Feldman: A necessary wake-up call

I can understand the ambivalence that many feel toward the Department of Education’s investigation into Yale’s Title IX compliance. Yale is an institution with benefits we reap every day — could it really be acting so egregiously that the federal government has to step in?

Unfortunately, as I have found from personal experience, the answer to that question is yes. During my time here I was forced to navigate Yale’s internal discipline mechanisms on behalf of a friend who had been the victim of sexual harassment. In my attempts to have her perpetrator punished, I spoke with members of the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board (SHGP), SHARE, the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (OEOP) and the General Counsel’s office.

Yale was laughably inept at investigating the complaint. On further reflection, this appears to be how the system is designed. Those I talked to, while by no means mean-spirited, lacked the training, information and authority to take action. The SHGB, for example, cannot discipline students, and the OEOP employs only a single director and her assistant. By comparison, Yale’s Office of Institutional Research, which compiles statistics about Yale, employs five people. Only the General Counsel’s office, whose mission is to protect Yale from liability, moved quickly and decisively — but only to stifle further investigation of the complaint, and to try to settle as quietly as possible.

Sadly, this is nothing new for Yale. These recent failures are a part of a long history of troubling responses to sexual harassment and assault. Though Yale was forced to implement grievance procedures after the landmark Alexander v. Yale lawsuit, they still fall short. A few years ago Yale was found to have underreported rates of sexual crime on campus. Furthermore, Yale does not inform students of their right to a full investigation of their complaint, and to be informed of its outcome. For years, Yale has constantly reviewed its internal procedures, generating endless reports but little real change. Students only learn about the realities of sexual harassment when it happens to a friend, or when a victim has the resources and determination to sue Yale or to write about her experience.

Yale has obviously not prioritized the issue. In a lengthy survey on student life sent out last week, the administration asked hundreds of questions about academic and extracurricular experiences at Yale, but not one regarding sexual safety and violence. Nor does Yale dedicate sufficient resources to the problem. It will take Yale only two years to set up a new college in Singapore halfway around the world — it took Yale just as long to conclude that it should consolidate Yale’s disparate bodies into one University-Wide Committee.

I suspect that the aim of this recent reaction is to protect, as one administrator crudely put it last week, Yale’s “brand.” The Yale brand ensures its global prestige and influence; public allegations and confirmations of sexual offense on campus tarnish that reputation. To publicly punish those offenders would be to acknowledge what repeated surveys have shown: that up to 20 percent of undergraduate women in the U.S. are a victim of an attempted or successful sexual assault. By that count, it is likely that hundreds of Yale women are victims; of those many cases, only a handful make it to the Executive Committee each year. The vast majority are withdrawn, and those that are not have always resulted in a perfunctory reprimand.

The OCR investigation is an opportunity for Yale to face up to its failure to protect its students. But its rhetoric so far indicates a dramatic lack of understanding. Dean Miller tried to highlight Yale’s “extraordinary number and range of initiatives,” but this array of programs obscures the fact that there is no single effective vehicle for reporting complaints and getting results.

Yale must admit that what Dean Miller called a culture of “civility and inclusion” all too often means civility toward and inclusion of perpetrators at the expense of their victims. The truth is that a woman who attends Yale faces a risk of sexual harassment or assault. In that case, Yale expects her to deal with the shame, isolation and self-questioning that accompanies such a terrible experience while navigating a series of unhelpful bodies that at most will lead to quiet, nominal repercussions. No wonder so few women report sexual crimes at Yale.

The men and women who filed this complaint have shed light on a shameful part of Yale that desperately deserves attention. I sincerely hope the administration will use this wake-up call to create a system that effectively protects students from sexual harassment and assault. The women of Yale deserve as much.

Andrew Feldman is a senior in Morse College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    **”Benign neglect and intransigent equivocation”** is a phrase I coined in1970 to describe university administration behavior toward student grievances.

    *60 Minutes* reported last night that up to 90% of campus rapes go unreported because of the victim’s shame and fear.

  • Branford73

    Keane misreports (good intent presumed) the 60 Minutes statement by Couric which was:
    “According to a study funded by the Justice Department 95% of victims of sexual assault on college campuses don’t report it.”

    Couric didn’t say which study she referred to, but the latest appears to be the “Campus Sexual Assault”report of 2007 found here: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf In its review of prior studies, the CSA report cites one which found that less than 5% of campus sexual assault victims reported the incidents to *law enforcement.* This appears to be where Couric got her number.

    The CSA report’s survey actually found that 15.8% of forced sexual assaults and 7.5% of incapacitated sexual assaults (by drugs or alcohol) on campus were reported to a victim’s, crisis, or health care center and the percentages of reporting to law enforcement were 12.9 and 2.1, respectively. The reasons respondents gave for non-reporting were set out in the CSA study, too, but Couric did not include the reasons behind her 95% statement.

    The 60 Minutes report focused on a U. of Pacific case where the victim brought three other students before the university’s disciplinary process on charges of rape. One was expelled, one was suspended for a year and one suspended for one semester. The video clip of the story is here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7363066n&tag=cbsnewsMainColumnArea.6

    I recommend the CSA report for anyone interested in these issues. It’s long (111 pages) but readable. Download it and read it when you can.

  • The Anti-Yale

    At least I was in the ballpark (90/95%). You might be interested in my homage to Couric:

    (“Katie Couric’s Legs: 7.5 Million a Piece”)

    at http://theantiyale.blogspot.com

  • SY

    This article starts out based on personal knowledge. Good so far. It is vague about what “sexual harassment” was alleged and what “inept” investigation and actions were taken by Yale, and what the author thinks should have been done to deal with whatever happened. Still, it is not the typical third-hand story in other articles.

    From one personal experience of sexual harassment, the op-ed, as almost all do, goes to “20 percent of undergraduate women in the U.S. are a victim of an attempted or successful sexual assault. By that count, it is likely that hundreds of Yale women are victims. . . .” That would mean that about 500 current undergrad women have been raped or fought off the “perpetrators” (rapists).

    Think about that rhetorical jump. At least one of three things would happen:
    1. Some women would want non-coed housing with restricted access;
    2. We would hear women screaming, or leave crying from entryways, like fire alarms ignored;
    3. Women would not go to the bedrooms of men they don’t know and trust.
    Instead, women are comfortable at Yale with co-ed housing and co-ed floors. I never heard a woman scream or cry at night. I don’t think women go casually or are dragged to bedrooms.

    You have one case of sexual harassment that could have been dealt with in some other/better way. You could help us with exactly how you propose (due process formal hearings, outside investigators, assigned counsel for all parties, or something else), and leave it there.

  • lavenada

    SY did you take stupid pills? Go take your ridiculous enumerations elsewhere and come back when you have a more cohesive argument. Okay?

  • Branford73

    Sexual assault numbers are often inflated by activists, which is too bad since the actual numbers are bad enough to merit attention and preventative efforts. The CSA report I referenced above found a 19% prevalence of sexual assault during college, which included unwanted sexual touching without penetration. Rape was defined as sexual assault that entailed oral, vaginal, or anal penetration. The forcible rape rate was 3.4% and the incapacitated (drugs or alcohol) rate was 8.5% (those may overlap).

    One should also recognize that these rates are the perceptions of the victims, very likely sincerely held. Sometimes the perception of the perpetrators may sincerely and honestly be different and the criminal law only punishes conduct the perpetrator knows or should have known was non-consensual.

    The CSA report can probably be cherry-picked for numbers supporting a variety of arguments. I did find it interesting that of the college complainants who went through victim’s, crisis, or health care centers, 70% of the forced sexual assaults and 83% of the incapacitated sexual assault victims were satisfied with the way the reporting was handled. This contrasts with 13% and 2% satisfaction rates with report handling of law enforcement agencies.

    The CSA study sampled from a 35,000 student population Southern university and a 30,000 student Midwest university, both state schools. Whether or not the perceived rape rates would carry over to Yale is open to speculation, but assuming it does 3.4% of approx. 3000 women at Yale translates to about 100 in the standing population. If you consider the incapacitated percentage its about 250 of the standing population. That’s not 500 but it’s pretty bad. You could be arrogant and assume Yale’s rates are half of State U’s and still the numbers would be bad.

  • anon82

    I think that the federal government is investigating this because students filed a complaint, not because the university is in any violation. Sure there people at Yale who act stupidly, but its easier to ignore them then to file a complaint to the federal government.