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Brown agrees to reinstate women’s equestrian, women’s fencing in proposed settlement

1998 Cohen vs. Brown equal opportunity agreement to end in August 2024 if court approves settlement

The University announced today that it has agreed to reinstate both the women’s equestrian team and the women’s fencing team to varsity status after both teams had been moved to club status in May.

The partial reversal of a decision that originally demoted 11 varsity teams would end a legal standoff between the University and a group of plaintiffs who claimed the demotion of the women's teams violated 1998 Cohen vs. Brown equal opportunity agreement.

If the settlement is approved by the court, in addition to reinstating those teams, the University will put an August 2024 end date on a previously indefinite joint agreement, which uniquely mandates that Brown provide sports opportunities to women roughly proportional to the number of female undergraduates. 

Though plaintiffs in the case had previously requested that the University overturn the Excellence in Brown Athletics initiative in its entirety, “the court’s approval of the settlement will set aside the plaintiffs’ legal challenge to the changes to Brown’s sports program,” provided the University reinstates two women's teams in return. 

The initiative, which was announced in May, originally facilitated the demotion of 11 teams to club status, while adding both coed and women’s sailing to the varsity roster. In June, after alumni and student backlash, Brown reinstated men’s track and field and cross country teams, which prompted the plaintiffs in the 1998 Cohen case to file a motion arguing that the University was no longer in compliance with their agreement. 

"We are very pleased with the settlement,” President Christina Paxson P’19 said in a Thursday press release. “From the outset of this initiative, Brown’s efforts have been about one thing — increasing opportunities for our student-athletes to be part of a competitive program.”

Paxson stated that the equal opportunity agreement “served an important purpose when it was signed 22 years ago, but Brown’s commitment to women athletes transcends the agreement. We can provide excellent athletics opportunities for women and men, be a leader in upholding Title IX and have a competitive varsity program. And we will.”

In the press release, the University maintained that the unique standards of compliance set by the joint agreement hindered success in Brown athletics, limiting their ability “to offer women’s and men’s teams the competitive experience athletes deserve and expect,” according to the press release. 

The set end date to the agreement “will eventually eliminate the need for complex roster maneuvers or ‘management’ within the academic year, including managing ‘walk-ons’ or non-recruited student-athletes,” according to the press release, “which was an obstacle for teams to be truly competitive.”

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to the Cohen vs. Brown agreement as a Title IX compliance agreement. In fact, it is an equal opportunity agreement. The Herald regrets the error.


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