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.

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