The big news on campus today is that a group of students and recent alumni recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights alleging that Yale is in violation of Title IX requirements on the basis that its pattern of inadequate behavior towards sexual harassment and related action on campus constitute a hostile environment for women here at Yale, serving to create unequal educational opportunities based on gender. Specifically: "This pervasive hostile environment has limited Yale women’s equal access to educational opportunities in violation of Title IX." Yale responded later this afternoon.
This was a heady discussion over lunch among the Trumbull College seniors. Personally, I am a very, very strong supporter of gender equality, and I am not tolerant of some of the kinds of behavior we have seen at Yale in the last few years: the "We Love Yale Sluts" incident, the offensive DKE chants on old campus, and a few other instances of note. I think that the University could have acted more quickly and more decisively to call out these actors. But to me, the problem of these examples is not one which can be solved by punishing some frat brothers, no matter how strict the official reproach.
Ultimately, these issues are representative of a failing of the Yale community, or at least particular subsets thereof. Scaring away public misogyny would help make Yale more welcoming, but I think that's just the part of the iceberg which shows itself... in this regard, I agree with fellow Trumbull senior Adriel Sapporta who wrote as much in a column today. Of greater significance are the sexual assaults which get reported, but never resolved, or the offenders let off with slaps on the wrist; more still, the sexual assaults which never go reported at all, because people feel that official recourse is hopeless.
I haven't seen the exact terms of the complaint, but it raises for me the same kind of questions that I have had when the Women's Center has responded to these mentioned instances. Often, I asked whether the YWC response was good tactics or good strategy to advance the goal of gender equality on campus. While I think I sympathize with the intentions of this complaint (not having discussed it with the submitting group), I do wonder if this is the best avenue to pursue this goal. The #1 response I have noticed has been a widespread alienation of Yale women from the YWC as a result of the kinds of statements made in the YDN today from a group of men and women which is, I know, not 100% representative of the YWC as an institution -- just saying what was discussed at lunch today.
This is not especially clear and focused, but what I mean is the following:
- I totally agree that the University's March 2 report of the task force on sexual misconduct was woefully inadequate and really quite shameful; this and other nearly desultory efforts to reach minds seem to fall quite short.
- I agree (and have stated since freshmen year) that there are widespread deficiencies in awareness and education which contribute to a hostile atmosphere in certain contexts on campus, or at least help precipitate negative circumstances.
What I don't agree with is the following statement, from Presca Ahn in the YDN today:
So what do we mean when we say that Yale is a hostile environment for women? What we don’t mean is that every female student at Yale has experienced sexual harassment or assault. What we mean is that the University has consistently demonstrated an attitude of tolerance for highly public acts of misogyny and sexual aggression. Female undergraduates see their peers call them “Yale sluts” and hear still other peers chant that “no means yes.” They live with the knowledge that the University has failed to punish those peers for sexual harassment. It takes little imagination to understand the effect of this kind of atmosphere on female students’ ability to engage in campus life on a basis of safety and equality.
Emphasis mine. Ultimately, this is what it comes down for to me - I think that Yale hasn't done enough, that Yale STUDENTS haven't done enough - but I'm not sure that what's happened at Yale so obviously has an especially significant effect on female students' ability "to engage in campus life on a basis of safety and equality." Hopefully the OCR inquiry will help push things in the right direction, but I do hope that this can prove to be a good discussion, rather than a venomous one where the university feels compelled to defend itself and the general public just ends up disparaging the efforts altogether. We shall see!
Full response from Dean Miller below.
Dear Members of the Yale College Community:
We have received verbal notification from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education that it intends to investigate a complaint filed by a group of current and former Yale students. We understand, based on a press release issued by these students, that the complaint alleges that Yale may be in violation of Title IX requirements that colleges provide equal educational opportunities for both men and women. Yale has not yet received this complaint. Reportedly, these students have expressed concerns that the university has not responded sufficiently to incidents, over a period of years, involving denigrating behavior toward women.
Yale does not and will not tolerate sexual harassment, and seeks to build an environment that is supportive of women and of men, and of people of all gender and sexual identities. Yale is notable, in fact, for the extraordinary number and range of initiatives, programs of study, working groups, faculty and student organizations, and administrative offices devoted to the advancement of women and women’s issues. Not only does Yale foster strong respect for women’s role in campus life and society, but also the Yale College Dean’s Office has convened numerous forums and working groups to study the incidents in question and the ways in which Yale addresses them. Yale will respond fully to the investigation and cooperate with the Office of Civil Rights.
Yale has strong regulations in place regarding sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, and when questionable incidents have occurred, has used the available means to investigate and to determine the most appropriate response, and to issue penalties where warranted.
We have taken a number of actions to address and change those aspects of campus culture, whether they relate to initiation into student organizations, or other social situations that have tended to correlate with the kinds of incidents reportedly identified in this complaint. Several of these actions have been outlined in the Provost's Sexual Misconduct Committee report, the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention report, and the report of the Committee on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Prevention Education (also known as the SHAPE report). In addition, last December I charged an ad hoc Yale College Committee chaired by Master Judith Krauss with developing a holistic approach to initiations. We expect to receive the recommendations of this Committee in the near term.
I want to assure you that Yale has a deep commitment to gender equity, and we will consider these allegations seriously. This is a matter also of utmost importance to every member of our community, and it is one that has long held special significance to me. Ever since I was among the first women students to co-educate my own undergraduate institution, I have sought to champion the rights of women in all ranks and departments of the University. Indeed, one of my motives in accepting the position of Dean of Yale College was to have the opportunity to carry the message of equity to an even wider audience. I ask you to join with me in our never-ending efforts to build a strong community of mutual respect.
Dean of Yale College
Sterling Professor of History of Art