Yale Women’s Center: A broader movement for change

Yesterday, 16 Yale students and alumni released a statement making public a Title IX complaint against Yale University. The complaint contends that, by failing to address sexual violence on campus, the administration has allowed the existence of a hostile environment for women. As a result, the University will face an investigation from the Office of Civil Rights to assess the current climate and to identify improvements to University policy and procedures. In the coming months, our community will be asked to think critically and collaboratively about sexual violence — not just about the high-profile acts of intimidation, but also the private acts of violence and harassment that are too often part of the Yale experience.

Campus communities across the country are addressing these urgent and painful issues that are now the focus of national politics. Under the Obama administration, the OCR is establishing higher standards for campus policies and procedures. This Monday, Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will hold a press conference announcing new guidelines for addressing and preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in educational settings. The Title IX complaint against Yale is part of a larger movement for change.

Change is already underway at Yale. This academic year alone, our community has made major strides in addressing these deep-seated problems.

Some of these changes are institutional: this year, Yale College changed its policy on sexual consent, requiring clear, affirmative consent in all sexual encounters—now punitive action can be taken when someone fails to get a “yes,” rather than only if someone disregards a “no.” The University is also in the middle of a major transformation of disciplinary procedures for sexual misconduct. Following careful study, Yale is implementing a new disciplinary board, one designed specifically to address the challenges that these cases pose. This board will be trained extensively by national experts, supported by external investigators, and available to anyone on campus wishing to pursue formal or informal action.

But issues of sexual violence cannot be solved by discipline alone: revamping and expanding Yale’s prevention and education programs is a crucial step. Student leaders from diverse campus groups have offered such innovative programs, often with support from administrators in the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Office of LGBTQ Resources, the Chaplain’s Office and others. These projects empower students to create a positive sexual culture, to recognize and intervene in troubling situations, and to respond appropriately to violence when it does occur.

Our community has been making changes, and the Title IX complaint filed against Yale should only serve to increase the pace and the scope of our action. Combating sexual violence requires us to engage with a diverse group of experiences and perspectives — we will need the critical thinking and creative solutions of Yale’s entire community. The OCR investigation on our campus amid calls for national change will challenge us to make Yale a model for cultural transformation. This is a pivotal moment. We can and must create a community that takes violence seriously, that responds to the needs of survivors, and that, in doing so, helps make a more just world.

Elizabeth Deutsch, Natalia Thompson, Laura Blake, Sally Walstrom, Diana Saverin, Diana Ofosu and Alexsis Johnson are members of the Women’s Center board.

Correction: April 1, 2011

Due to a production error, this column appeared in print missing a paragraph. The online version has been corrected to reflect the full column. The News regrets the error.


  • The Anti-Yale

    What prevents Holden Caulfield in *The Catcher in the Rye* from being apotheosized as THE FIRST LIBERATED MALE in American literature (1945)?

    Sexist (masochistic male) literary criticism and feminist refusal to grant males ANY CREDIT WHATSOEVER for leadership in sexual liberation movements.

    “*If Happy Loman will stoop to any level in Death of a Salesman, Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye is unmasked as someone who has a definite code of behavior with girls in dating situations. A 16-year-old Pencey Prep student, Holden is furious that his roommate, Ward Stradlater, may have put on his “Abraham Lincoln, sincere voice” (Salinger, p.49) to con Holden’s friend, Jane Gallagher, into having sexual relations with him. When Holden describes himself as never having gone that far, he says, “The trouble with me is, [when a girl says ‘stop’] I stop.” (Salinger, p.92) Here, the author, J.D. Salinger, has Holden unmask himself as someone who is not willing to play the macho game of using a girl on a date just to prove his masculinity, whether out of ethics or out of fear. Later, admittedly, Holden has different thoughts about a prostitute than about a date.”*

  • River Tam

    As a Yale Woman, the Yale Women’s Center is my least favorite thing about Yale, and I’ll be happy to see the back of it when I graduate. I wish I could go one semester without having to be acutely conscious of my gender, and being forced to think about the horrid people who drive the Yale Women’s Center’s agenda (I’ve given up trying to understand what exactly it is).

    So here goes: I pledge to donate $10k to Yale every year for the rest of my life if the administration kicks the YWC off campus.

  • jnewsham

    *Comment removed by the author.*

  • y09

    Alright, River Tam, you hate the Women’s Center. Why? Because you don’t like the people?
    When I was at Yale, I wasn’t wild about it (or its leadership) either, but as I’ve spent a few years off campus, I’ve becoming increasingly appreciative of their presence on campus. If you like the general idea of women’s rights but not the way the group is handling their activism, why don’t you get involved and challenge their direction?

  • xfxjuice

    @Y09. If River did that, then she would be accused of treason.

  • penny_lane

    Funny, for me it was always the jerks sending out the scouting reports and fondling my a– without my permission at dance parties who made me feel acutely conscious of my gender. Honestly, how are you a Firefly fan if you hate feminism? Joss Whedon would be right on board with the WC’s work, as surely you must know.

  • Yale12

    Oh, for Christ’s sake, PK. This is a serious piece about SEXUAL VIOLENCE on Yale’s campus. Why, why WHY would you think it was appropriate to post a rant about “sexist literary criticism” on that article? Do you not see how insanely insensitive that is? These are women’s LIVES we’re talking about – allegations of rape and assault, among other things. And you think this an appropriate place to promote literary theory? To allege sexism on the part of women – with regards to a BOOK? I am utterly baffled at how you can actually sit down at your computer and manage to vomit out this ridiculous drivel, and furthermore, how you could consider it in any way relevant to anybody besides yourself. My only theory is blinding narcissism.

  • River Tam

    > If you like the general idea of women’s rights but not the way the group is handling their activism, why don’t you get involved and challenge their direction?

    Because associating with the members of the YWC (with a few rare exceptions) gives me a nasty rash.

    > Funny, for me it was always the jerks sending out the scouting reports and fondling my a– without my permission at dance parties who made me feel acutely conscious of my gender.

    One guy tried to grope me at a party. I turned on the spot and kicked him in the balls. Problem solved. And let’s be honest, we should no more sue Yale for some Yalies being dbags than we should sue the city of New Haven for some townies being dbags.

    > Honestly, how are you a Firefly fan if you hate feminism?

    I root for the Reavers.

  • emresoner

    When is the Women’s Center going to change from a ’70s hidebound holdover of militant feminism to a model of 21st century gender parity?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Sorry. I’m all for militant feminism till there is equal pay for equal work, and equal work for equal qualifications.

  • Yale12

    And yet you ignore the voices of women on campus to whine about your own obnoxious literary theories. Hm.