I have been gone from Yale for 18 months. For 18 months I’ve missed every part of it: weekend brunch, Nemerov’s lectures and even the rainy spring break I spent locked up with a jar of peanut butter and my senior essay. I think I could miss the post office if I tried.
I haven’t had the perfect postgrad experience. I quit Teach For America after a year and wound up (surprise!) in consulting. In the real world I’ve encountered 13-year-old boys who think real men treat women like trash. I’ve uncovered American communities where homophobia rules the day. I’ve realized that inequality wins too often.
In other words, I miss Yale for more than just the library. I miss it for its community and open values. I want to spend an hour surrounded by my former classmates — the smartest, most intimidating and most wonderful men and women I’ll ever meet — even if that hour is spent in econ section.
I’m confident I’ll never find another place like Yale or ever love a place as much. Which is why I’m so angry at the way Yale’s image has changed recently. Our college has been painted as a school that tolerates rape. It has been colored with the shades of permissiveness and licentiousness. I have followed these headlines with frustration, because the Yale I see on the front page does not match the Yale I know and love.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not angry at the Yalies who publicly stood up for themselves after experiencing sexual harassment. I am angry at those who abused the privilege of admission to Yale’s community by committing sex crimes. If it’s the case that the Yale administration has systemically tried to dismiss or minimize such cases, I am angry about that also. But this is a big if, considering my admiration for the character and judgment of the administrators I know best.
But my anger doesn’t end there. I can’t stop thinking of today’s high school girls holding their Yale acceptance letters and saying, “I don’t want to go to a place where everyone only has drunken hookups and guys think it’s okay to date-rape me because the University won’t punish them properly.” I am furious and want to scream at them, “Don’t believe those things! You will love Yale! And you are so much more likely to feel empowered as a woman at Yale than as a woman elsewhere on this planet!”
Yes, there are rapists at Yale. They are at every college in America, and far too often they go unpunished. This issue does not belong to Yale alone. So why are we treating Yale like a hotbed of sexual harassment and misguided promiscuity?
The amount of low-level harassment I endured as a female teacher — and which my administrators brushed aside — made me miss Yale desperately. The quality of discussion about gender equality at Yale is unparalleled in our national dialogue — have you heard a GOP presidential candidate talk about women lately? Most importantly, the good guys at Yale outnumber the jerks 30 times over.
It’s at Yale that I started to believe that a confident woman can accomplish anything. It’s at Yale that I found nearly all of my female role models. It’s also at Yale that I first had too many drinks at a party and woke up wondering whether I had actually meant to go home with that boy, whether I had been in control of the situation and, if I wasn’t, did that mean he had taken advantage of me?
But, right or wrong, I didn’t equate that moment with Yale. I didn’t wake up and think: “This never would have happened at a different school,” or “This is all because Yale refuses to close Toad’s!” Because if Yale taught me anything, it’s that I am smart enough to decide right from wrong, brave enough to act on it and strong enough to succeed in an imperfect world.
As a freshman counselor, I saw a lot of students overdo it. Whether with sex, alcohol or freshman orgo, Yale had a support system in place. Maybe it wasn’t perfect, and maybe some of the events of the last two years will improve it. But Yale has always cared deeply about its students, and Yale students have always cared even more deeply about each other. Why, in an effort to fix the problems, have we all started to doubt that?
I’m grateful to Yale. I’m proud of Yale. I trust in Yale. So by all means, let’s make Yale the best it can be. But in the process, let’s not turn one of the most enlightened, open-minded and morally courageous institutions in America into a target for unchecked criticism from within and without. Yale is a human creation, and it will have its flaws. But in my memories and the memories of many others, Yale will always be a force for good in this world. Let us please not lose sight of that fact.
Lauren Hefferon is a 2010 graduate of Calhoun College.