For all of the debate that Yale University’s policy on sexual misconduct has generated over the past year, you might think we could begin to see some tangible improvements in campus culture. Yet Yale is still rife with instances of sexual misconduct — specifically, sexual harassment. At this point, sexual harassment is so normalized within Yale’s culture that we no longer even consider it noteworthy.
Perhaps because sexual harassment can be less obvious than purely physical forms of sexual misconduct, students are more likely to brush it off. It can be easy to convince yourself that authorities would not feel the need to respond to complaints of nonphysical unwanted sexual advances. But perhaps it is also that many students are so uninformed as to what constitutes sexual harassment that they are not even aware that they are the victims — or perpetrators.
Many people associate sexual harassment with the classroom or workplace — a quid pro quo scenario in which an individual in a position of authority forces unwanted sexual advances upon a student or employee in exchange for promise of professional success. That is the definition of sexual harassment we are most used to, but it is by no means exhaustive.
We forget that harassment can come in many forms, and we are witnesses of it more often than we’d like to admit. It happens in our extracurricular organizations, in our classes and in our friend groups. Sexual harassment can take place anywhere, in any social scenario. It includes unwelcome sexual comments, stalking, remarks about a person’s physical appearance and a variety of other actions that are outlined in the Yale University Statement of Sexual Conduct.
Sharing someone’s intimate photos, no matter how eager your friends are to see them, is sexual harassment. Groping your friend when you see him or her at Toad’s, even if intended in a playful manner, is sexual harassment. Making repeated sexually explicit jokes about an individual’s personal life during your fraternity’s initiation, no matter how funny and supposedly private the event is, is sexual harassment. Pressuring a victim to not report his or her experience to authorities is sexual harassment.
Actions like these create a hostile environment for the victim, making scholastic and professional success nearly impossible. In more serious situations, sexual harassment can lead to emotional and physical distress — and given the current state of Yale’s mental health services, we should be doing all we can to prevent this sort of emotional harm. Beyond the impact they have on the victim, these actions are illegal and prohibited by Yale University. Repercussions vary from a reprimand to expulsion.
At the end of the day, I do have confidence in the student body of Yale. I would be hard-pressed to find many individuals who think that the scenarios I outlined above are acceptable. But it is not just individuals who are responsible for sexual harassment. It is a campus culture promoted by group mentalities and a reluctance to reanalyze long-established traditions. The nature of Yale’s historically hierarchal groups prevents individuals from speaking out against what they know is wrong out of fear of social repercussion or “respect” for the institution. But we can no longer exempt certain actions from being considered sexual harassment solely because they are deemed “tradition.”
I do not write this article solely to prevent sexual harassment. I also write this to assure victims that the University — the SHARE Center or any other campus authorities — will consider your complaints legitimate. This is not your inability to “take a joke.” This is not “guys being guys” (or “girls being girls,” — by no means is sexual harassment gender exclusive). This is a serious problem that Yale — and colleges throughout the United States — face. Silence on the issue leads other students to believe their concerns are unwarranted. For every instance of sexual harassment that goes unreported, we are creating a culture in which sexual misconduct is considered permissible.
Haley Adams is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .