It started with two jokes. “The only thing I’ve been forced to do at Yale is go to a consent workshop,” one student quipped.
“I guess they think you still need to learn that no means yes and yes means anal,” another responded.
Two years after DKE pledges chanted those words, students who were just beginning to study for the SAT at the time recognized the words without need for an explanation. This scar of the darker side of Yale’s recent history resonates through our collective cultural consciousness as loudly as “For God, for country and for Yale.”
I was not the only one whose patience for mandatory events was wearing thin by the time Saybrook freshmen trooped into WLH for our consent workshop. Nevertheless, despite my frustrations at all the Camp Yale events and the jokes of the students in my group, the consent workshop went tremendously well.
Using frozen yogurt as a metaphor, we proved that people are actually incredibly capable of recognizing when someone doesn’t want to do something. The exercises didn’t reinforce traditional tropes of gender or situation and engaged nearly everyone.
But no workshop can magically erase that chant from our minds. I was confused that the communication and consent educators attempted to lead the workshops as if in a vacuum. From the 2009 preseason scouting report to the 2010 DKE chant to the 2011 Title IX investigation, our school has a recent history of sexual misconduct that went unspoken. I wondered why nobody had bothered to inform the freshmen.
I walked into Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd’s office yesterday with two goals, both related to that very question. I went as a reporter sent to gather an administrative opinion. But I also went as a student who has long been fascinated by issues of gender and sexuality — okay, I’ll say it: a feminist — who was confused as to why an obvious problem was not being discussed. The reporter expected canned answers and lines to read between, while the student was not sure what to expect from a dean.
Over the course of an hourlong conversation with an incredibly open administrator, Boyd and I discussed both the theory behind the details of the consent workshop and the specific mistakes Yale has made in past dealings with sexual misconduct. Afterwards, she emailed me a JSTOR article about the reification of masculinist violence — this was two feminism nerds in action.
Somewhere around “reification,” I remembered how excited I am about these questions, and I realized I had been entirely convinced that the consent workshops would successfully introduce freshmen to and work toward changing Yale’s sexual culture without reinforcing stereotypes.
I went wondering why no mention had been made of scandals like the DKE chants. Boyd convincingly argued that to tell freshmen these are things that happen every year would perpetuate the belief that these are things that happen every year — and are therefore okay.
Fundamentally, the workshops are not about teaching girls to survive frat parties; they are about teaching Yale students to communicate respectfully in all aspects of their relationships and to trust their gut instincts when they find themselves being disrespected. Administrators and students are working to create positive change in the culture rather than temporary Band-Aid solutions after controversial events.
I learned two lessons yesterday. I was incredibly close to the faculty and administrators in my high school, but it took my conversation with Boyd for me to realize that the adults running Yale are just as open to talk to students. A little bit of initiative can lead to an incredible conversation (and extra assigned reading … ).
These conversations, meanwhile, have an incredible power actually to change your mind and your opinion, if you are open to letting them be changed. I walked out of Boyd’s office fully in agreement with her arguments about the consent workshop, and with two thoughts in my mind.
First: There goes the column I was going to write.
Second: That’s why I chose Yale.
Courtney Hodrick is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact her at email@example.com.