This is an appeal to every single member of this campus’ community, regardless of gender identity, sexual preference or personal romantic history. It’s an appeal to make Yale a safer, healthier, objectively better place.
So, here it goes: Can we all just take a step back, look at the tone of the current dialogue surrounding the campus sexual climate, and decide as a collective body that we don’t like it?
In the midst of the Patrick Witt debate, I’ve seen Yale and its students — a campus and a population that I have come to love over my three and a half years here — once again berated through editorials, online blogs and other media forms. One self-proclaimed “Yalie and owner of a vagina,” in response to a Gawker piece on the Witt story, went so far as to say that she was “not especially surprised that Pat Witt was accused of rape, or really that anyone there is,” referring to males here on campus.
As a man attending Yale, I find that statement horribly offensive. But this isn’t a matter of me, as a straight male, getting uncomfortable in what all-too-often becomes a heterosexual-male-versus-heterosexual-female shouting match. I was equally offended when one of my fellow Yalies suggested on the News’ online comment board that the follow-up article to Maria Yagoda’s WEEKEND piece (“Just Say No (to awful sex),” Jan. 20) should be entitled “Yale Women Are Ugly and Impossibly Neurotic.” Really?
I have difficulty understanding why responses to these issues often become reduced to reactionary rhetoric. Obviously, sexual misconduct (a term I’ll use to describe all manners of harassment, assault and rape) is a very sensitive issue. However, it kills me to see these incidents reflect poorly on us as an entire student body. I firmly believe that the vast majority of Yale students are well-intentioned people.
I fear, though, that we are too proud to refine the discussion into one on how we can do better on a personal level instead of resorting to generalities. Yagoda’s article endorsed an important message of communication and consent, but I’m afraid that too many readers — myself included, upon first reading — couldn’t see the forest through the trees. Similarly, the responder to Gawker could have a valid point in questioning the Yale administration’s responses to sexual misconduct; the bigger picture just got lost in blanket statements.
I’m a freshman counselor, so I’ve been around for several iterations of Yale’s sexual curriculum. This past August, in the wake of the inexcusable DKE event of last year, last year’s controversial Pundits tap party and the official filing of a Title IX complaint, the Dean’s Office formulated a new curriculum for the freshmen. For various reasons, the original plan was scrapped and replaced with a very serious lecture by every college’s Master and Dean consisting of the definitions of sexual misconduct and how to adequately respond to these acts and — hopefully — prevent them from occurring.
In my group’s discussion following this lecture, I was asked a question that I can’t shake from my mind. One of my freshmen raised a hand and asked, “Do we have this event because this sort of thing happens all the time?”
The report released by Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler yesterday reports 29 undergraduate complaints of sexual misconduct in the last six months of 2011, and it saddens me deeply that any of these events occurred on our campus. However, I fear that all too often, we — Yale students and administrators alike — fall into the trap of simply reacting to allegations, rumors and news reports, when in reality a main focus should be on how to rid campus of these in the first place. The new freshman workshops led by the Consent and Communication Educators have been wonderful in teaching skills on how to do this, and I applaud the efforts of the Dean’s Office and the CCEs in that regard.
I hope that we all agree that communication with those with whom we are romantically involved should be clear. So this is what I ask of you, my fellow students: Lose a little personal pride and try to gain some in our Yale community. Then, ask your partner what he or she wants. It’s not easy, and by all means I have not always succeeded in doing that myself.
But with everything that’s been flying around the Internet in the past few days and months — much of it throwing blame at this institution that I love — I’ve decided to step up my own act in order to make a change. I hope you’ll agree with me. Collectively, if we are not afraid to ask what our partners want (or tell them what we want) — and most importantly, if we listen — we can avoid all of the reactionary anger in the first place.
Kevin Hoffman is a senior in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.