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.

Comments

  • Mark J

    Gosh, I thought that sex week taught us that "dialog" like "we love Yale sluts" is perfectly acceptable.

  • Anonymous

    You have got to be kidding

  • Alum

    Dear Women's Center,

    I think the work you do at the center is great and you should keep doing it forever.

    But for your own sake, stop pursuing this absurd quest of maligning the zeta psi jackasses who held up a sign in a picture. Yup, that's all they did. There's really nothing there to gain other than to perpetuate the stereotype of feminists as being shrill and oversensitive to insults. Perhaps you could really show how far feminism has come in the past decades by having the grace and self-confidence to shrug off an insult from a bunch of idiot frat boys without turning it into a dead-end crusade.

    -Alum

  • Anonymous

    something does not to be done. im not calling for extremes like suspending those boys but i dont think this should go away and disappear into thin air like so many of yale's problems. but past experience proves not much will come of this. gentry, from personal experiences, talks a good game but doesnt know how to walk that talk. lip service all around.

  • Hieronymus

    Coupla points:

    "If the administration accepts the Women’s Center’s latest demands … all the Zeta Psi-affiliated students involved in the incident will face disciplinary action…"

    The essentiality of a right to protection from retroactive criminal law has generally been accepted without argument.

    Unless, of course, you belong to an organization intimately involved with historical revisionism (can you say MiniTruth?)…

    Also…Y'all DEMAND?! What are you, the Symbionese Liberation Army? (oh, wait…)
    "Our demands must be met or the hostages will die!"

    And, as usual, IT'S ALL ABOUT DA BENJAMINS! (Go Larry Summers! $50MM!)

    Wait for it….here it comes…

    "Comparing the [Yale]’s Center to similar institutions across the Ivy League, the report laid out the di$crepancie$ in paid $taff, $pace, and appointment$…"

    "Brown University, pay$ three administrative $taffer$ and nearly a dozen undergraduate$ to man [ed. note: Man? MAN?! to MAN women's positions? How vulgar! It sounds almost…lewd.] the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center on the Providence campus."

  • Katie

    Great job Women's Center! Bingham is totally on board!

  • Anonymous

    How could you forget -

    "The report, which request$ that the admini$tration increa$e the re$ource$ available to the Center…"

  • Anonymous

    How do you expect a bunch of drunken frat idiots to behave when you have Yale endorsing things like SWAY and the pornography industry? Do you really think such a thing promotes respect for women? It's the irresponsible leadership at Yale that should be on trial.

  • Anonymous

    i dont get why the weight of this is on the women's center as in "dont make a fuss, show us feminism has matured and brush it off." the fact that people still think its okay to call people sluts and to otherwise malign individuals and groups (and then pass it off as "poor judgment" or "harmless hijinks" or "satire") shows none of us have come that far. the responsibility's gotta be on these boys to not act like asses in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    The funny part about this is that Fraternities have wanted to be connected to Yale for years, but Yale wants no part in that. The Women's Center clearly does not know or understand Fraternity life or procedure if it thinks that is a punishments

    Furthermore, I still fail to see how Fraternities target freshman girls. Posters on old campus are there because the majority of campus walks through it. Also, it is used to recruit freshman guys during the rush period. This has nothing to do with sexually preying on Freshman girls. Again, anyone can go to a Fraternity party (regardless of class year). That Freshman go in higher numbers is both irrelevant and not the Fraternity's problem. The fraternity does not choose who shows up at these events… it's called free will

  • Valerie, WC Board member

    Dear Alum,

    Thanks for your support. However, I think to say that we are over-focusing on this single incident of insult is over-simplifying the matter. The report extended to many many pages, and most of these addressed hopes for changes to university policy in general. This specific event may have instigated the dialogue, but the continued effort is definitely not directed so much at Zeta Psi as at overall change. This is a very good article, and Zach Abrahamson does a great job of representing the report; however, the first sentence of the article which concerns addressing grievances against Zeta Psi is not the focus of the report, and may thus misrepresent it in that one way. The incident must be directly addressed, but so must the underlying misogyny that it represents. Feminism has indeed come a long way, but shrugging off insults has never done anything and it never will. Believe me, there are many insults we receive that do not make national news. But this one did. And we will pursue its after-effects until the end.

    Valerie

  • Hieronymus

    Why do I like Obama? Because no matter how many times EvilHillary attempts to tie his candidacy to race (i.e., to make him the "black" candidate), he just brushes it off. "Are there any *real* questions here?"

    The Women's Center ain't no Obama (yet).

  • Anonymous

    I'm an alum and was once a "drunken frat idiot." Unfortunately poster #8 has a good point. The last thing boys of this type and age need is for Yale to legitimize pornography with "sex week." What on earth were they thinking?

  • A.C.

    While I'm not sure I agree with all of the reported recommendations (particularly the part about Zeta Psi members going before ExComm), this is certainly a more appropriate and useful response to the incident than the initial "This time we sue!" outcry followed by the outright insulting and counterproductive "You're either with us or you're for rape!" (and, to be fair, the opposite "You silly bitches need to lighten up!") rhetoric that followed it on these and other pages.

    However, I am willing to do for the Women's Center what they seem unwilling to do in regards to the Zeta Psi members involved: forgive them for their hot-headed moment of stupidity and inappropriateness and rightfully acknowledge the fact that they're taking substantive (if, in my personal opinion, somewhat misguided) steps to improve campus life for women.

    I hope that the administration will act on those recommendations which are reasonable and ignore those which are not -- though there will obviously be much debate on how many of them fall in either category. And, more importantly, I hope everyone has learned that, no matter what side of this issue they fall on, there are certainly more productive ways to be heard than deriding others as either ignorant or frivolous because they share a different point of view.

  • Susan B. Anthony

    Though much of what the Women's Center is saying and doing is of vital importance to life at Yale, it is substantially undercutting its legitimacy by condoning, and in some cases supporting, Sex Week and by the participation of members of the Womens Center board in the Rumpus's annual "50 Most Beautiful People" issue. These events do nothing but encourage the objectifation and sexual persecution of women at Yale, and slow down and undercut the progress that the Womens Center is trying to achieve.

  • '05 Alum

    "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"

    Good to know that the liberal Women's Center endorses collective punishment! It's working so well in Gaza, why not Yale as well?

  • anon

    #15- I don't think the WC has supported any aspect of Sex Week, but they should be doing more muckraking about it to be sure. (As it stands, it's 2 non-WC board members who wrote today's aptly critical op-ed). But participation in the 50 Most BP by a WC board member (who are they by the way?) is patently absurd. An issue of a trashy tabloid that revels in objectifying women is anathema to every goal of the WC by my understanding…

  • Hieronymus

    This article nicely captures the conceptual hypocrisy:

    http://nationaljournal.com/taylor.htm

  • Anonymous

    We do NOT condone sex week, and never have, and only advertise events that we do not find offensive and are of relevance to women (of which there was only one, and also the open forum which is the opposite of condoning sex week). I don't know where you are getting this opinion that we do.

  • A.H.S.

    Way to go, women's center. It's great that something is happening. Just thought I'd throw in an extra not-so-crazy voice in contrast to all the folks commenting that the women's center is shrill, or power/money-hungry, or whatever else. It's totally legitimate for the women's center to want proper funding in order to better serve the community. They're in a basement for crying out loud. And anonymous user #10, I'd bet the women's center board does know that the frats have wanted to be connected to Yale for years - this isn't about "punishment," this isn't a zero-sum game, it's about how we can build a healthy community together.
    -Alex

  • KT

    #15 and #17: The goal of 50 Most is not to objectify women (by the way, half the people in the issue are men, in case you haven't noticed). If you read the articles, instead of just looking at the pictures, while many of the jokes do revolve around sex and people's looks, they are also an attempt to let readers get to know the folks as people, not just "objects" for sexual desire.
    Additionally, if you read the full program of Sex Week, you'll see that it is seeking a healthy understanding and open dialogue about sexuality, and that is the only side it's supporting. There is a debate about pornography, where students can draw their own conclusions, and in the Sex Week magazine, there was an article devoted to the abstinence movement on college campuses.
    People's expression of their sexuality can be expressed in manners which do not antagonize others, so blaming a culture of open sexuality for misogyny is a mistake and a dangerous oversimplification.

  • Anonymous

    The WC may not endorse Sex Week, but they are oddly silent about Yale,s promotion of the pornography industry during Sex Week. The pornography industry is by far a greater threat to women than a handful of drunk frat boys.

  • Sickened Female at Yale

    Shut the Women's Center down. They do not represent me. I am NOT a Yale feminist.

  • Scribe

    I have a few things to say in regards to this whole issue that is now spread across countless articles and op ed pieces.

    It is understood and agreed upon that what the men of zeta psi was classless and dumb. However it was not illegal and did not break any rules. The WC can argue in court all they want but the truth is it was simply a classless act not an illegal one. If the supreme court allows pro lifers to stand on sidewalks in front of abortion clinics and Neo nazi's to go through Jewish neighborhoods the Women's center does not have much of a chance.

    Furthermore, we dont have EX-post facto law in the US so the WC trying to get the University to get these guys in trouble is Unconstitutional at best and pointless at worst.

    Next let us please move past the bullshit claim that Fraternities trap freshman girls. These arent children we are talking about these are legal adults who are expected to make rational decisions. If you do not agree with a party then dont go I have plenty of female friends who do not attend fraternity parties. Also, I shudder to think of the repercussions of Yale starting to dictate what groups can advertise where. This one small step to dictating where certain groups can speak.

    Next the idea of group punishment is ludicrous in this circumstance. A Yale student is involved in many different activities and is a member of many different groups. It is not only unfair but a gross miscarriage of justice to condemn all the students of a group because of the actions of a few members of the group. Especially, as in this case, the group is not even affiliate with Yale's campus. If this is instituted all the members of an accapella group could be punished for the actions of a few individuals of the group. After all singing groups at Yale are very tightknit and do many social things collectively.

    I actually am completely for the WC getting comparable funding. As long as the money is used for its designed purpose and is not simply paving the roads with pork. Yale is an elite school and should provide elite resources for school initiatives.

    Finally I would hope that the WC abandons the Crusade against Fraternities. Simply because the group is all male and has secret rituals does not mean it is inherently misogynistic. Is it true that some Fraternities have had party themes that some would find degrading? Yes, but are these themes any more degrading then the outfits women at yale willingly buy for halloween when the theme is simply a costume party? As strange as this may sound but Fraternities and groups in general can have a party that has whatever theme they please. If you find the theme inappropriate you do not have to go, you can protest outside the party for all I care, but you do not have the right to stop them from assembling and partying.
    The University recognizing them will not change this at all. If you dont believe me take a train this weekend down to Rutgers or any state school that recognizes Frats.

    I leave on a word of advice for the Women's Center. "The Road to Hell is Paved with good intentions." Please redirect your energy and get back to the meaningful work you have been doing for the past few decades.

  • Anon

    R.I.P. Campus Freedom of Speech

  • Anonymous

    Shut Yale frats down! They do not represent me. I have a penis.

  • Socrates

    Have the Women's Center activists ever heard of freedom of speech? Why can Yalies hold up signs proclaiming death to America and that's perfectly fine but have to be punished for other speech? Sheer hypocrisy. Anyone should be able to hold up whatever kind of signs he or she wants. The left is so incredibly INtolerant and anti-pluralistic when they encounter groups that actually don't go along with their program.

  • Anonymous

    So the plan would be get the fraternities to register with the college so that if they misbehave they can then be un-registered. Sounds like the "worst" thing that happens is they end up back where they are now.

    If people are going to spend energy on this it should be to get real consequences for this type of disrespect.

  • life, liberty and morality

    Sounds like the Women's Center needs an overhaul and rebuke.

  • DavidL

    Let's see.

    1. Punish speech. (Childish, raunchy, but still speech.)

    2. Insist on collective punishment, including individuals having no participation in the action.)

    3. Reject apologies so that the incident may be prolonged.

    4. Threaten litigation.

    In other words, be unforgiving, insist on remedies that violate traditions of fairness, threaten and posture.