The numbers released Monday from Yale’s campus climate survey in April were alarming: high rates of sexual assault and harassment, and perceived barriers to reporting, especially among undergraduates. And while the numbers for graduate and professional school students were lower, the data indicated that they face a substantially different set of obstacles.
The survey results, released to Yale after months of analysis by the Association of American Universities, revealed that graduate and professional students identified faculty as a source of sexual harassment at much higher rates than their undergraduate peers. In fact, among the graduate community, 29.5 percent of women and 18.2 percent of men surveyed who experienced sexual harassment identified a faculty member as the source, compared to 7.7 percent for female undergraduates and 3.9 percent for male undergraduates. Secondly, more than 20 percent of graduate and professional students cited the circumstances of an event — such as an off-campus location, or not being affiliated with the University — as a reason for not reporting an incident of sexual misconduct. This was not a significant barrier to reporting for undergraduates.
University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews acknowledged that while the University was aware that sexual misconduct was a problem among graduate and professional school students, it did not know the scope of the problem until it reviewed the survey results.
“In general I feel the biggest issue with sexual misconduct resources is simply that they aren’t reiterated to graduate and professional students in the same way they are to undergraduates,” said Katie Oltman GRD ’19, vice chair of the Graduate Student Assembly. “[Graduate] students have a really great ethics training course … during orientation, which covers the various resources available, but then we never have those resources repeated to us, which is clearly a problem. Although the resources exist, they are simply not being picked up by graduate and professional students in the same way.”
Graduate and professional school students receive information about sexual misconduct resources during new student orientation, and the information was revised over the summer to make it more specific to each school’s needs, according to University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler. However, while undergraduates receive mandatory training from the Communication and Consent Educators on bystander intervention, graduate students do not.
Still, Joori Park GRD ’17, former chair of the GSA, said that particular differences in graduate and professional students’ experiences with sexual misconduct — especially the power dynamic between faculty and graduate students — may make these problems difficult to address, even with evolving resources.
“I think it’s not that the resources are the issue, because I think graduate students do understand that they are available to them,” she said. “I think the problem is that, because there’s a power differential, and because the issues are a little different for graduate students, students don’t feel like they get the protection and anonymity they need to … be open and forthcoming about these issues.”
The risks for graduate students pursuing resolutions through the University are much higher than they are for undergraduates, she said, because graduate students may be putting their careers on the line.
Oltman said that even though the University would probably adjudicate the cases fairly, students would still fear unintended repercussions, such as a stigma or difficulty finding future advisors.
“It’s not a lack of faith in the University; it’s a lack of faith in the climate of academia more generally,” she said.
Both Park and Elizabeth Mo GRD ’18, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, said greater involvement from faculty members in combating issues of sexual misconduct — by participating in open conversations or even partaking in surveys like the AAU’s, for instance — would help shift the campus culture and mitigate students’ fears.
The AAU report also noted that many graduate and professional students seemed to feel that an incident that occurred off-campus or at a non-University sponsored event should not be brought to the school’s attention. But students interviewed agreed that this should not be the case.
“A lot of graduate students live off campus, and there are a lot of conference activities that take place outside of the Yale community,” Park said. “It doesn’t matter where it takes place. If both parties are Yale affiliated, then I think the University should definitely step in and be proactive in addressing these issues.”
Even the longevity of some graduate students’ tenure with the University represents an obstacle to reporting or educating about sexual misconduct on Yale’s campus. Some older members of the graduate community have not received the same education about resources that their younger peers have: Brittany Angarola GRD ’17 said she arrived at Yale in 2011, before many of the current training programs were put in place, and so she never received any formal programming regarding sexual misconduct.
Despite the somewhat unique set of difficulties facing graduate students, Park praised administrators’ willingness to solicit student feedback in the wake of the survey results, citing listening tours that Spangler and Goff-Crews have announced.
“I think the University is taking the results very seriously,” she said. “I absolutely do think that mechanisms do need to be put in place to combat the issues that we’re dealing with.”