After meeting with the Women’s Center’s board members Friday, University administrators said they would work with the group to address the demands outlined in its 26-page report drafted following the surfacing of last month’s “We Love Yale Sluts” photograph. But they requested that the Center “be reasonable” about its March 7 deadline for progress.
The Women’s Center threatened legal action last month as the picture — which depicted 12 students associated with the Zeta Psi fraternity holding the “Yale Sluts” sign in front of the Center — widely circulated among the student body. As a response, the Center presented the administration with the report ten days ago, calling for an overhaul of the University’s sexual-harassment and assault education policies, increased regulation of fraternities, disciplinary action against the Zeta Psi fraternity members and greater resources for the Center.
“I think by March 7 we can issue a progress report with what we have learned and, specifically, what information is still needed in order to make commitments of resources and change programs,” said Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, who was present at Friday’s meeting. “I think everyone [at the meeting] understood that … making good decisions that require input from multiple parties would take longer.”
But Salovey said the University’s response will amount to “much more than lip service.”
The Center’s report urges the University to mandate that fraternities register with the Yale College Dean’s Office, a move that would allow for their regulation and censuring following incidents of “collective malfeasance.” It also asked for pay for the group’s student staffers and the creation of a position for an assistant dean who would focus specifically on women’s issues.
While continuing to focus efforts on discussion with the administration, the Center has also organized a “residence group” that board members say will explore alternative means of addressing the incident, including legal action or increased pressure through national media attention. The group will also serve as a communications tool, facilitating discussion and dialogue between the University, the Center and students supportive of its efforts.
Moving forward, Salovey said he wants to collaborate with the Center to achieve similar goals, including “a robust Women’s Center, a safe campus and a Yale where we can work together to prevent problems such as sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
If fraternities are required to register with the University, individuals affiliated with the organizations will be discouraged from blindly following orders or succumbing to group pressure, said Kathryn Olivarius ’11, the Women’s Center constituency coordinator.
“We don’t think that on their own these boys would take these kind of misogynistic stances,” Olivarius said. “It’s a part of this larger, anonymity-based system.”
One proposal met with enthusiasm by administrators was a suggestion to mail out letters to incoming freshmen detailing the University’s hands-off stance toward fraternities. Enclosed in the Center’s report to the University was a copy of a letter Princeton University sends to all incoming freshmen that opens with the words, “Princeton does not officially recognize fraternities and sororities because we do not believe that, in general, they contribute in positive ways to the overall residential experience on campus.”
Salovey and Center board members interviewed declined to offer specifics on potential University action upon other proposals contained in the report, including the Center’s calls for official fraternity recognition and regulation.
After rebuffing an apology from the Zeta Psi in the week following the discovery of the photograph, the Center’s board members embarked on their ongoing quest to end the “fraternity-sponsored or enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape” that they say they have observed on campus.
But not everyone in Yale’s community supports the Center’s singling out of fraternities and use of the word “rape.”
“[Rape] is an extremely strong word that can ruin a person’s life with a simple accusation, even if the person is completely innocent,” said one fraternity member who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter. “The idea that fraternities sponsor [sexual harassment, assault, or rape] is ridiculous. These women should be focusing on the real problems that face women, not just a tasteless picture with a tasteless phrase.”
Others, still, have sided with the Center. Board members said in the weeks since the incident, they have received hundreds of letters of support from students, alumni and faculty at Yale and colleges across the country.
And interviews on campus revealed a wide range of student opinions — all of which have contributed to the buzz surrounding the incident since it took place in January. Andrew Kurzrok ’11 cautioned against reducing the issue into a simple dichotomy and said, while he thinks something should be done to address the issue, he believes the Center was “too quick on the trigger” in threatening legal action.
Reflecting the sentiment of many of those interviewed, Anne Carney ’09 said she found the actions of Zeta Psi offensive. She said she believes “no one didn’t find it offensive.” And Rebecca Stern ’11 applauded the Center’s efforts, declaring that “something has to change.”
But some students, like Aneesh Raghunandan ’11, said the Center has gone too far, blowing the incident out of proportion and using it as a launching pad for pushing through its reform agenda.
Jon Charest ’10, president of Zeta Psi’s Yale chapter, wrote in an e-mail that there has still been no direct contact between the Center and Zeta Psi, but declined further comment.
In addition to Salovey, administrators at Friday’s meeting included Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, Assistant to the President Nina Glickson and Deputy Provost for Faculty Development Judith Chevalier.
—Martine Powers contributed reporting.