Devan-Song v. Oregon State University
Anne Devan-Song, a PhD candidate at Oregon State University (OSU), faced sexual and gender-based harassment at the hands of fellow graduate student. OSU not only failed to address and resolve the complaints, but also discharged Devan-Song from her lab despite her excellent academic standing then suspended her for speaking out about her experience.
Anne Devan-Song, a PhD candidate at Oregon State University (OSU), experienced persistent, unwanted, harassing and controlling behaviors from a fellow graduate student. As a result, Devan-Song dropped classes to avoid being in the same room as him, decided not to pursue a minor in Biological Data Science because he was also taking it, and avoided social situations where he would be present. Devan-Song reported the behavior to their shared advisor, but he defended the harasser and failed to report the behavior to OSU’s Equal Opportunity & Access (EOA).
In 2018, Devan-Song reported the incidents directly to EOA. By 2019, after OSU failed to resolve her reports of harassment and retaliation, Devan-Song began speaking out to OSU members, including administrators and higher leadership, identifying the gaps in the Title IX reporting and response process, and writing extensive suggestions for systemic changes at OSU to combat gender and racial inequities. She galvanized fellow activists on campus to ask for institutional change and for accountability to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) statements.
In response, her harasser and former advisor launched two investigations against her for her speech, characterizing it as retaliation against them for their general involvement in her original complaints. OSU hired an external lawyer to investigate Devan-Song for her speech and activism. This lawyer conducted two 11-month investigations into Devan-Song’s speech, including interviewing her close friends, lab mates, and support systems. OSU then imposed sanctions on Devan-Song for her truthful recounting of her experiences with her friends and OSU leaders.
Devan-Song filed a lawsuit against Oregon State University for violation of Title IX, The First Amendment, and Oregon law.
In May 2021, OSU and Devan-Song settled her case. OSU removed all disciplinary sanctions for Devan-Song’s speech about her experiences at OSU and reinstated her as a PhD candidate in good standing. OSU also agreed to add the following language to Section 3.2 of its Student Code of Conduct: “In particular, the University will not take disciplinary action under this Code for speech activities that disclose or discuss, in good faith, factual information relating to a claim of prohibited discrimination, harassment or retaliation”. In line with the Oregon, this language will make it more difficult for OSU to punish people for talking about their experiences of discrimination at OSU and advocating for equity, justice, and inclusion.
Devan-Song firmly believes that speaking out about inequities and non-punitive, iterative examination of policies are the best methods for forward progress. She continues to work with OSU community members to advocate for the civil, education and employment rights of women, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) folk, international students, and other under-served and under-protected communities. Within her time as an Integrative Biology graduate student, she hopes to help OSU and the broader STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) community achieve its articulated commitments to inclusive excellence, minority retention, and student success in higher education. Devan-Song aims to set up a civil and employment rights fund on the OSU campus for BIPOC women who are pushed out of academia by inequitable systems and has faith that OSU leaders and policymakers will learn from past errors and continue to strive for improvement.