Months ago, I walked in the Women’s Center, expecting to easily enter. I certainly did not expect to be confronted with a group of men, ebulliently shouting, as I heard it, “Dick! Dick! Dick!” while they carefully arranged themselves, edging as close as possible to the sign that boldly declares: “Yale Women’s Center.” While grinning, the brothers perversely documented this moment of pride in photograph.
As a woman alone, I should have interpreted their shouts as a welcome invitation to approach them. Instead, I retreated and entered through the back door. I felt in danger, as if approaching them would undoubtedly result in verbal, if not physical, harassment.
ExComm was unable to find guilty any of the brothers of Zeta Psi guilty. The 12 students who held up the carefully printed sign “We Love Yale Sluts” while repeatedly chanting “dick” have survived Yale’s justice system untarnished.
Perhaps the brothers of Zeta Psi were unaware of the symbolic role of the Women’s Center: It is the only place on this campus designated a safe space for women; it is the only place dedicated to gender equity. Perhaps they did not to intend to “harm anyone socially or psychologically,” as their public apology attests; rather, their behavior was a mere “lapse of judgment.” But, consciously or unconsciously, they were aware of how demeaning it would be to shout “dick” in front of a women’s space, how degrading it is to call a person a “slut,” how their fraternity culture forced them to participate in acts of misogyny.
This incident constitutes sexual harassment. It is defined in the Undergraduate Regulations as conduct that “has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance or creating an intimidating or hostile academic or work environment.” Blocking the entrance to a campus space, the brothers of Zeta Psi made it both difficult and dangerous for me to conduct my life as a student, and they did so by using sexually denigrating words and actions.
In the recent panel discussion, “Sociology of Hate,” professor Joanne Meyerowitz said, “We all believe in the right to free speech, including the right to negative, unpleasant, judgmental speech. But we also believe in everyone’s equal right to live free from harassment, that is, to co-exist at Yale in an environment that’s not intimidating, hostile or offensive. But one person’s free speech, can, in fact, be someone else’s harassment.”
The Executive Committee, as it stands, fails to address a large number of sexual-harassment cases. It is unusual for a student to come forward and file a complaint. Yet it is rare when students who perpetuate sexual harassment receive a harsher punishment than a mere reprimand.
Only as the victim in this case am I permitted to speak; all other parties involved are bound by confidentiality. Students are prohibited from speaking to other students, professors or friends about any detail of the case. In ExComm’s summaries of disciplinary action, there is only a record of the trial and the judgment, nothing more. There is no written record of the deliberations. Consequently, there is no transparency or system of accountability. Students have no knowledge of how other students have been hurt, intimidated, harassed or assaulted.
The Zeta Psi case is emblematic of the University’s flawed justice system — it continues to avoid punishment rather than risk University liability. Would Zeta Psi have been punished if ExComm knew that this “scavenger hunt” was an annual initiation rite? Would they have disciplined the men who shouted in front of the center, “No means yes, yes means anal”? Did ExComm even reprimand the brothers who donned T-shirts commemorating rape as a part of their fraternity initiation? The harassment of female students occurs on this campus time and again, yet due to ExComm’s confidentiality requirements, the community can never know if censure has occurred.
Despite my involvement, I cannot appeal its judgment or even question how it was ultimately determined. I cannot appeal the fact that all 12 brothers of Zeta Psi were allowed to read my written affidavit before they wrote their own — 12 iterations of the same collective story.
Zeta Psi issued an apology in which they wrote: “We accept the responsibility of these events and have sense recognized the severity of our actions. Every single member would like to stress our utmost respect for the female student body. … In the future, behavior of this nature will not be enacted nor tolerated.”
I was directly affected and I question your respect for my female body. Though you claim to accept responsibility for your own actions, I would prefer that the University take it all. Behavior of this nature will be enacted and tolerated in the future precisely because you received no punishment, no discipline — not even a reprimand.
This past January, a professor and alumna of one of the first coeducational classes at Yale told me that she was ashamed to work at this University. I now share her shame.
Jessica Svendsen is a junior in Morse College.