Tilton: Changing our boorish campus culture

As Yale garners national press for the Title IX case, its on-campus climate is being critically assessed, both externally and internally. On April 15, President Levin announced the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate to investigate the university’s policies and culture. But how do we create a safer, more supportive community? Rules, regulations, federal investigations and the law cannot be the only way to change the culture at Yale. As students and members of the community, we each have a responsibility to look more closely at the ways we interact with one another. We must ask ourselves if our behavior fosters true mutual respect, or compounds the problems already raised.

I turn to an event on Friday, April 15 around 11:30 p.m. Walking past GPSCY toward Park Street, I heard the rattle of cans, bottles and rotating plastic wheels quickly approaching me. A Yale undergraduate was inside the recycling bin, as his friend pushed him feverishly. All fun and games, I told myself. Then, the recycling bin with the young man inside fell forward. The young man laughed, and the can and its contents lay on the walkway. The group of three or four began to walk away, and I turned to them and told them to clean it up. The young man who was previously in the recycling bin was not amused and became defensive. I followed up stating that it was not a Yale employee’s responsibility to clean up his mess. An undergraduate woman in the group came up and said not to worry, that they (or she) would get it, and I shook her hand, thanking her. I turned to my left and realized a young man was holding a handheld camera with the red light visible, indicating he was recording.

Slightly frustrated but thankful that the young woman had stood up and taken responsibility for the group, I proceeded toward Lynwood Place. On Lynwood, the same young man with his camera came running and parked himself in front of a house where many undergraduate parties ensue. In the middle of the street, a young man and woman were laughing. Then their laughing and joking took a darker turn. The young man held a large branch or small tree in front of his crotch and proceeded to place the end of the branches against the woman’s backside. He then joked, “You know you like it,” following the statement with a laugh. She giggled back. All the while, the camera recorded.

What happens if this ends up on YouTube? Facebook? Is it still funny? Was it ever? In fact, it doesn’t matter if the video stays on that camera. “You know you like it” is never an appropriate joke when it comes to sexual misconduct. What concerned me even more was that this woman felt the need to go along with the taunts, lest she be called “too serious” or “unable to take a joke.” Even more distressing is the thought that neither of them found this behavior demeaning or disrespectful. I am not suggesting that we blame the victim, but rather, that we need to think closely about how destructive attitudes and behaviors are perpetuated daily, particularly under the guise of humor. We each encounter moments where we can choose to step up like the first young woman — or we can each act like the man with the camera, who watches and says nothing. Being silently complicit is to reinforce a culture of disrespect that too often leads to violence (particularly sexual harassment). Of course, what I encountered that night does not border on the assault that so many Yale women experience, that the administration fails to appropriately handle, and that led to the Title IX complaint. But when it comes to boorish behavior or sexual harassment, this attitude of joking, ironic permissiveness — from men and women — helps foster an environment where real assault or rape can all too easily occur. To approach the Title IX issue with questions of what you “can” or “cannot” say is to miss the point. Rather, for many of us, this latest convulsion on campus has to do with all of us learning to speak up, rather than remain silent. In that respect, to target and penalize a select few, whether DKE chanters or athlete-emailers, is to treat a symptom rather than cure the illness. It looks like the Committee on Campus Climate will have their work cut out for them.

Lauren Tilton is a first-year graduate student in American Studies.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    The problem is larger than sexual harassment. The patriarchal ruins of a formerly male dominated society still think women exist as decoration, as background music, for the trajectories of male leadership, lives, and careers.

    The crude joke recounted in this article is a vestigial reminder of that crumbling world.

    The young woman’s complicity is part of the cultural circumvention, the sleepwalking around the last twenty years of Feminism, which unfortunately seems to exist in our society as the last desperate gasps of male domination play out in public.

    A boor is a boor is a boor is a boor.

  • bewildered

    *”Then their laughing and joking took a darker turn.”*

    Seems a bit judgemental to me and viewed completely out of context. How do you know they weren’t a couple, trusting and comfortable in a relationship where aggressive sexual play is safe and exciting? That they were acting this way in public is frankly, of no concern to you. Just embarassing to themselves. Perhaps you would be offended by it, but clearly, not everyone is. Lighten up – even femminists should enjoy sex once in a while! This editorial is rediculous.

  • 201Y1

    This is one of the more senseless things I’ve ever read on the YDN’s page 2–and that’s saying a lot. Obviously sexual harassment is a problem at Yale… we’ve been over this quite a few times in the last couple of weeks… but this is not an example of that. This is an example of an overly nosy and self-righteous grad student judging the way two kids she doesn’t even know interact with one another. I know you have a larger point you’re blindly hacking at here about the way inappropriate humor can perpetuate deviant behavior… but honestly, this? Nope.

  • uncommons

    Please don’t write things like this. Honestly. It makes the problem worse.

    When people oppose feminism, they bring up columns exactly like this one. When we’re criticizing something like this as “sexual harassment” – especially when, as said before, you know nothing of the two’s relationship – it makes it harder to rally support against real sexual harassment.

    As for the boorish culture, I’m pretty sure this joke could’ve happened at any college, or even high school for that matter. There are some serious problems with the sexual climate at this school, but this really trivializes them.

  • eli1

    Honestly its seems to me that the girl you mentioned simply had a sense of humor. She knew that the boy was not attempting to “sexually assault” her, he was just making a crude joke, something enjoyed by many at every corner of our society. Maybe you really just need to lighten up, seriously. Feminists are so ridiculous I just don’t get them.

  • anon82

    Please let us know when you encounter an actual sexual assault and not undergraduates making silly/drunken videos of themselves.

  • graduate_student

    I find it odd that the author focuses on the undergraduate population (of which she, one can assume, knows quite little), but has nothing to say about her fellow graduate students and faculty colleagues. Many departments at Yale have no female tenured professors; to make matters worse, a significant minority of the male professors still teaching have had an unfortunate proclivity towards sleeping with or trying to sleep with their students.

    “Professionalization” in academia is a buzzword only for the profitization of research and the academic market; in terms of the “professional climate,” it’s more *Mad Men* (edited for political correctness) than Microsoft.

  • teenwoolf

    Everyone is entitled to private jokes, but once you make your private joke a public spectacle (in the street, being recorded), it becomes an ingredient in creating the tenor and mood of the community. Even beyond the desensitizing that goes on with this kind of humor, which is at stake, there is a sheerly practical issue on the table. Using only words, you can make a woman or a man feel embarrassed, ashamed, or dirty. When you loudly and publicly kid around about rape or sexual assault, you can never know who is listening or watching. You could revive a painful memory for someone, silently encourage them to keep quiet about an assault, or just make someone uncomfortable. And who wants to do that?

    Just like playing in a dumpster and leaving a mess on the street, the way that you behave in social situations can be destructive and irresponsible. Sure, everyone makes remarks or does silly (even drunken) things we wish we could take back. But we should try to be better, and in the meanwhile, pressuring people into being “good sports” is the wrong response. That “boys will be boys” adage — and, I may add, I don’t mean this in a gendered way — is nothing more than a justification of entitlement and poor citizenship.

    We need to tend our garden, people. And those of you who don’t agree: you are, like, totally gay. And, like, retarded.