Claiming that they “trivializ[e] the experiences of countless students,” more than 80 students at Yale Law School have leveled criticisms against arguments made by Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld — published in The New York Times — critiquing universities’ sexual misconduct policies.
On Saturday, the Times published an op-ed by Rubenfeld titled “Mishandling Rape,” which argued that universities often have misguided strategies for crafting policies against sexual assault.
In the op-ed, Rubenfeld specifically argued against affirmative consent policies, claimed that universities are ill-equipped to adjudicate claims of sexual misconduct and suggested that universities shift their policies on alcohol in order to prevent sexual misconduct.
All three broad points drew sharp criticism in the letter, which began circulating on Sunday.
“In advancing his argument, Rubenfeld ultimately patronizes the advocates who have led the hard-fought battles for more responsive campus procedures, federal enforcement mechanisms, and affirmative consent standards,” the letter said. “Rubenfeld’s assessment is divorced from the facts of students’ lived experiences and from the law itself. Proposed solutions, disconnected from those realities, are not just wrong; they’re dangerous.”
The letter argued that Rubenfeld’s arguments misrepresent the role of alcohol in sexual violence on college campuses and wrongly suggest that victims of sexual assault seek “survivor privilege.” Ultimately, the letter argued, policies proposed by Rubenfeld would lead to less accountability for perpetrators.
In response to the letter, Rubenfeld said he would meet with students Tuesday night to answer questions and address concerns.
Students interviewed expressed various reasons for signing the letter.
“The op-ed continues to reinforce dangerous stereotypes, ignores or mischaracterizes important facts and well-developed lines of argument on this issue and is ultimately wrong on both the problem of and purpose of proposed solutions for addressing campus sexual misconduct,” said Megan Wachspress LAW ’15, who signed the letter.
Mitch Verboncoeur LAW ’17 said he first heard about the letter via email. Though he said he thought Rubenfeld had good intentions while writing the op-ed, he said he chose to sign the letter because he disagreed with Rubenfeld’s view of consent.
“Keeping the standard too low makes it so people have to be proactive about access to their body when it should be the opposite,” he said. “The default should not be you assume somebody is willing based on any number of cues.”
Verboncoeur said he also opposed Rubenfeld’s claim that a heightened definition of consent might lead some people to consider themselves victims when they are in fact not.
Andrea Katz LAW ’16, another signatory, said in an email that she disagreed with Rubenfeld’s discussion of consent. Katz argued that asking for and giving positive consent in sexual encounters should be encouraged, and that sexual autonomy should not be trivialized.
Though Katz said she agreed with Rubenfeld’s assertion that students need to be taught about bystander intervention, she added that she did not agree with Rubenfeld’s suggestion that campus sexual misconduct proceedings be more closely tied to the judicial system.
“I disagree with his jump to criminalizing campus rape and his move to bring in the police,” Katz said.
Katz said Julie Veroff LAW ’15 and Alexandra Brodsky LAW ’16, who could not be reached for comment, sent a message to “the Wall,” an online student forum, circulating the letter.
James Mandilk LAW ’17, who saw the letter on the Wall, said it has sparked the longest thread on the online forum that he has seen.
“It’s generated a lot of buzz [around campus],” he said.