As the University has taken steps in the past several years to change two aspects of campus social life — sexual climate and drinking culture — administrators have increasingly had to consider the intersection of these efforts.
Though administrators said the University has previously not combined programs aimed at creating a healthier sexual climate with those intended to reduce high-risk drinking on campus — partly in order to avoid confusion over where to assign blame in incidents of sexual misconduct — they noted that drinking is involved in a number of reported sexual misconduct cases. Several programs designed to prevent sexual misconduct already indirectly influence the drinking culture, such as the mandatory bystander-intervention training for sophomores, said Yale College Dean’s Office fellow Garrett Fiddler ’11.
“There are parts of the sexual climate that have nothing to do with alcohol and need very careful and deliberate addressing — but there is a very clear area where they overlap,” said Paul McKinley DRA ’96, a YCDO spokesman. “You have to see them separately and together in order to get the full issue.”
Of all sexual complaints brought to University officials since July 2011 — when a new reporting system was introduced — many involved people under the influence of alcohol, said University-wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct chair Michael Della Rocca and Deputy Provost and University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler. Alcohol is often a factor in these sexual misconduct cases because drinking is a part of most social situations on campus, YCDO fellow Hannah Peck DIV ’11 said.
Efforts to change students’ drinking habits and the campus sexual climate overlap because they both involve shifting community standards and expectations, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90 said, changing students’ perceptions of what is “normal.” Boyd said these efforts aim to create a community in which people routinely receive and expect high levels of sexual respect and have healthier relationships to alcohol, adding that sexual misconduct and excessive drinking will stand out more in a context in which such actions are not considered normal.
“Intoxication and sexual misconduct each carry a wide range of possible harms — harms which may be compounded when the two behaviors occur together,” Spangler said.
Programs aimed at changing campus sexual climate are further along in their development than initiatives surrounding alcohol, and the intersection between sex and drinking cultures will become more concrete after the conclusion of the YCDO Task Force on Alcohol and Other Drugs, which will make recommendations on alcohol and drug policy based on information gathered on campus, Peck said. Fiddler said the communication and consent educators, who work within the Office of Gender & Campus Culture, often hold nonalcoholic “pregame” events before dances, adding that these settings promote both a healthier sexual climate and give students an alternative to drinking.
Still, Boyd emphasized that the belief that alcohol causes sexual assault is a cultural myth. While drinking can increase the risks associated with any social situation, Boyd said alcohol is not the root cause of sexual assault and should not be presented as an excuse for sexual misconduct perpetrators or a reason to blame victims.
CCE workshops for freshmen discuss how alcohol hinders communication, but emphasize that alcohol does not eliminate one’s ability to discern consent, Boyd said.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller said the University will begin developing more concrete “independent and intersecting agendas” with regard to alcohol consumption and sexual climate when the YCDO Task Force on Alcohol and Other Drugs releases its initial report in the coming weeks.
Correction: Feb. 21
A previous version of this article included an inaccurate quote attributed to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90.