Women’s Center, administrators discuss possible changes to harassment, rape policies

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

Members of the Yale Women’s Center board of directors told the News late Thursday night that they will push the University to change some of its policies in order to address “fraternity-sponsored or enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape.”

In the wake of controversy over the appearance of a photograph in which students affiliated with the Zeta Psi fraternity are holding a sign reading “We Love Yale Sluts” in front of the Women’s Center, the directors met with Yale College Dean’s Office administrators Thursday morning to discuss the prospects of such changes. Members of Zeta Psi also met with administrators this week, but chapter president John Charest ’10 said no concrete plans have been nailed down since the fraternity issued a public apology, which was published in the News on Tuesday.

At a Wednesday afternoon meeting, members of the fraternity discussed how the organization could support the women at Yale.

Meanwhile, Women’s Center board members have indicated they may pursue legal action. More than 20 legal experts have offered aid to the center over the past week, said Chase Olivarius-McAllister ’09, the Center’s former political-action coordinator..

But directors were vague as to what exactly that legal action would entail. The directors said they are assessing whether to file a sexual harassment suit. Olivarius-McAllister hinted that the Center might pursue additional legal channels, but declined to elaborate further.

At the meeting with administrators, the Center requested that the University adopt a host of structural changes to address what it characterizes as fraternity-sponsored sexual harassment, assault and rape. Neither the Center’s directors nor administrators specified what possible changes were discussed.

Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, who was among the administrators who met wtth the Women’s Center, neither confirmed nor denied that changes to University policy would go forward, but he said dialogue with the Center would continue.

“I think our conversations should continue,” he said. “There’s an opportunity here to look at the current structure and there are people who are willing to sit and look at things to see what’s possible.”

Zeta Psi national chapter Executive Director Dave Hunter said an investigation was underway, and that a representative from the national organization was on campus Thursday to talk with members of the fraternity. If the fraternity is found to be in violation of the national chapter’s risk-management policy – which expressly prohibits hazing and sexual assault – the fraternity could face a warning, a probationary period or suspension from the national organization. Hunter said the national disciplinary committee would meet this weekend to discuss courses of action, but that the process might take 30 to 60 days.

“We’re going to be deliberate,” he said, “Which means it might take some time.”

Head football coach Jack Siedlecki expressed his “extreme disappointment” before the entire Yale Football Team on Friday morning, Siedlecki said. Zeta Psi’s membership has traditionally drawn heavily from the team.

“While I respect their right to freedom of speech, I am extremely disappointed that such a stupid act was not questioned by someone in the group,” Siedlecki wrote in an e-mail to the News. “I would hope that the individuals involved have learned that their flippant lack of respect has harmed the image of several groups on campus. We are all going to have to work very hard to get that respect back.”

Comments

  • Anonymous

    The YWC's assertion that there exist "fraternity-sponsored sexual harrassment, assualt, and rape" is ridiculous. The reporter should have qualified the claim extensively. First, this very paper has demonstrated that the event that sparked this debate would not likely stand up as sexual harassment in a court of law. Furthermore, the allegation that fraternities sponsor assualt and rape is a HUGE leap from the issue at hand and only came up at this meeting. There has not been any previous mention of suspicion that Zeta Psi or any other fraternity on campus sponsors assault and rape.

    Rather, this claim only refers back to the YWC leadership's unsubstantiated hatred for fraternities. They demonstrated this bias in the Sphincter Troupe's skit that defamed Zeta Psi, the forum they held earlier this year on fraternities, and in their inflammatory response to the pledge incident.

    With their latest accusation taken in light of their past actions, the women of the YWC have shown themselves to be no better than the pledges in the now-infamous picture. I hope they do not think they speak for all Yale women in their current efforts.

    Linking assault and rape to fraternity sponsorship is an accusation unfairly directed at all the young men in Yale's fraternities, who come from diverse backgrounds and represent a significant portion of the undergraduate population on campus. This accusation of assault and rape is harmful to the collective and individual reputations of fraternity members. It is also entirely unsubstantiated. Furthermore, it creates misunderstanding on campus and drives a wedge further between two groups that really need to be talking to each other at this point.

    It is troubling that the YWC pursues its defamatory agenda in the press rather than through the disciplinary channels that normally handle complaints as grave as rape and assault. The YWC feels victimized, and understandably so. Unfortunately, its leaders see this as an opportunity to assault fraternities' images rather than make cooperative social progress.

    The YWC is proving to be an unwieldy fringe organization involved in the same stereotyping and hate speech it publicly denounces. If they weren't so serious their hypocrisy would be comical. This article reads like something out of The Onion.

    Instead, the YWC should focus on bringing the sides closer to a mutual understanding rather than pushing them apart. Their lack of a desire to do so explains their alienation from the university processes that have been established to address this type of situation. These procedures are focused on cooperative progress, which clearly does not interest the YWC.

    That the "WE LOVE YALE SLUTS" picture exists is awful and the fraternity members involved were clearly in the wrong. Unfortunately, the YWC's conduct since finding the photo has been extremely disappointing and destructive as well.

  • Anonymous

    Did the Women's Center actually mean to say that there is fraternity-sponsored assault and rape on this campus? Or was the meaning of their statement akin to what would be more accurately expressed as "assault, rape, and fraternity-sponsored sexual harassment"? Could someone from the Women's Center clarify??

  • Anonymous

    So, where are the policies against racism? Blackface, graffiti, discrimination against African Americans on campus is much more pervasive than the alleged sexism which the YWC is blowing out of proportion.

  • Anonymous

    I'm guessing that when they say "sponsorship" they mean that the culture of fraternities, the very concept of these male collectives, fosters misogynist sentiment that underlies acts of sexual violence. Maybe sponsorship is a misleading word - it implies conscious agency - when I think a lot of this "sponsorship" is unintentional, but scarily latent, in fraternity life.

  • Anonymous

    Political correctness is running amok at Yale. Beware what you say or do. If a thin skinned group is offended, you will get squashed like a bug. Apparently free speech is great, as long as you're saying the "right" things.

  • Anonymous

    To the above, its not neccesarily "polical correctness" that is the problem. It is the problem of polical correctness selectively applied to males, especially white males. If you are not in this group, you have cart-blanche to say whatever you like. If you are, choose your words carefully. This is a product of a culture, esp. at Yale, that rewards people for identifing themselves in terms of how they have been historically victimized by white males.

  • Anonymous

    I would imagine that the YWC knows more about actual instances of assault and rape than the average Yalie as it is a "safe space" or support center. Of course it is "unsubstantiated," but I don't know how one would substantiate such a claim without unfairly bringing alleged survivors & perpetrators into the spotlight (now THAT'S defamation) or uncovering the secrecy of excomm, which is the administration's responsibility. If these claims turn out to be true (and by that I would say… if fraternities or fraternity members play a disproportionately large role in assaults and rapes) then the YWC will have blown the whistle in an incredible (albeit clumsy) way.

    Because frats are the main alcohol source for freshman girls, I would venture to guess that frats ARE indeed the venue where a lot of rapes begin. This is not to say that the frat members themselves are the perpetrators-- in my experience a lot of frat members are more concerned with manning the door, serving drinks than having a 'good time.' But the frats know that they are responsible for anything that happens within their doors-- this is called risk management.

  • Anonymous

    This is not the first, nor likely the last time that Freedom of Expression is under discussion at Yale. Yale's policy has been guided for many years by a thoughtful, powerful and principled policy outlined in "The Woodward Report" of 1975. It can be found online at http://www.yale.edu/yalecollege/publications/woodward

    Those who would change Yale's policy have a responsibility to know and understand what it is that they propose to change.

    Most of us are do not condone boorish behavior or words that offend, but most of us support the right of someone to be offensive because we know that the time may come when we might utter ideas and opinions that someone might want to silence because of perceived offense.

  • Anonymous

    #1 Have you checked the names of Yale women recently? They are the daughters of some extremely wealthy and powerful people. I am quite sure that they would disagree with you that the behavior in question does not encourage sexual aggression against women. That's why your continued use of the offensive language undermines your own objectives by continuing to demonstrate that Yale is not a welcoming environment to all students. You, outdated fraternity culture, and the perpetrators in question are apparently too thick to learn a simple lesson.

  • Anonymous

    #8, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Although I disagree with your conclusions, it's nice to occasionally run across something that isn't an ad hominem attack.

    That said, being familiar with the Woodward Report, as well as Yale's harassment policies, I do not think the former somehow negates the latter. "Words that offend" are not synonymous with harassment.

    What the frat members did was not harassment because it offended the women. It was harassment because they stood in front of safe haven for women who have been assaulted and insinuated with their sign and (possibly) words that they saw women as sexual objects -- the kind of objectification that currently and historically has allowed men to justify physical abuse in all its forms: "They're sluts," the men imply," They were asking for it," or "They wanted it."

    This does not mean that those who stood outside that night consciously thought any of this, or feel any of this. I will take them at their word that they do not. Rather, what to me is so scary is that none of this crossed their minds. If it had, I hope, and believe, that perhaps those guys would have decided differently.

    What matters is that women walking by their that night could have reasonably felt -- not offended -- but harassed, sexually, and what is sexual is ultimately physical, and it is absolutely the case that a women in the middle of the night coming across a dozen drunken men would feel this way.

    This does not involve the Woodward report. The Woodward Report is about protest, about ideas, about discussion, about debate, about differences of opinion that cannot and should not be silenced. This incident was not about any of these things -- it was meant as a "joke," but a joke it was not. Had this truly been a picket of the Women's Center, objecting to some policy or other, that would be different -- but again, it was not.

    If we cannot learn to separate dialogue from sexual harassment, we are in trouble, because then either both will remain, or both will disappear.

    Dialogue should not be silenced. Sexual harassment should be.

  • Anonymous

    @#7 (and others): The idea that fraternities are responsible for rapes even when their members are not involved, simply because they provided people with alcohol that may have played a role in a rape, is ridiculous. Alcohol is a part of campus life. If we hold that fraternities are responsible for rapes because they offer students alcohol, then so are extracurricular groups, party suites, and random groups of students who throw parties with alcohol. Not to mention bars and nightclubs.

    Are we to condemn all who provide alcohol as sponsoring or encouraging rape? If so, then surely the horror of rape demands a campuswide alcohol prohibition. Or have we perhaps taken this idea a bit too far, and should we think a little harder next time before indiscriminately defaming huge groups of our fellow students?

  • Anonymous

    Dear #10,
    The difficulty with your conclusion that dialog should not be silenced but sexual harassment should be, it that it presumes an omniscient "decider" (what an awful term!) who can demarcate acceptable from unacceptable speech. I prefer to allow all speech rather than to silence some speech based on unavoidably arbitrary criteria.

    Does the stupid sign episode meet the test of Branderburg v. Ohio? i.e, likely to incite imminent lawless action? Not LIKELY and not IMMINENT, it seems to me.

  • #10

    #12,

    Two things: first off, Yale is a private institution, not Congress. We'd be discussing a different case were it Brandenburg v Ohio (State University). It can make judgments that we would never deign to allow the government.

    Two, being a "decider" is uncomfortable, but it does not presume omniscience. Morality, like art, to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, consists of drawing laws somewhere. I believe making no choice is ultimately a bankrupt venture. There is a difference between sexual harassment and political speech. I think we're creative enough that we can come to some compromise.

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