Last spring, the editors of the News wrote that “the project of reforming Yale’s sexual culture is a formidable one.” This challenge followed upon an academic year punctuated by a number of events that drew attention to Yale’s sexual culture and the problems that mar it: rape, harassment, objectification of women and the ways in which the expectation of sexual gratification easily boils over into ugly disrespect and denigration. The formidable project has yet to find an adequate vision.
In the fall, frat pledges marched around Old Campus shouting chants that openly glorified rape and graphically joked about necrophilia. In response, this op-ed page was flooded with commentary on the incident, which, for the most part, condemned the pledges’ mentality but shied away from asking what underlying cultural deficiencies made it possible.
A few days before Halloween, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry emailed the student body to emphasize the wonders of “glorious consensual sex,” subtly but unmistakably assuming that the hook-up enriches students’ lives provided only that the right verbal signs are given. The comfortable consensus opinion was that the fundamentals of Yale’s sexual culture were sound. All that was lacking was their proper implementation in a few specific cases, and that chasm could be bridged in a few relatively simple steps. As then-YCC President Jeff Gordon ’12 advised: “Ask someone to dance before grabbing her hips.”
It was several months later that a group of students filed a complaint against the University under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, citing a “sexually hostile environment” for women. If Yale had hit the snooze button following the first alarm, here was the second one to wake us up. By the end of the year, attentive observers could not deny that Yale had a failed culture; nevertheless, the basis of the University’s reaction was not much different. Once again, it was assumed that the response should be more of the same: bureaucratic bodies to dissect the “campus climate,” recruiting students to act as “communication and consent educators,” and tasking freshman counselors with imparting a legalistic and unwieldy definition of “consent.”
We, as members of Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, would like to propose an alternative approach. Loving our University and recognizing that her culture is in need of renewal, we seek to look behind the surface and strike at the root causes of our sexual maladies. We believe that these maladies are at once simpler and yet more profound than has been hitherto acknowledged. Simply put, we believe that the heart of the problem is the very attitude toward sexuality that prevails on campus, a paradoxical attitude that both trivializes sex and is obsessed with it. It is trivializing to treat sex as nothing more than a casual weekend pastime. It is obsessive — and pathetic — to be as consumed with sexual curiosity as our campus so frequently is.
We believe that the hook-up culture is fertile ground for acts of sexual selfishness, insensitivity, cruelty and malice, for the simple reason that selfishness provides the whole premise of that culture. The individual search for pleasure is all. Other human beings exist as fellow-seekers and potential outlets for our desires. Rarely is it acknowledged that the human person is intrinsically deserving of respect — respect that demands we never use one another as objects, not even with consent. In such a climate of self-indulgence, is it any wonder that the worst aspects of our nature come to the fore? A culture of promiscuity has no right to be surprised by objectification, sexual disrespect and all that comes along with them.
Yesterday, we ran an advertisement in the News announcing our cause and publicizing our petition to the Yale administration requesting that Sex Week at Yale — an event that takes to extremes the selfish, hedonistic mentality we believe to be so deleterious to a healthy culture — be denied university support, particularly the use of university facilities such as classrooms. We are aware that this is a bold request. Yet we believe that the formidable task of reforming Yale’s sexual culture requires a hard look at the attitudes we have taken for granted. We ask you as members of the Yale community — students, faculty, alumni and parents — to visit our website, BetterYale.org, and read the text of the petition. There, you will also find more information on our cause, a longer essay expounding the case against Sex Week, and the email addresses at which you can send us your thoughts. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue.
Bijan Aboutorabi and Eduardo Andino are juniors and Isabel Marin is a senior in Trumbull College.