Once again, scandal breaks out at Yale, and we find ourselves caught up in a media bonanza. ABC news cameras have descended, peeling back the ivy and revealing the misogynists lodged within. While cable news inevitably focuses on the superficial aspects of the Title IX complaint, we as a campus have a responsibility to probe deeper. Below the surface level of the media’s fixations lie quieter, private stories of rape, assault and harassment. These, and the sexual culture in which they are rooted, should be in the spotlight of our campus debate.
Mostly, campus discussion has focused on the ugly and abrasive public displays, speeches and acts of the past several years. And so yet again, we debate whether it constitutes free speech or sexual harassment; whether the outrage is justified or an overreaction; whether such acts can be categorized as harmless pranks or evidence of malicious intent. These arguments, while valuable, all miss the larger point: the culture of sexual misconduct these acts represent. Public stunts of this kind are not aberrations nor lapses in judgment, but symptoms of a broader campus culture in which the bounds of sexual autonomy are commonly and quite literally pushed, disrespected and crossed.
Still, many students don’t believe that Yale is a hostile environment or that sexual misconduct is a problem here. They have never experienced sexual assault or violence, and their friends haven’t either. Not feeling like victims themselves, these students conclude that the Title IX complaint does not speak for them. It is their great good fortune to be able to take that position.
But simply because many have not been sexually victimized at Yale does not mean that they should not stand in solidarity with those who have. Yale is a community, and the troubles of our peers should be our own — even if we must look beyond our own, limited experiences to reach them.
Sexual harassment and sexual assault happen at Yale, far more frequently than we, in good conscience, can accept. The Title IX complaint is not about demonizing fraternities or depriving Yale of government funding. Rather, it is about this bracing reality, about demanding that it be addressed. Whether or not you take the DKE chants as an example of sexual harassment, whether or not you personally have experienced sexual assault, this problem concerns you. It should concern us all.
The Title IX complaint focuses on the failure of the administration to adequately deal with cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In the upcoming week, the Office of Civil Rights will conduct interviews and examine the campus to determine the extent to which the Yale administration is at fault. Luckily, when confronted with scandal, Yale normally responds with reform. The “University-Wide Sexual Misconduct Committee” will become active this summer. Importantly, the initiative had begun long before the complaint and was born of several committees itself. Still, we should keep up the pressure to ensure that these reforms will correct past wrongs.
Meanwhile, we as a community must begin investigating ourselves. We must uncover the sexual norms and practices that lead to violence and harassment. We must examine our own roles in reinforcing them. And, like the Yale administration, we must reform. This includes challenging problematic sexual scripts and fostering a culture of respect. It means expecting more than bare consent, and demanding that all sexual experiences entail desire. We are the arbiters of our own sexual culture, and we alone have the power to transform it.
Eventually, the cameras will turn away. But we cannot turn away from this problem. Much more is at stake than government dollars or Yale’s reputation. Let us take responsibility, and more importantly, the initiative.
Emily Villano is a sophomore in Pierson College.