Students affiliated with the Zeta Psi fraternity who were involved in January’s “Yale Sluts” incident stood before the Executive Committee of Yale College three weeks ago and were found “not guilty” on a charge of intimidation and harassment, sources close to the proceedings confirmed this weekend.
The group featured in the photograph that sparked the controversy faced a single charge of intimidation and harassment — coupled as one in accordance with ExComm policy — according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Committee proceedings are confidential and closed. The charge of intimidation and harassment does not include sexual harassment, a separate charge not brought against Zeta Psi.
University administrators associated with ExComm contacted for this story declined to comment, as did Zeta Psi chapter President Jon Charest ’10.
The findings mark the latest chapter of the months-long saga between the Yale Women’s Center and the fraternity. Shortly after midnight Jan. 16, rushes for the fraternity stood outside the center and photographed themselves holding a sign that read “We Love Yale Sluts.”
In interviews with the News later that week, Jessica Svendsen ’09 said she happened upon the group shortly after midnight and, feeling intimidated, chose to enter the Center from its rear door. The photograph, part of a scavenger hunt required to gain membership in the fraternity, was then posted to the Facebook profile of one of the pledges. When Center officials discovered the photo on the night of the 20th, they circulated the image in numerous e-mails that, within hours, found their way into students’ inboxes, with the subject line, “This Time We Sue.”
In a joint statement sent to the News on Sunday night, Yale Women’s Center board members expressed disappointment in the Executive Committee’s decision.
“The verdict of the Executive Committee, and the secrecy which conceals all of its proceedings, sends a devastating message to the women of Yale: that Yale’s disciplinary processes cannot be trusted to punish sexual harassment and intimidation of female students,” they wrote in the release.
“Jessica Svendsen filed a complaint to the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board; Dean Gentry brought her case to the Executive Committee under the lesser charge of intimidation and harassment. Unlike her harassers, she was denied the right to testify in person. Under Executive Committee procedure, she also lacks the right to appeal. We hope that ongoing initiatives by the Women’s Center and the administration will reform these processes and other undergraduate regulations, so that Yale may become a place where women’s freedom and safety are not qualified by existing procedures of ‘justice.’ ”
The Center’s initial e-mail threatened legal action but did not specify against whom. The Center then emphasized a willingness to work with members of the administration to address what they called “fraternity-sponsored or -enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape.”
In a 26-page report submitted to the administration by the Center’s directors in mid-February, the Center’s directors demanded “proper and expeditious disciplinary action” for Zeta Psi from the University, specifically by calling members of the fraternity before ExComm. In March, University administrators agreed to some of the Center’s demands, including the evaluation of extant sexual-harassment prevention policies, the examination of Yale College’s policies regarding “off-campus, residential student organizations including fraternities,” and the provision of additional physical and personnel support to the Center.
But the administrative response did not specifically mention Zeta Psi and whether its members would face disciplinary proceedings.
Svendsen has said in past interviews with the News that she felt intimidated by the group. That intimidation, the Center’s February report said, laid the groundwork for a complaint Svendsen filed that month with the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board, along with a request for “the University to take proper and expeditious disciplinary action.”
Svendsen declined comment for this story but wrote a guest editorial in response to ExComm’s decision for this morning’s News.
“After a moment of hesitation, I recognized that their demeaning behavior towards the Yale Women’s Center could swiftly be redirected at me, as its living embodiment,” Svendsen wrote in the guest editorial about the night of Jan. 16. “I felt in danger; approaching them would undoubtedly result in verbal, if not physical, harassment.”
That night, Svendsen said she heard fraternity pledges shouting “Dick! Dick! Dick!” as she approached the Center’s front door, she told the News in an interview days after the incident occurred. In the following weeks, that allegation was answered by members of Zeta Psi who asserted Svendsen misheard them crying “DKE! DKE! DKE!,” the name of rival fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon.
As fallout from the incident grew, Zeta Psi’s international organization sent a representative to campus shortly following the incident to determine an appropriate course of action. International Zeta Psi Executive Director Dave Hunter told the News in February that the fraternity had convened a disciplinary committee to study the incident but that deliberations would take at least a month.
While Hunter did not answer messages left over the weekend, members of the fraternity said the international organization decided to let the University judge the case and handle all possible disciplinary action.