The data collected in Yale’s first-ever campus climate survey on sexual misconduct was released earlier today, and the findings are extremely upsetting. The prevalence of sexual assault, harassment, pressure and coercion is far too high for a community that prides itself on inclusion and support, a place that we all consider home. I feel sad and angry, and although I’ve spent a year working as a Communication and Consent Educator to improve our campus climate, I don’t have the perfect response to the data, or what it implies.
My initial instinct is to think back to last spring, when the CCEs made a big push to encourage students to take the survey. (While we’re on the subject, it should be noted that our response rate was over two-and-a-half times the American Association of Universities’ aggregate. This is clearly an issue that Yalies care about deeply.) Why did we care whether or not our peers participated? Did we want some sort of affirmation that we lived in a flawless community? No. We were encouraging people to take the survey not because we wanted a confirmation that Yale was perfect, but because we wanted to know the truth. And the truth is that we still have work to do.
We already knew that, though. The data collected through this survey didn’t become true just because it was published. It was true yesterday and it was true last spring, when students submitted their responses. But this data does not have to continue to hold true in the future. We can feel sad, but we should not feel hopeless.
There is an abundance of data in the report that demands thoughtful and open conversation. One graph in particular is worth our consideration. On the left side, it shows the cumulative percentage of undergraduate women who reported penetration or oral sex by force and incapacitation since arriving on campus, separated by class year and compared to AAU aggregate data. On the right side, it shows the percentage of undergraduate women who reported penetration or oral sex by force and incapacitation during the last school year, also separated by class year and compared to AAU aggregate data.
Although the data is grave, there is a hopeful trend: The percentage of Yale students who experienced sexual assault drops in comparison to the AAU aggregate data from seniors to freshmen, and last school year the percentage of Yale students who experienced sexual assault was at or below the AAU aggregate. This is significant because last year’s freshmen class was the first one to be on a campus where every student had experienced administrative efforts at campus climate reform: orientation workshops on the myth of sexual miscommunication, sophomore bystander intervention training, readily accessible Title IX Coordinators and the creation of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.
Although the numbers are high — even one instance of sexual misconduct would be too many — it shows that our efforts are paying off. By our efforts I mean all of our efforts, not just those of the CCEs or the administration, but of all students who have gone through these workshops, have taken it upon themselves to foster constructive conversations and have been active bystanders. We are empowered to make change when we know the nature and scope of the problem. This data not only helps us understand the nature and scope of sexual misconduct on our campus, but it shows us that we are capable of creating this positive change. We wanted to collect this data because we wanted a concrete benchmark for measuring our campus climate. And we are letting ourselves down if we choose to ignore it.
Although I speak of positive change, I still feel sad and distraught, as I know you all are. Ultimately our goal is to create a campus where people care deeply about the well-being of the community at large, in sexual circumstances and in all other parts of our lives.
So let’s start right now: Look after each other today and tomorrow and the rest of this week. Have productive and supportive conversations with your friends. Take the time to check in.
The data can change, but we have to make it change. It starts with us, right now.
Paul Buckley is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .