As September nears its end, so too does the barrage of workshops and introductions and clinics that freshmen and sophomores must attend to learn how to navigate Yale’s hazy sexual culture. The Yale Communication and Consent Educators (CCEs) — an application-only group of 40 undergraduates directed by Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90 — lead many of these meetings, attempting to improve Yale’s campus climate by creating a safe space for open and honest conversation about sexuality. The CCEs have done a lot of great work, but I worry that, at least to some extent, the program is merely an extension of an ineffective University policy toward sexual assault, which does little to change sexual climate and denies the University’s past mistakes.
Back in early August, when Yale made the national news (again) about its policies regarding “nonconsensual sex,” the University emphasized the CCE program as one of the ways it was taking action to improve our campus climate. Prevention is a better tactic than punishment, but in that moment, the University was using the CCE program as just a layer of supposed action to hide behind. In his Aug. 5 “Message from President Salovey Regarding Recent Sexual Misconduct Report,” Salovey emphasized the role of University programs like CCE in maintaining a positive campus climate, even though these very programs were often the subjects of that summer’s criticism.
Another issue with the CCE program is that many of their workshops fail to directly tackle the issues of sexual consent and communication. By discussing issues of assault using hypothetical scenarios involving froyo, the former issue is trivialized and turned into a joke. If the intent of the CCE program is to create a safe space for discussion, then students should tackle the issue of sexual consent in direct and explicit terms. The CCE program creates an important opening for free discussion, but the actual discussion that results becomes buried under confusing metaphors and silly situations.
The CCE program also lacks the staying power that would allow it to create institutional change on campus. Freshmen, already overwhelmed by the amount of introductory meetings first semester, can’t tell me the difference between CCE and the Community Health Educators program. Sophomores I’ve talked to were almost all hungover for their workshops, and don’t remember much of them. The grand objective of the program is good, but it fails at the microlevel because of this lack of engagement. Very few students buy into the CCE model, and those that don’t aren’t likely to change their minds after attending a workshop either. As one freshman put it, “It was a good experience, but it’s not something that kept me up at night thinking about it.”
Many of the CCEs are close friends of mine; we work on extracurriculars together, we eat together and we drink together. Few groups at Yale bring in this kind of diversity in social circles, sexual orientation, race, hobbies or majors. But that carefully constructed diversity comes at a cost. The application-only model of the program creates an unnerving situation by conveying the message that CCEs, by virtue of their selection into the program, are authority figures on issues of consent. In teaching Yale students about how to consent and communicate, they’ve turned into a kind of moral police existing on an untouchable moral high ground impervious to criticism.
Worst is what I like to call the CCE Facebook Mafia, a group of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to respond to every shared Jezebel link and Facebook status critical of mandatory bystander intervention training with a laundry list of reasons as to why the University’s approach is correct, why each case is different and why confidentiality is important. By the end, I’ve stopped caring, and this forceful approach can be off-putting to many students. Hamilton Nolan’s recent Gawker piece, which (rightly) made fun of the gender-neutral scenarios created by the University-Wide Committee was met with so much CCE outrage that I worried no one could take a joke. Nolan’s article was poorly written, but it would have been nice if at least one CCE had acknowledged that those mock scenarios were kind of ridiculous.
Obviously, the CCEs are a University program. But by turning over the program to students to whatever extent the program can be run and designed by them, we could have a more engaging CCE presence on campus. Ultimately, students will only invest in a program made by their peers, not an extension of University policy.
Andrea Villena is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.