For two decades, Yale students have heard the refrain, “One in four, maybe more.” Ever since the Wall Street Journal dubbed Yale “the gay Ivy,” our university has been counted among the vanguard of socially progressive campuses on questions of sexual and gender identity. This semester, the administration has expressed what is, for Yale, unprecedented support for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer community. But this level of support is by no means unprecedented elsewhere, and the University cannot claim to be at the forefront of progress on social issues as long as we are still playing catch-up.
To be sure, the administration’s work in the past month has made for some welcome changes. After beginning to rebuild the gay history program that fell apart with the Larry Kramer Initiative, the appointment of a special advisor on LGBTQ matters certainly suggests a new emphasis on such issues. In particular, the Yale Corporation’s addition of “gender identity or expression” to the University’s nondiscrimination policy seems like a no-brainer. That is precisely what makes us wonder why these kinds of reforms have taken so long to set in motion.
These changes have been characterized as revolutionary and much-debated, but they are neither; they are relatively simple, straightforward reforms with broad student support. The nondiscrimination policy is the best example here: Six months ago, when Harvard added the exact same clause to its own policy, it became the 53rd university to do so, joining a list that included Brown and Cornell. At Yale, more than 1,000 students signed a petition calling for a similar move here, and the Yale College Council passed a resolution echoing those sentiments. The administration snapped into action … six months later.
Granted, Harvard’s move was reportedly the result of a ridiculous nine years of debate, but Yale is the school that seems to most consistently delay this kind of progress. The establishment of Yale’s office for sexual assault education and counseling was set back an entire semester while the administration considered a report by the Sexual Assault Grievance Board that was, for some reason, classified.
Certainly, there is value in deliberation on serious issues, and the board’s report was well-reasoned. But it came to many of the same conclusions the rest of the Yale community had long since reached, recommending the very things students had advocated. We remain baffled by the notion that the need for a centralized authority on sexual assault issues could be cause for months-long debate.
Yale scored shockingly low in this summer’s “Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students,” well below the majority of its chief rivals and dozens of other universities that lack our school’s reputation for social progressivism. The guide deemed the University too slow to respond to clear social priorities of its student body. Of course, the administration’s recent moves have been months or years in the making, not a direct response to criticisms leveled in the guide.
But wouldn’t it be nice if they could start cutting through the bureaucracy and act on social imperatives that quickly? That would be truly progressive.