An Open Letter to Yale Students:
In this week’s New York Magazine, Naomi Wolf ’84 describes an incident of sexual harassment from the early 1980s. Although I cannot address Ms. Wolf’s allegation, I can address Yale’s abhorrence of sexual harassment and what we have done and continue to do to provide an environment in which all members of our community feel that their intellectual growth and inquiry are not compromised by unwanted or inappropriate behavior.
Sexual harassment is an affront to human dignity and fundamentally at odds with the values of the University; it is similarly at odds with an environment free from the fact or appearance of coercion. Sexual harassment is a matter of particular concern to an academic community in which students, faculty and staff are related by strong bonds of intellectual dependence and trust, and therefore it cannot and will not be tolerated.
Ms. Wolf’s article suggests that Yale does not take registered complaints seriously and that there are no consequences. To the contrary, concerns and formal grievances have been addressed and adjudicated with the utmost seriousness, and penalties ranging from reprimand to separation from Yale have been applied to faculty for sexual-harassment offenses.
Yale has had, since 1979, a full grievance procedure for Yale College students to bring forward complaints of sexual harassment. In addition, in 1997, the University expanded its approach through the Policy on Teacher-Student Consensual Relations, which states that “no teacher shall have a sexual relationship with a student over whom he or she has direct supervisory responsibilities regardless of whether the relationship is consensual.”
Ms. Wolf did not bring her claim forward at the time of the incident, nearly twenty years ago. As I hope all can understand, fairness requires that complaints be brought forward in a timely fashion. Furthermore, for obvious reasons, our policies and practices include the protection of the confidentiality of all parties, which therefore limits the discussion of cases that have been considered. They also constrain members of the administration from discussing specific cases, precluding comment even when a report may be one-sided or not grounded in fact.
While we continue to take extraordinary measures to promulgate and enforce our policies and to revise them in light of experience here and elsewhere, it is inevitable that some individuals may not feel sufficiently confident in the policies to bring forward their concerns and that a decision in any particular case may leave one party or another unhappy with the outcome. These difficulties have not and will not prevent us from continuing to enforce our policies even while we seek improvements in the structure and implementation of our procedures.
I want to reinforce the avenues for pursuing any claim an individual might feel he or she has. The University’s policies concerning sexual harassment are published in full each year in the special annual supplement to the Yale Bulletin & Calendar. That supplement includes information regarding complaint procedures for all students, as well as for staff and faculty (http://www.yale.edu/hronline/forms/shbroch.pdf). Although historically women have been disproportionately the victims of sexual harassment, the protections apply to men as well. In addition to University-wide grievance policies that are available to address complaints about various issues, including complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment, Yale College, the Graduate School, the School of Medicine, the Divinity School and the Nursing School have amplified these policies and have adopted specific policies for claims of sexual harassment.
I would urge any student who has a complaint, or simply has confronted a troubling incident, not to hesitate in seeking counsel. Yale College and each professional school have a Title IX coordinator who is available to any student who has concerns about sex discrimination, including concerns about sexual harassment. Students in Yale College can also speak confidentially with their college deans, with Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg or with any member of the Yale College Grievance Board for Complaints of Sexual Harassment. These procedures were developed to ensure that students could first pursue these issues in confidence with their deans. Students in the graduate and professional schools can consult their deans for the specific procedures applicable in their schools.
For an individual who has experienced sexual harassment, maintaining silence can amplify distress. But it does more: it limits the University’s ability to redress violations for the benefit of all. Only by doing so can we work to provide an environment in which all may study and work free from harassment.
Our policies and our actions are intended to protect the human dignity and fundamental integrity of the community. Toward that end, we will continue to be diligent in responding to and addressing issues that are raised with us in a fair, equitable and timely manner.
Susan Hockfield is the provost of Yale University.