Over the past two weeks, student groups have come together to improve Yale’s sexual climate.
As a part of Yale College Council’s new “It’s On Us, Yale” campaign, these student groups were asked to define how on-campus sexual and social climates can be improved. The YCC’s campaign is part of a nationwide movement announced on Sept. 19 by President Barack Obama with a stated goal of ending sexual assault on college campuses nationwide. After last month’s announcement, White House staffers approached several student body presidents at universities across the country, including YCC President Michael Herbert ’16, and asked them to implement the campaign at their respective schools.
While both the national and YCC campaigns ask students to sign pledges promising to fight sexual violence, YCC representatives have tried to make their initiative more Yale-specific.
“The White House came out with a really good idea — especially for a lot of campuses who haven’t really begun these discussions yet — to have a pledge that people sign that hits the main points: sexual assault isn’t acceptable, lack of consent is sexual assault, bystander intervention and so on,” said Sarika Pandrangi ’17, who serves as a Calhoun representative for YCC, a Communication and Consent Educator and the Council’s “It’s On Us, Yale” project manager. “But our campaign is slightly different because we think that Yalies already know those things, so we want to push Yalies forward. We think they can do a lot more than sign a pledge and pat themselves on the back.”
To determine how to integrate the national campaign with Yale’s specific environment, the YCC approached members of the CCEs and the Yale Women’s Center. Together, they decided to implement a student-group-specific approach that focuses more on sparking discussion rather than the actual writing of the pledge itself, Pandrangi said.
The modified campaign centers on a theme of “Our Yale” and asks student groups to discuss their vision of an ideal Yale. After completing the statement, “Our Yale is …”, student groups must list several concrete actions that they will take to turn that vision into reality.
Each group’s pledge and actions are supposed to be specific to its niche on campus, said Layla Khuri ’16, student life director for the YCC. For example, she said, improvisation groups can promise to make jokes that are respectful, sororities can promise to foster supportive sisterhood and groups that host parties can pledge to provide non-alcoholic alternatives.
Cheryl Xiang ’18, a member of the women’s varsity swimming and diving team, said that because her team’s discussion of its pledge built on existing team values, the conversation will likely carry on beyond the initial pledge.
Zachary Kayal ’17, whose a cappella group Mixed Company has signed on to the campaign, added that because the campaign asks for concrete actions, it is more likely to have a lasting impact.
“It’s much harder to shove the pledge aside when, instead of just saying that we’re for ‘consent,’ we specifically discussed not making our members feel as though they have to drink or participate in hookup culture or do anything else with which they’re uncomfortable,” Kayal said.
The campaign has largely been spread by word-of-mouth, Khuri said, with various CCE and YCC members actively proposing the initiative to other student groups. Twenty-four organizations, ranging from a cappella groups to fraternities to athletic teams, have already joined, and the Facebook page for “It’s On Us, Yale” has accumulated nearly 900 likes in 16 days.
The entire project is intended to be a grassroots movement, and momentum is supposed to come from the student body, Pandrangi said. Administrative policy can help by providing resources to those involved in sexual violence, but at the end of the day, “You can’t put a cultural change on a piece of paper and say, ‘Do it,’” she added.
Still, this project is just one piece of a larger, holistic effort to bring change to Yale’s campus. It complements the work of many groups, both student-driven and administratively-pushed, who are working to create a community free of sexual misconduct, ecology and evolutionary biology professor David Post, chair of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, wrote in an email.
“Real change needs to come from all sides — that’s why collaborations like this are so important,” Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd, who directs the CCE program, said in an email.
Nationwide, 203 universities have signed on to the “It’s On Us” campaign.