University President Peter Salovey addressed concerns regarding administrators’ handling of sexual misconduct cases following last week’s release of the fourth semi-annual report of such complaints in a Monday evening email to the Yale Community.
Salovey’s message outlined ways in which the University will work to clarify the report with additional information online and explained how complaints of sexual misconduct are difficult to neatly define, even with the use of external fact-finders and the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.
Salovey also acknowledged the negative responses the report has garnered from the media and members of the Yale community. Articles on the issue have appeared on outlets such as the Huffington Post and Jezebel. Two petitions on change.org begun by undergraduates calling for Yale administrators to suspend or expel students responsible for sexual misconduct have also collected hundreds of signatures.
“In recent days, people inside and outside the university have expressed concern and anger about the report,” Salovey wrote. “We all should be concerned and angered that sexual violence or sexual misconduct takes place at Yale or elsewhere.”
Much of the backlash has focused on the disciplinary action taken in response to cases of “nonconsensual sex” listed in the report. In four updates to such complaints, one of the perpetrators received a two-semester suspension, another was placed on probation and the remaining two were issued written reprimands.
But Salovey said in his message that the UWC considers a wide range of punishments, “beginning with expulsion or termination,” for each complaint. He also said the University reports every complaint of rape, assault or criminal misconduct to the Yale Police Department. Salovey could not immediately be reached for comment.
In addition, Salovey said it is “evident” that the report on sexual misconduct must better explain what is meant by the term “nonconsensual sex.” He said the University will soon release a number of example scenarios to help clarify what nonconsensual circumstances look like. The University will post those scenarios, along with responses to frequently asked questions about Yale’s handling of sexual misconduct, on the Sexual Misconduct Response website.
Read the full text of Salovey’s message below:
To the Yale Community:
Last week, Yale released the Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct Brought Forward from January 1, 2013 through June 30, 2013. This is the fourth such semi-annual report Yale has made public; as a university and as a community we have committed to open reporting in order to raise awareness, encourage frank discussion, and promote a campus culture of respect and responsibility in which there is no place for sexual misconduct.
In recent days, people inside and outside the university have expressed concern and anger about the report. We all should be concerned and angered that sexual violence or sexual misconduct takes place at Yale or elsewhere. I want to underscore my personal commitment to Yale University being a place that is free from these repugnant behaviors.
Much of the recent concern focuses on the perception that punishments have been too mild in the disposition of some of the complaints described in the report. Although every complaint is different, and there are many nuances, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC), Yale’s unified hearing body for informal and formal complaints of sexual misconduct, considers a full range of penalties, beginning with expulsion or termination. As the reports show, the university has suspended or expelled students, terminated staff, and relieved faculty members of their positions as teachers and supervisors.
Yale’s standard of consent is extremely rigorous (Yale requires clear and unambiguous consent at every stage of a sexual encounter), but even with the involvement of an independent fact-finder, it is often difficult to ascertain the circumstances of a complaint beyond what the complainant and the respondent report. As I know from my prior experience as dean of Yale College, in some cases, all parties may agree on what words were spoken but disagree on whether those words constituted clear consent. In many cases, the complainant and respondent come to altogether different understandings of what transpired. In too many cases, excessive alcohol consumption blurs memory.
I also want to assure all of you that Yale reports any complaint it receives of rape, assault, or criminal misconduct to the Yale Police Department, which has full law enforcement and arrest powers. Yale advises any person who reports a sexual assault about the resources and assistance the police can provide; and we assist and support individuals who choose to pursue criminal complaints. At the same time, Yale is absolutely committed to protecting the privacy of the individuals who bring complaints forward, and we take into account their preferences regarding the pursuit and resolution of their complaints.
Despite all of the hard work of the last few years to address the problem of sexual misconduct at Yale, it is clear there is more to do. The discussion generated by this latest report is valuable and important. It is evident that Yale’s report must be more descriptive about what is meant by “nonconsensual sex,” and more information should be made available to advise the community about the basis for penalties. I have requested that a series of scenarios be developed to illustrate circumstances that might be considered nonconsensual and their bearing on potential penalties. I have asked Professor Michael Della Rocca, chair of the UWC; Deputy Provost and University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler; Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews; and Yale College Associate Dean Melanie Boyd to work together on this project, and to post these illustrations on the Sexual Misconduct Response website by the beginning of September. In addition, in the next week we will develop responses to frequently asked questions about how Yale addresses sexual misconduct on campus and post these FAQs on both the Title IX website and the Sexual Misconduct Response website.
Sexual misconduct is reprehensible human behavior. But my academic training tells me that human behaviors can be modified, and that institutional cultures can change for the better. And my professional experience at Yale has shown me that this university is committed to being a community that is respectful and safe for all. I welcome your suggestions in this regard, and I thank each one of you for your individual and collective efforts to achieve this goal. I want to publicly express my thanks and support to the dedicated members of the University-Wide Committee; the Title IX coordinators; the deans and student affairs officers; the Communication and Consent Educators, peer counselors, and Freshman Counselors; the SHARE staff; the Yale Police Department; and all of the students, faculty, and staff who work tirelessly to eradicate sexual misconduct on our campus.