What can we as students do to build a more positive culture of sexual respect?

Over the past few years, the Women’s Center has worked to spark and sustain campus conversation about sexual culture. Workshops hosted by the Women’s Center last year asked a diverse range of students – feminists, fraternity and sorority members, athletes and other members of the student body – to work together to identify problems and propose solutions about sexual violence and sexual culture at Yale. Title IX discussion dinners organized by the Women’s Center and held at the Provost’s house last spring gave students the opportunity to share their insights and ideas directly with administrators.

This conversation continues. While we do not agree with everything that has been said in discussions unfolding in forums from the Yale Daily News to the Yale Political Union, we are pleased that people are talking. We encourage all students to think critically and to engage with each other in genuine dialogue. As we move forward in our discussion of sexual climate, it is essential that we recognize the variety of voices necessary to create broad and lasting change.

As a student body, we need to continue to work toward building an inclusive community rooted in a fundamental respect for the opportunity of individuals to make choices, including reproductive decisions.

No one decision is right for everyone; what matters is that we respect one another’s choices. Whether straight, LGBTQ (or not self-identified), single, in a long-term relationship or somewhere in between, every individual is to be respected and validated. The same goes for sexual behaviors and practices involving consensual partners. Individuals’ choices pertaining to participation in campus culture – including expression of gender or sexual identities and choices about where to party, what to wear and whether to drink – are never an excuse for disrespect, abuse or sexual violence.

We hope that all members of the Yale community will come to recognize the fact that rape, sexual harassment and other forms of violence do happen on our campus. In multiple university-commissioned reports released over the past several years, Yale faculty, staff and students have acknowledged these problems. This reality is deeply disturbing, but confronting it enables us to reshape our campus for the better.

This year, the Board is devoting much of its energy to encouraging conversation among different swaths of the Yale student body through community dinners and collaborative events with student groups. We hope you will join us in moving this conversation beyond the Opinion page of the YDN and into the cultural houses, the LGBTQ Co-Op, fraternity houses, a cappella rehearsals, dining halls, common rooms and more. But we also hope you join us at the Women’s Center.

Currently, we are in the process of revamping our physical space to make the Women’s Center a more welcoming environment for talking, studying, relaxing and meeting. Finally, we are encouraged by the university’s creation of the Consent and Communication Educators (CCEs) program, which will help bring these conversations to the residential colleges as well as to communities of international students, athletes and LGBTQ students. We look forward to working with the CCEs, and we hope that the administration continues to focus its energy on making the campus a safe and positive place for all students.

We write not just as members of and on behalf of the Women’s Center Board, but also as your fellow students. We hope that you can join us in continuing this discussion, supporting survivors of sexual violence, working to promote concrete change and helping to create a fully inclusive community.

Jazzmin Estebane, Kate Huh, Esi Hutchful, Alexsis Johnson, Anjali Jotwani, Rebecca Suldan and Lily Wang are the coordinators of the Yale Women’s Center board.