Women’s Center demands policy overhaul, rebuke

If the administration accepts the Women’s Center’s latest demands in response to last month’s “We Love Yale Sluts” photograph, all the Zeta Psi-affiliated students involved in the incident will face disciplinary action before the University’s Executive Committee.

In what would amount to a drastic change in current policies if implemented, the Center’s demands — which were presented in a report to six University officials Friday — call for an overhaul of sexual-harassment and sexual-assault education and the establishment of an “official institutional relationship” between the University and Yale’s fraternities, among other stipulations. The report also insists that the administration provide a “concrete response” by March 7.

The Center’s board of directors delivered the report to administrators, including University President Richard Levin, Provost Andrew Hamilton, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry. Gentry and Salovey said while the administration will consider the report’s contents and encourage further dialogue, there are no immediate plans to adopt the Center’s proposed docket of changes.

Yale’s Zeta Psi chapter president Jon Charest ’10 did not respond to repeated requests for comment Tuesday.

Members of the Center’s board of directors allege the incident — in which 12 students affiliated with the Zeta Psi fraternity were photographed in front of the Center holding the “Yale Sluts” sign — constitutes sexual harassment. In the report, the Center recommends that the administration recognize fraternities as University organizations and mandate that they register with Yale College — which would give the University the power to suspend chapters based on what Center directors call “collective malfeasance.” The report, which requests that the administration increase the resources available to the Center, calls for those featured in the photo, as well as the fraternity’s leadership, to be summoned before ExComm.

“Because so much fraternity action is collective, it is imperative that there be some method of disciplining an offending fraternity as a whole, rather than disciplining the individual members who happen to get caught,” the document reads.

The Center’s Special Events Coordinator Claire Gordon ’10 explained that the administrative response the Center is seeking could take a number of forms by March 7, ranging from actually enacting policy suggestions to laying out a specific timeline detailing how and when changes would be made to extant University policy.

In interviews, presidents of other fraternities said they think many of the report’s demands are too severe. But in response to the incident and subsequent accusations of misogyny, they have collectively proposed an “interfraternity council” in hopes of bridging the gap between Yale’s fraternities and the rest of campus.

‘Still moving to handle’ the matter

The demands presented to the administration Friday followed weeks during which the “Yale Sluts” saga has stirred debate among all sides of campus. On Jan. 20, hundreds of Yale students preparing for a Sunday night out before Martin Luther King Jr. Day found an e-mail in their inboxes from the Center’s e-mail account titled “This Time We Sue.” Included in the e-mail was the photo in question, which had been uploaded to one of the pledges’ Facebook.com online profile.

An apology published in the News the following morning was rebuffed by the Center. Board member said the pledges’ act was representative of a larger culture of misogyny on campus propagated by Yale fraternities.

While Gentry said that the Dean’s Office is “still moving to handle” the issue and that implementation of the report’s requests is “possible,” he said more dialogue is needed between the Dean’s Office and other interested parties — such as other campus women’s groups — before any major changes are made. Salovey added that administrators hope to meet with the Center’s board members to discuss the issue within the week.

After outlining the ways in which fraternities allegedly create a misogynist campus culture through party themes and the sexual targeting of freshmen girls, the report calls for “all the men in the photograph and all the men who were involved in its planning” to be summoned before the University’s Executive Committee.

University administrators have declined to comment on the Executive Committee’s involvement in this case and fraternity members’ possible appearances before the body, which represents the highest disciplinary board on campus.

If the March 7 deadline passes without substantive change or a “concrete response” at the University level, board members said they will evaluate available options for pressing for change. Outreach Coordinator Hannah Burnett ’08 said that while the option of a lawsuit against the University is still on the table, it is not the focus of the Center’s efforts. Attempts to bring pressure on the administration through on-campus grass-roots organization or national media attention are also being discussed, Burnett said.

Asked if the prospect of a lawsuit would speed the University’s gears, Gentry demurred, saying that reaching a conclusion on this issue would require consultation with multiple parties, which could take time. Gentry added that legal questions regarding freedom of speech in this case also remain to be sorted out.

A history of harassment suits

If a suit were to go forward, it would not be the first time the University has been accused of indifference on the issue of sexual harassment. In late 2003, the University settled a four-year suit filed by then-Divinity School student Kathryn Kelly DIV ’01, who accused the University of indifference when she sought redress for a sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by Divinity School student Robert Nolan DIV ’01. Although the accused was eventually suspended from Yale until Kelly’s graduation, the University’s response was slow enough to lead Judge Janet Hall to admit that Kelly’s indifference suit had merits.

“Yale’s failure to provide Kelly with accommodations, either academic, or residential, immediately following Nolan’s assault of her, was clearly unreasonable given all the circumstances of which it was aware,” Hall wrote in 2003.

But board members said they are hopeful the controversy will not escalate to that point — members are optimistic that the administration will work in an expedient manner to address the outlined changes. Gordon, who was involved in the drafting of the report, said the Center’s efforts are more focused on changing what they call an “ingrained” culture of misogyny at Yale than on punishing any parties involved in the Zeta Psi incident, including the University.

“We’d like to see a greater awareness on campus that misogyny exists,” Gordon said. “Hopefully, out of this awareness, we’ll see this issue decrease.”

But the report has its sights set higher than punishing Zeta Psi. The section entitled “Yale Should Develop an Official Relationship with Fraternities” runs a full five pages, touching on the University’s lack of a coherent policy regarding fraternity regulation, comparisons of parallel policies with peer institutions, and disciplinary actions the University could utilize to enforce proper behavior among registered fraternity organizations under a restructured system.

“If University recognition of fraternities is required, administrators will be able to suspend or withdraw fraternity recognition in response to individual or collective malfeasance,” the report says.

Although those words have campus fraternity leaders frustrated with the Center’s assumptions about fraternity life, others said they would be amenable to their own proposal, a participatory, regulatory “interfraternity council” system to foster dialogue and communication between the University and fraternity chapters on campus.

Alpha Delta Phi fraternity President Kevin Discepolo ’09 said he would support an interfraternity council if such a body could clearly articulate what behavioral guidelines the University expects fraternities to follow. At present, Discepolo said, the lack of such communication — and the University’s refusal to recognize fraternities — makes it difficult for fraternities to play a larger, more positive role in the University community.

And Sigma Chi fraternity president Brian Goldsmith ’09 pointed out that many fraternity activities aimed at promoting brotherhood are low-visibility events, not the all-night ragers which Goldsmith says have come to form the stereotype of fraternity life.

“What the majority of campus fails to see is that there are a number of things that go on behind the scenes that are brotherly bonding issues,” he said. “When you look at Sigma Chi, our core values are ‘friendship, justice, and learning.’ ”

Sections of the report are also devoted to enhancing sexual harassment and assault awareness education for all students, with an emphasis on freshmen during orientation. In the report’s final pages, Center board members decried what they called inadequate University support for the Center itself.

Comparing the University’s Center to similar institutions across the Ivy League, the report laid out the discrepancies in paid staff, space allocation, and staff appointments between Yale and schools like Brown University, which pays three administrative staffers and nearly a dozen undergraduates to man the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center on the Providence campus.

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