In an e-mail sent out Wednesday morning, Yale College Dean Mary Miller released the Report of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention. The report, which was compiled in response to the DKE fraternity incident last October, offers a host of recommendations for the prevention of sexual misconduct at Yale. While these recommendations are certainly well meaning — in fact, a number of them make sense — some of them give reason for skepticism.
Take, for example, the suggestion that representatives of all registered student groups attend “mandatory educational programs.” We already have sessions addressing these issues during freshman orientation. To what extent would additional programs be more successful? And whom would they reach, beyond a limited and perhaps self-selecting group of students?
How would this be different from the meeting put on at the beginning of each academic year by the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee? This meeting is the only one that registered student organizations are required to attend and explains the process of applying for funding. Nevertheless, year after year groups continue to make mistakes in filing their funding applications. Obviously, sexual misconduct is a more serious issue than the bureaucracy of the UOFC. But would one meeting really be taken more seriously than the other? And, more importantly, who would take it (or not take it) seriously?
The stated goal behind the mandatory educational programs suggested by the report is to raise the level of student awareness of sexual misconduct. While that is a noble cause, the problem on campus is less an undercurrent of sexism or general ignorance, and more a pattern of reprehensible behavior on the part of a subset of the student body. In its efforts to create an educational environment where all ideas are created equal, Yale has abandoned a significant commitment to character development in favor of value neutrality. While there are exceptions to this rule, including the University’s espousal of the virtues of globalization and diversity, these ultimately prove ironic, as the only substantive basis for these values lies in insisting that there are, in fact, certain eternal truths.
But affirming that fact appears not to be the purpose of these programs. The report explains that these educational programs “might occur within the context of general diversity education, addressing issues beyond sexual misconduct.” That misses the point and ignores the important role of individual character. Diversity education is everywhere on this campus, and not only in academic departments specifically geared toward the study of minorities and women. In all honesty, how could there be any more “diversity education” at Yale?
What is more, the report’s recommendation that new programs be established at the Women’s Center is also a cause for concern. The report identifies the Women’s Center as a group that “does much already to reduce both the incidence and impact of sexual misconduct on campus.” But if, as the report acknowledges, it is also important to broaden “efforts to foster a healthy, supportive, engaged community,” the Women’s Center needs to change dramatically. Over the past several years, the Women’s Center has been a frequent target for criticism, and the key claims leveled against it — namely, that it is both radical and not inclusive — are well justified given the political agenda it chooses to push. The Women’s Center claims to be a safe place for all women on campus, but in reality, it has alienated many of them.
I appreciate Dean Miller’s recognition that “neither the task force recommendations nor the implementation measures represent a conclusion to our work on sexual conduct and misconduct.” I hope my criticisms of the report are proven wrong, and that all the recommendations of the task force can have a positive influence on campus. I believe some of the recommendations, especially those in the later part of the report, offer a greater potential for success. But I encourage the task force to give consideration to the concerns expressed here about the role of student organizations and the Women’s Center.
Lauren Noble is a senior in Pierson College.