Walstrom: Educating our campus

On the front page of Thursday’s News, readers learned that the Yale Police Department has opened an investigation into a pre-tap party following allegations of hazing and sexual assault. Other articles in the paper expressed student objections to the Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention Task Force’s recommendation that representatives of student groups take part in educational programs on sexual misconduct. Side by side, yesterday’s articles simultaneously remind us that sexual misconduct does happen at Yale and that many continue to dismiss it.

The accounts of the Pundits’ Feb. 19 party are troubling, and the actions they describe are unacceptable. But though the details of this particular incident are shocking, statistically, sexual assault occurs at Yale every week of the year. These crimes take place within a larger climate that produces power dynamics and social hierarchies that disadvantage and harm members of our community — with consequences ranging from disrespect to hostility to violence. Sexual misconduct is not limited to parties, fraternities or to the incidents reported by Chief Higgins; it happens across the University — in labs and classrooms, in dorms and on the street.

When it comes to sexual violence, there are no easy solutions. Students, activists and administrators have addressed issues of sexual violence through various intervention strategies, from expanding resources for survivors to organizing speak-outs like Take Back the Night or developing freshmen orientation programming and student-led workshops. On an individual level, we help our drunk friends home after the party, call out our classmates for derogatory language and try to communicate honestly and respectfully with our partners. Every point of intervention is valuable and helps us reach the larger goal of eliminating sexual violence.

We are continually reminded of the importance of these interventions. In the fall, DKE pledges chanted “No means yes” on Old Campus, aggressively demonstrating that sexual violence is not always taken seriously at Yale. Our community responded with outrage, and we were moved to action. The Dean’s Office convened two faculty-led task forces to examine hazing and sexual misconduct. Though much of the discussion on campus since the report’s release on Wednesday morning has centered on the singular recommendation for mandatory trainings, the report also outlines a multidimensional, holistic plan of action to confront sexual violence at Yale. Calling for structural changes to campus resources and culture, the report also proposes a standing University Committee on Sexual Misconduct to continue the efforts of the task force and create sustained dialogue on sexual misconduct prevention.

Student leadership, too, is crucial to changing campus culture. Emphasizing peer education, the report argues for enhancing programs like Peer Health Educators, Peer Liaisons and Freshman Counselors, along with providing training to student leaders across the University. More students will have access to the information that could help prevent sexual assault and understand how to respond when it does occur. These plans will further the formal and interpersonal efforts of students to foster a safe and supportive community. In short, the task force’s recommendations will equip students to become part of the solution to a problem we cannot afford to ignore.

While the need for action is urgent, we can only eradicate sexual violence through long-term cultural and institutional change. It is not enough to simply watch a 30-minute film and discuss it with your FroCo. As a university and as a community, we need to feel empowered to actively change the harmful patterns and attitudes entrenched in our culture. The task force’s recommendations are some of the many steps we all must take to create a Yale that is safe, respectful and just.

Sally Walstrom is a junior in Morse College and the public relations coordinator for the Women’s Center.

Comments

  • Leah

    I wish people would go into more detail about what they want the sessions to teach and how they should teach it. Yale has handled sexual misconduct badly in the past (encouraging students to drop charges, etc) so I’m skeptical that the new program will be any better than “simply watch[ing] a 30-minute film and discuss[ing] it with your FroCo.”

    More data, please!

  • Undergrad

    What I’m confused about is exactly how sexual misconduct in places like “labs and classrooms” works, and why I haven’t noticed it if it’s so widespread. Is this why ALL organizations must be included in the new training? Do I need education?

  • Jerry

    @Undergrad, the fact that you (and many, many others like you) haven’t noticed sexual misconduct in these everyday places is one of the key pre-conditions that sustains and entrenches the mistreatment of women. This is far from a call out, and I myself am plenty guilty of not noticing all the time. To answer your question more specifically, even in labs or classrooms, people frequently make comments that are derogatory to or encroach upon the personal space of female classmates. For example, someone hitting on that hottie in your econ class, while perhaps a boon to him, is one of many forms of sexual misconduct that’s easily missed.

  • maboyd

    @Leah — Have you had a chance to read the task force report? The opening section gives a general overview of the kind of information and skills we think need to be more widely distributed across campus. It is still a little too soon to know exactly what shape these various educational programs will take, but our expectations are high. Some students are already engaged in the planning; we’re going to be calling for more of you to join in. Interested? Email me (melanie.boyd@yale.edu) to talk about ways to get involved. Suggestions, ideas, concerns, whatever–all those are welcome too.

    Melanie Boyd
    Task Force Member and Special Adviser to the Dean of Yale College

  • River Tam

    Yale does not create rapists and sexual predators. Good men and women who go to frat parties or join the Pundits are not driven to assault their fellow classmates. Yale must simply stop admitting people who would commit rape or sexual predation.

  • SmokeandTruth

    I bet if DKE had given girls grain alcohol and then graded their naked bodies with a sharpie instead of the Pundits, there would have been much more of an outcry

  • eli1

    @smokeandtruth, I completely agree. The double standard imposed by the women’s center is unbelievable. If something happens at a frat party, anyone associated with the incident is immediately crucified. If something worse happens at a location where women’s center members may or may not have been present, its apparently ok to just sweep it under the rug. Looks to me like these members are more hell bent on destroying the reputation of fraternity members than they are stopping “sexual misconduct,” whatever that term even means. Otherwise I’m sure something would have been said about this incident earlier. Either way, this incident just further exposes the women’s center as the misandrous, frat-hating organization they really are.

  • Inigo_Montoya

    @eli1: “misandrous” organization? Questionable. Organization with a Pundits tap line? Definitely. In other words, I find the Women’s Center’s relative lack of action here quite troubling, but not because I think the DKE incident as overblown. Both this and that are symptoms of real problems on campus.

  • SmokeandTruth

    I agree with Inigo Montoya. I don’t think the Womens’ Center is misandrous, but I do think they’re far more willing to s*** all over a fraternity than an organization in which one or more of their members might have been complicit in sexual hazing

  • River Tam

    Guys, it’s never quite as *open* as all that.

    Here’s what probably happened. What follows are two imaginary conversation between two YWC board members (let’s call them Natalie and Mila).

    **Conversation 1:**

    Natalie: Did you hear about the chant that DKE did on old campus?

    Mila: Yeah, totally. I hate those guys, they’re such skeezes. Did you know one tried to hit on me last time I went out? I was like, as *if* I would ever be interested in *you*.

    Natalie: Yeah, but a lot of people are just saying it was a joke in poor taste.

    Mila: Well maybe, but think about those guys. You can *see* some of them raping girls, can’t you? I mean, why else would you even join a frat? I’m so glad all *my* guy friends drink lattes from Blue State Coffee instead of beer.

    Natalie: We should try to get them banned from campus. After all, if rapists don’t have frat houses, they’ll probably just stop raping women.

    **Conversation 2:**

    Natalie: Did you hear about the sexual assault allegations from the Pundits party?

    Mila: Yeah! But Claire was there and said she didn’t see anything. Plus no one likes the girl who made the claim. She’s probably just being an attention whore who’s bitter because the pundits hate her.

    Natalie: Yeah, I know Claire would never do something like that or be a part of that.

    Mila: I know, right! She was the Director of Social Action Against Preteen Pregnancy in her junior year! And she’s bicurious. She’s so rad.

    Natalie: Totally. I love Claire.

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  • ByZaika

    there’s a huge difference between raping someone or hitting on a hot girl in class/lab.

    Hot girls, in order to avoid any and all sexual assault, please do try:
    1. NOT to dress sexy or provocatively…..
    2. Avoid all parties…..
    And please remember at all times that you are dealing with young men full of testosterone bursting out of them! Make gay friends instead and feel comfortable knowing that you won’t be raped by them. Derogatory remarks however might still be made.