Let me share three stories with you.
The first one took place in 1977. Five Yale women sued the University for a violation of Title IX due to a “failure to combat sexual harassment of female students.” Before Alexander v. Yale, “sexual harassment” did not really exist as a formal term. The students’ case, largely guided by a manuscript by famous feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon, then a second-year student at the Law School, set a historic precedent for protection against sexual harassment.
The second one took place over spring break. On March 8, women and men around the world celebrated female heroes on International Women’s Day. This year, the 101-year old global event focused on “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” and celebrations worldwide reminded citizens the fight against gender violence has a long way to go before it is won.
The third took place this week in the Silliman dining hall. A friend and I were discussing Title IX. In minutes, the entire table was in on the discussion. A few students argued they were tired of this issue: Yale’s administration already offers so many resources for victims of sexual violence and we should benchmark ourselves to other schools.
When I arrived as a freshman, I heard few conversations on gender issues. But our history and responsibility as a leading institution demand the conversation continue.
It has been about a year since the start of the Title IX investigation. Regardless of our individual opinions on the investigation, we, as a campus, have grown from the experience. Today, dialogue on gender issues occurs throughout our classrooms, dining halls and suites. Though our campus discourse on gender issues, like the global fight against gender violence, has room to grow, my interactions with other students have indicated improved awareness and sensitivity among Yalies.
In terms of concrete progress, the Women’s Center hosted a well-attended series of dinners at the provost’s house last spring to create a forum for discussion on combating sexual harassment and sexual violence at Yale. SHARE resources have been further publicized, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct publishes regular reports of disciplinary outcomes and our Communication and Consent Educators (CCEs) have expanded their purview. This progress is a testament to the power of a joint mission between students and the administration, grounded in communication and cooperative implementation.
Ultimately, however, the administration should only be responsible for these issues up to a certain point.
This is our campus. As students, we are responsible and accountable for the climate in which we live and learn. We are the best regulators and shapers of our campus culture. We must have faith in our student body’s ability to take initiative and tackle contentious issues.
The recent survey by the Yale Sexual Literacy Coalition and CCEs is an excellent example of student initiative, placing issues of real concern out in the open. The 2,342 respondents to the survey on sexual practices highlighted our increased willingness to engage with campus climate issues.
The survey is a start, but let’s not be satisfied. Gender issues affect our entire community. It is crucial we get them right, for our sake and for the example we set as a community. We are a campus of leaders, and we cannot be satisfied with student apathy or over-reliance on the administration. As we consider how these issues will play out next year, student leadership will be critical in building on this past year’s successes and developing new opportunities for student engagement.
It is imperative that we not forget our responsibilities as members of a leading global institution. The example we set has implications for our society, nationally and internationally. Let’s keep in mind the students from 1977 and women around the world today who work to shift paradigms on gender discourse. In taking further charge of gender issues on campus, let’s honor their bravery and leadership.
Last year, our campus’ struggles fell into the national spotlight. We should be humble before we quickly dismiss our issues, and we should conduct ourselves as Yalies with a greater responsibility.
Cristo Liautaud is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.