News’ View: A pre-tap disaster

Parties get crazy. People get wasted. Yalies get naked. There are pre-tap rituals and rites. This is Yale, and this is to be expected — even appreciated.

But a week before spring break, around 50 Yalies at a Pundits pre-tap party encountered something unexpected. Many were told to drink to the point of illness, make out with strangers and stomach unwanted touching and harassment. Many were taken by ambulance to the hospital. Then came the email informing us of a possible sexual assault — and a police investigation. In 2004, the very same Pundits pre-tap party ended with one student drugged and sexually assaulted, allegedly by her freshman counselor. It is sad to see that, once again, the group has created an atmosphere ripe for sexual intimidation.

What happened that night was not in good fun. It was an unfair abuse of social power; a private party with public consequences. Though some took part in the hazing voluntarily, even those who said no were put in a difficult position. Consenting to nudity does not mean consenting to cruelty. Many did not feel safe to object to the sexual and alcoholic bullying. Saying “no” could lose them a tap.

Where have all the pranks gone? And why has this replaced them?

The response from campus has been no less disappointing. Recall the justified outrage and action that followed DKE’s sexist chanting, Zeta Psi’s posing or the disgraceful Preseason Scouting Report. Where is the outcry now? Where is the response from the Yale College Council, the Dean’s Office, and other organizations that have come down against sexual harassment in the past? This time, there were no committees, no condemnations, no discussions. And this time, the sexual intimidation of men and women was not chanted or emailed, but actually acted upon. Now we turn a blind eye — when the hazing occurs outside of frat houses; when pressured touching, kissing and drinking emerge from a social hierarchy, ending in hospitalizations, humiliation, and an investigation into assault. Perhaps it is this same social power dynamic that has kept us so quiet. The incident captures much about our community worth discussing. We hope Yale will seize the opportunity.

Beyond these questions of university character, this is clearly an issue of university policy. The situation poses a clear liability. The University has clear foreknowledge, and if it does not set a precedent, through a transparent investigation and disciplinary process, this will happen again, as it has before. Yale will be exposed to easy negligence lawsuits — not to mention a reputation hit.

Within our own community, ExComm serves as a poor vehicle for discipline and a far better one for keeping sexual assault out of the public eye and away from the New Haven Police Department. During the 2008-’09 academic year, of the four sexual assault cases ExComm saw, three resulted in a “reprimand”: a strongly worded letter. While the administration reports the number of disciplinary actions taken for liquor, drug and weapon violations, it does not do the same for sexual assault. The student body deserves to know what steps are being taken, in this case and others.

The Yale administration should not tolerate or hide sexual assault, nor the harassment and hazing that makes it possible. But more broadly, we should not be the kind of community that views them as a given, justified by double standards and social capital. Yale’s clubs and societies should give us reasons to respect and appreciate our classmates — not abuse them.

Editors’ note: Eight members of the News’ board attended the party and were involved in the writing of this editorial.

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