On the front page of Thursday’s News, readers learned that the Yale Police Department has opened an investigation into a pre-tap party following allegations of hazing and sexual assault. Other articles in the paper expressed student objections to the Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention Task Force’s recommendation that representatives of student groups take part in educational programs on sexual misconduct. Side by side, yesterday’s articles simultaneously remind us that sexual misconduct does happen at Yale and that many continue to dismiss it.
The accounts of the Pundits’ Feb. 19 party are troubling, and the actions they describe are unacceptable. But though the details of this particular incident are shocking, statistically, sexual assault occurs at Yale every week of the year. These crimes take place within a larger climate that produces power dynamics and social hierarchies that disadvantage and harm members of our community — with consequences ranging from disrespect to hostility to violence. Sexual misconduct is not limited to parties, fraternities or to the incidents reported by Chief Higgins; it happens across the University — in labs and classrooms, in dorms and on the street.
When it comes to sexual violence, there are no easy solutions. Students, activists and administrators have addressed issues of sexual violence through various intervention strategies, from expanding resources for survivors to organizing speak-outs like Take Back the Night or developing freshmen orientation programming and student-led workshops. On an individual level, we help our drunk friends home after the party, call out our classmates for derogatory language and try to communicate honestly and respectfully with our partners. Every point of intervention is valuable and helps us reach the larger goal of eliminating sexual violence.
We are continually reminded of the importance of these interventions. In the fall, DKE pledges chanted “No means yes” on Old Campus, aggressively demonstrating that sexual violence is not always taken seriously at Yale. Our community responded with outrage, and we were moved to action. The Dean’s Office convened two faculty-led task forces to examine hazing and sexual misconduct. Though much of the discussion on campus since the report’s release on Wednesday morning has centered on the singular recommendation for mandatory trainings, the report also outlines a multidimensional, holistic plan of action to confront sexual violence at Yale. Calling for structural changes to campus resources and culture, the report also proposes a standing University Committee on Sexual Misconduct to continue the efforts of the task force and create sustained dialogue on sexual misconduct prevention.
Student leadership, too, is crucial to changing campus culture. Emphasizing peer education, the report argues for enhancing programs like Peer Health Educators, Peer Liaisons and Freshman Counselors, along with providing training to student leaders across the University. More students will have access to the information that could help prevent sexual assault and understand how to respond when it does occur. These plans will further the formal and interpersonal efforts of students to foster a safe and supportive community. In short, the task force’s recommendations will equip students to become part of the solution to a problem we cannot afford to ignore.
While the need for action is urgent, we can only eradicate sexual violence through long-term cultural and institutional change. It is not enough to simply watch a 30-minute film and discuss it with your FroCo. As a university and as a community, we need to feel empowered to actively change the harmful patterns and attitudes entrenched in our culture. The task force’s recommendations are some of the many steps we all must take to create a Yale that is safe, respectful and just.
Sally Walstrom is a junior in Morse College and the public relations coordinator for the Women’s Center.