The Yale Women’s Center’s 26 pages of demands in response to the “We Love Yale Sluts” Zeta Psi rush photograph, released last week to administrators, represents the first positive step forward in this matter. Although its demands should not be categorically accepted, the document does contain constructive suggestions for much-needed reform.
The report begins with a harsh claim. “Misogyny is pervasive in fraternity culture at Yale,” the Center’s board members write. “Fraternity parties with sexist themes are a fixture of undergraduate life,” they add, and dress codes at the events “exclusively encourage women [particularly freshmen] to dress in a sexualized way.”
Although their assertions cannot be applied unilaterally, the Center’s fundamental thesis is correct. The names of the parties — “CEOs and Corporate Hoes,” “Pound” — are telling enough.
But individual fraternity leaders and not “collective discipline” or University recognition of fraternities, as the report demands, should tackle matters like these. Collective discipline is patently antithetical to parity and justice; if anything, formal recognition of fraternities would lead to backlash and resentment, not self-motivated desire to foster less sexist atmospheres at parties. More importantly, the Women’s Center’s arguments can be offensive to women. Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the report, women at Yale, like men, are capable of taking responsibility for where they spend their weekend nights, what they drink and how they behave.
But the University does have a role here, as the Center wisely points out: to establish more transparency — the number and nature of sexual-assault cases to come before ExComm is not as transparent as it should be — and to design a comprehensive sexual-harassment prevention program.
An effective program would present real student stories — with names and details changed, of course — of actual victims on campus so as to make students aware, from day one, that harassment and worse actually does happen here. And we agree with the Women’s Center that “small, single-sex, discussion-oriented groups [led] by a trained individual” would make for better forums.
In its report, the Women’s Center devoted one section to the Zeta Psi incident specifically, condemning the University for not recognizing that the students’ posing constituted sexual harassment under the undergraduate regulation that bans conduct having the effect of “creating an intimidating or hostile academic or work environment.”
But for the sake of not undermining its own argument that sexual harassment is more pervasive than any photograph or single incident can convey, the Women’s Center should accept Zeta Psi’s apology, drop the possibility of a lawsuit and genuinely work with the rest of the student community to achieve its many reasonable and necessary reforms.
The Women’s Center’s final point calls for the University to direct more resources to its organization. With the exception of creating an assistant dean for women — the female population, after all, is not a minority here — we endorse this particular request fully. It is sad that for all the University’s riches, it has not, on its own accord, provided the Center with a full-time staff and director, a space more comfortable than the basement of Durfee’s — and a bathroom, which the Center currently lacks.
The details are one thing. But at the end of the day, the larger question raised by the report is this: To what extent should the administration be involved in regulating and preventing the misogyny that creeps onto campus?
In short, Yale should bolster institutional resources supportive of women and strengthen its sexual-harassment education and reporting policy for 2008.
Administrators, however, need not regulate fraternities or render more non-gender-neutral speech as harassment. Doing so could have unintended consequences, such as provoking campus resistance to the litany of otherwise sensible reforms or chilling speech. Our community is stronger when ideas, however uncomfortable, are exchanged freely — and without the threat of punishment.