Yale Police Department investigates Pundit party

The Yale Police Department has opened an investigation into events surrounding a Feb. 19 pre-tap naked party held by the Pundits, Yale’s senior prank society.

The YPD opened an investigation into the Pundits’ party after several attendees were taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, police and student sources indicated. Amid heightened sensitivity to issues of hazing and excessive drinking within student organizations, the incident has caught the attention of the uppermost levels of the Yale administration.

At least one student interviewed by the YPD mentioned a possible sexual assault at the party prompting detectives to investigate the report. Though the YPD is not allowed to release more details of the investigation as no criminal complaint has officially been filed, department Chief Ronnell Higgins sent an e-mail to the student body Monday night warning of a “possible sexual assault involving Yale undergraduates that occurred at an off campus party on 2/19.”

“The Yale Police have an active investigation underway,” Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said in an e-mail to the News on Tuesday. “But I assure you that Yale has no tolerance for sexual intimidation or assault.” She confirmed student reports that the YPD has opened an investigation into “events surrounding” a party at the same off-campus location on the same night of the Pundits’ party, but she would not confirm the name of the group.

About 50 people attended the party, which was by invitation only and hosted by the Pundits, multiple attendees said. They added that students were told to arrive at the party in costume, but midway through the night were told to disrobe. In addition, attendees told the News that the party was part of the society’s tap process and took place at an off-campus home on Park Street.

As a result of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity incident in October, the Yale College Dean’s office is examining what constitutes hazing and its role in student organizations, including fraternities and senior societies. Accounts from some attendees alleged that members of the Pundits forced heavy drinking by creating an atmosphere in which prospective members sought to impress the organization and receive a tap.

“I am deeply disturbed by initial reports of heavy drinking by underage students in a context that could be construed as hazing,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said in an e-mail Wednesday night. “Yale College does not tolerate hazing or intimidation: I’m well aware that a feature of hazing is that it can be difficult for someone victimized by it to come forward.”

She encouraged all with information about the party to share it with their residential college master or dean, adding that her office will provide special arrangements over spring break to do so.

In addition to the ongoing police investigation and Miller’s efforts, word of the party reached members of the Yale Corporation during their previously scheduled February meeting last weekend, University President Richard Levin said. He described the Corporation’s discussion of the events as “informal.”

Fifteen attendees of the party, who only spoke with the News on the condition of anonymity, provided conflicting accounts of the evening.

Multiple students alleged attendees complied with the Pundits’ requests because of the pressures of the pre-tap process.

“The biggest problem, and what was dis-inhibiting people, was that they were force-feeding people alcohol and they couldn’t say no because of the power dynamic,” one student said.

Another student who spoke with the News was sent to Yale-New Haven Hospital following what the student described as forced, heavy drinking at the party. The student’s residential college dean told the student that four other attendees were sent to Yale-New Haven Hospital and six others to Yale Health, the student said. (The student spoke to the News on the condition gender not be revealed).

This student said the YPD reached out as part of a preliminary investigation into the party, and added that the police planned to speak with at least 16 students — those who came forward to aid the investigation or received medical attention.

The YPD investigator asked unprompted whether sexual misconduct occurred at the party, according to the student that was sent to the hospital. The student recalled for the investigator witnessing a member of the Pundits forcing attendees to kiss each other and that a Pundit forced a male friend’s face onto another’s penis.

A representative from the Pundits said that members would not comment for this story.

Several attendees recalled seeing forced kissing, but they added they did not witness anything they considered as serious as forced oral sex.

Despite the Yale College Dean’s office’s concern that conduct at the party constitutes hazing, several attendees interviewed were not surprised by the evening’s events.

“I was in the main room and the kitchen and hallways, and I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary or anything abusive,” said one junior who attended the party. “Obviously it’s a Pundits party so it’s rowdy by nature, but other than that I didn’t see anything [resembling sexual assault] go down. I was pretty shocked to hear about [those allegations] the next day.”

Still, given that the YPD has been informed of a potential sexual assault, it is obligated by law to investigate for possible criminal charges.

“We take all allegations of criminal acts very seriously and investigate them to the fullest extent,” Higgins told the News in response to questions about the Pundits’ party investigation.

David Burt contributed reporting.

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