NEWS’ VIEW: Do not fall silent on sexual climate

Yale's sexual climate remains problematic. President-elect Salovey must be proactive, rather than wait for another wave of public pressure.
WarnertoWoodbridge

In October 2010, members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity chanted on Old Campus. University President Richard Levin and Yale College Dean Mary Miller responded with a strongly worded statement, and the Executive Committee sanctioned the fraternity with a five-year ban on campus activity.

In March 2011, a group of students and alumni filed a Title IX complaint against Yale. The University responded by developing the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate — whose report recommended increased administrator training in sexual misconduct issues and expanding the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center.

But still, students deal with sexual violence, harassment and its repercussions on this campus. Their stories, many of which involve individual experiences with Yale’s resources, do not receive media attention or national scrutiny.

We see a pattern: one of an administration that has been hesitant to prioritize issues of sexual climate until those issues pose a publicity problem. If we are to reform Yale’s sexual climate — specifically its response to sexual assault — we need to continue the conversation even when the spotlight turns away from our campus.

When he takes office in June, we hope President-elect Peter Salovey will choose to speak out on issues of sexual climate without provocation. We hope he will commit to becoming a leader among university presidents in standing for solutions to the problems of sexual assault response that face university campuses nationwide: a lack of student confidence in the processes that administrators have developed.

Salovey already has some of the tools necessary to begin this conversation. In April 2011, as provost, he announced the formation of the University-wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct to streamline campus resources. Later that year, President Levin committed Yale’s administration to regularly appraising campus sexual climate after the advisory committee’s report. Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler was appointed to oversee Yale’s Title IX compliance.

But the Salovey administration must acknowledge that reforming Yale’s sexual climate cannot occur in disjointed and disparate steps. Waiting until disaster strikes to address issues of sexual culture undercuts the importance of these reforms on our own campus, creating the perception that they are not a priority. Salovey must replace reaction with a proactive strategy — acknowledging that we have not yet found the answer. He must incorporate an active student voice into our search for solutions. Students are ready and waiting to speak.

We will know we have found success when we no longer hear stories — trickling around from friend group to friend group — about a system that many believe silences students, rather than reaches resolutions. We will know Yale is serving students when they have faith that their claims will be handled rapidly and responsibly. And our administrators must examine their dual role as advocates for students and representatives of the University, and take care not to undermine the trust students place in them.

We imagine this is not the situation Salovey is most eager to tackle as he begins his tenure. But he cannot allow silence to fall on our sexual climate at Yale.

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