In their Wednesday piece entitled “Exacerbating Yale’s rape culture,” Title IX complainants Joseph Breen ’12, Alexandra Brodsky ’12, Kate Orazem ’12 and Hannah Zeavin ’12 have at long last “jumped the shark.”
The phrase comes from the fifth season premiere of the 1970s sitcom “Happy Days,” in which a waterskiing Fonzie, clad in swim trunks and a leather jacket, jumps over a shark while on vacation in Hawaii. Though “Happy Days” struggled along for some time after the jump, an increasingly incoherent plotline led to a steady decline in popularity, until the series came to an end several seasons later. As cultural studies professors Joanne Hollows and Rachel Moseley write, the moment “was so patently ridiculous that even die-hard fans of the series were disgusted,” as “Happy Days” began “losing what made it attractive” in the first place.
On Wednesday, just such a moment came for the group of Title IX complainants. By claiming that Yale has an institutionalized “culture of rape” and accusing students who disagree with their methodology of creating “a culture of violence” that threatens “the safety of our campus,” the authors have forfeited whatever credibility they once had.
Julia Fisher ’13 and Eduardo Andino ’13 adequately responded to the group’s specific allegations regarding Sex Week and the Undergraduates for a Better Yale College with their columns, “Not a rape culture, just a PC one” and “Clarifying the Sex Week debate.” Fisher and Andino are too tame, however, and fail to address the most disturbing aspect of the group’s behavior.
The complainants’ piece goes beyond the whistleblowing for which they had originally gained notoriety and support. It goes beyond even intellectual arrogance. The four engage in intellectual bullying and intimidation that fundamentally threatens discourse on campus.
When the complainants initially filed their suit to the Office of Civil Rights, they alleged a “hostile sexual environment” for women. Though they never made the 26-page complaint public, the group substantiated their allegations by noting several high-profile acts of sexual harassment on campus.
In their column Wednesday, the members of the group did not substantiate a single accusation. They misrepresented the stated goals of the Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, falsely claiming that the UBYC seeks “to stop sex and its discussion on campus.” Rather than welcoming the UBYC into an open conversation on Yale’s sexual culture, Breen, Brodsky, Orazem and Zeavin alleged that the organization “disingenuously co-opted [their] efforts.” The four did not stop at questioning the UBYC’s goals, or even its motives; the group went so far as to accuse the UBYC of inciting sexual violence.
The complainants’ treatment of the UBYC demonstrates the final episode in a well-intentioned group’s descent into petty, personal politics and name-calling. They have crossed the line of basic dignity and intellectual honesty into absurdity, as bad if not worse as the moment when Fonzie traded his Milwaukee motorcycle for Waikiki water skis.
Do not misunderstand the purpose of my column. I personally like all of the Title IX complainants with whom I’ve had the pleasure of interacting, and I in no way enjoy criticizing my classmates on the opinion pages of the News. I’ve loved “Happy Days” since I first saw it rerun on Nickelodeon as a child, and I have woken up in the middle of the night in cold sweats thinking of that dreadful, irreversible moment when Fonzie jumped the shark in his ridiculous outfit. Nonetheless, despite my personal affections, shark-jumps have no place on “Happy Days,” and intellectual bullying has no place at Yale.
Michael Knowles is a senior in Davenport College.