the basis of sex and your whole rule is premised on the rape myth that women and girls lie about sexual assault.’”

In addition to litigation, Tang continues her advocacy and educational work. “I think it’s been really meaningful to do this work because I don’t think that there are many organizations where you can work on public education materials, and policy advocacy, and litigation and I think the National Women’s Law Center is a unique place for that,” she said.