On Monday morning, startling information about our community was released. The results of the American Association of Universities’ Campus Sexual Climate survey have by now been documented, with varying degrees of accuracy, not only by members of our campus but also by national news sources. For some of us, these findings, while disturbing, were not shocking. For others, the sheer existence of sexual violence on our campus was stunning.
And as Yalies do, we’ve prepared ourselves for the next steps. How do we turn this data into action? How do we transform numbers that induce grief into change? The problem is evident: Members of our community are being treated without respect. Where do we go from here? What must we change? I think we all can imagine that these statistics will be the starting point for serious discussions over the next few days, weeks, months. With any luck at all, they’ll finally add even greater urgency to the muted conversations that have already been happening for decades.
While I don’t know the answers to those questions, I do know that they come from a desire to build a campus culture of kindness and respect — that they come from compassion. As such, I think it’s important to remember that as our community comes to terms with what these numbers mean, self care is important. As we have these important conversations, we must do so with the overarching theme of kindness. Check in with your friends, make a cup of tea, snuggle in your favorite sweater, take care of yourself. These dialogues are so important, but especially for those of us whose lives have been touched by these issues, they aren’t always easy.
I also want to remind our community that responding to this survey is more complicated than solving a challenging puzzle to which we now have the pieces. These numbers are staggering, but their vastness also means that in any conversation, there are likely to be people whose lives have been affected by this issue. In the past days alone, we’ve talked about these numbers so often as just numbers — one in four, 34 percent, “vast majority” — but in reality those numbers represent so many of us. We are people who read columns blaming hook-up culture and Overheard at Yale debates about co-ed housing and complaints. We see ourselves in national news outlets where commenters weigh the semantics of “unwanted sexual touching.”
By we, I don’t mean survivors of violence or those whose loved ones are — I mean we, Yale. We are nonbinary students who are being victimized at stunning rates, we are women of color who are more likely to be assaulted than our white peers, we are offenders: “Friend or acquaintance,” “Stranger,” “Someone I had dated or was intimate with.” We live in “University residence hall/dorm” and frequent “Fraternity or sorority house.” We “did not think it was serious enough to report.”
But we’re also going to class tomorrow, lingering behind to chat after our seminar, staying up late to finish a pset, pretending to forget to attach a paper to an email in order to snag some extra time. We, Yale. Rather than maneuvering ourselves into objective observers remarking on the pros and cons of hooking up or drinking, members of our community need to grapple with the faces behind all of the numbers, big and small, because those faces are our own.
There is a time to begin to wrestle with how we can use these numbers to shape our policies. That time is now. There is a time for reflection on being considerate and kind toward ourselves and the people around us as we embark on a difficult dialogue. That time is now.
Alexa Derman is a sophomore in Berkeley College and the outreach coordinator of the Yale Women’s Center. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .