Like many other students, I was disappointed but not surprised by October’s now-infamous “DKE incident.” It followed in a pattern of crises at Yale with which I was already familiar. When I visited Yale as a pre-frosh in April 2008, a number of high-profile incidents had fractured the student body. I learned then that the negative images of “Yale sluts” and “Nigger School,” of blackface and homophobic slurs, still hung like a specter over disparate parts of the campus community. My host, a freshman in Calhoun, was reluctant to divulge any details of what had transpired, but he couldn’t hide his frustration. These events illustrated that our campus, for all of its supposed liberalism and open-mindedness, had segments that were still stuck in antiquated conceptions of what a community should look like. After each tremor, students formed groups in an attempt to understand how such expressions of ignorance could have taken place here. But too quickly, the conversations ended, and these coalitions dissolved.
I became men’s outreach organizer at the Women’s Center so that I could do my part to keep those groups together. In starting a men’s feminist group, my hope is that we will create a safe space for discussing questions that arise or ideas that escape our attention. What does it mean to be masculine here and what should it mean? What do we want our relationships with women on campus to look like? What does feminism even mean, and what role do men have to play in the cause for gender justice? Through answering questions like these, we will develop programs and events that will inspire more men to consider and start to answer these questions. With an activism borne from discourse, we can work towards shifting gender norms.
As we know now, these crises were not isolated incidents: they are part of a systemic problem. While these events reveal a dangerous undercurrent of intolerance in our campus community, the response to them illustrates our readiness for change. In October, I was not the only man who felt moved to create a better community for all Yale students — one that challenges gendered hierarchies and seeks an end to sexual violence. I became involved in the Women’s Center’s mission to bring these issues to the fore. We, as students, must continue to sustain the broad-based coalitions created in the wake of the DKE incident to forge long-lasting change.
October’s discussions were a great place to start. But we need to expand these conversations about gender and sexuality to engage other, often excluded issues and groups. In order to effect significant change, students across the gender spectrum must take part in the conversation. It is important that I, and other men, work to understand the ways that gender norms affect our lives daily. Men are supposed to be strong, emotionally aloof, and reflect the heteronormative archetypes that have been handed down to us by popular culture and tradition. These are the standards men are supposed to bear in mind when considering masculinity, and these assumptions influence interactions we have with each other and with women. We don’t have all of the answers, but we can’t develop constructive solutions to these norms unless we engage in conversation together.
For many, these exchanges will be challenging and uncomfortable; many of us come to Yale from places where gender and sexuality are rarely discussed. But these issues can also be interesting and dynamic, pushing us to reconsider the role of gender in our lives and our visions for a campus that actively engages with gender roles and their negative impact here.
The incident in October was a wake-up call not only for me, but for many of my friends, especially those who had never considered these issues before. My hope is that in creating this group, we will foster an environment for men to come together and confront these topics from unique and diverse perspectives. By resisting the stereotypes and norms men face at Yale, we will be able to move forward together as allies in the movement for gender equity.
Travis Gidado is a junior in Trumbull College.