This is no time to reinvent wheels

First and foremost, I would like to say that Michael Herbert’s ’16 column (“CS Thrifty,” Sept. 23) got it completely right on the most important point it touched on: Yale’s Computer Science department is severely under-resourced and understaffed. For some reason that has never been explained, Yale chose not to expand its computer science faculty in the decades since the Internet and the Web first became dominant forces in our culture, our economy and almost all aspects of our daily lives — decades in which Yale’s competitors were expanding their computer science faculties significantly. Fortunately, it looks as though things may be changing. The modest faculty expansion announced in March 2015 was a good first step in the right direction, and we in the Computer Science Department are hopeful that further, more substantial steps are in the works.

Unfortunately, Herbert misunderstands the role of lectures in CS50 and in STEM courses in general. Dr. Malan’s lectures are inspiring, informative, entertaining and superbly produced, but they are not the venue in which nuts-and-bolts learning by CS50 students actually occurs. Note that attendance at CS50 lectures is optional at Harvard, where students may register for both CS50 and another class in which lectures are scheduled at the same time. Students learn how to program by sitting down at their computers and doing their programming assignments — just as they learn mathematics by doing their problem sets and lab sciences by doing their experiments. What a great University like Yale offers them is the opportunity to turn to their professors, teaching fellows, undergraduate learning assistants and fellow students when they get stuck on a homework assignment.

Professor Brian Scassellati and Staff Lead Jason Hirschhorn have created a full program of sections, office hours and other face-to-face activities in which Yale’s CS50 students are experiencing the joys of computing — with each other on a daily basis and with their Harvard counterparts at events like the start-of-term puzzle day and the end-of-term hackathon. It would have been very foolish to ask Scassellati and Hirschhorn to spend their time and effort on reinventing the wheel of CS50 lectures rather than on these face-to-face activities in which students actually learn to program.

It is worth noting that Yale offers online versions of many of its renowned lecture courses, in subjects ranging from physics to philosophy to poetry — see the Open Yale Courses website. Presumably, students at universities throughout the world are benefiting from them, and faculty members at those universities are free to develop new instructional resources instead of reinventing wheels. Surely this is not a one-way street: Yale should partake of the cornucopia of online educational offerings that is out there as well as contribute to it.

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the Yale College faculty approved the joint Harvard-Yale CS50 as a three-year experiment. The time to assess the effectiveness of its novel features, including its hybrid online-plus-on-campus instructional model and its essential use of undergraduate learning assistants, is after the third offering of the course in Fall 2017, not during the first month of the first offering. I look forward to an informed discussion with Herbert in January 2018.

Joan Feigenbaum

The writer is the chair of the Computer Science Department.

Sexual stigmatization is not the solution

We are two Yale women, and we’d like to share the way that Aaron Sibarium’s ‘18 column (“Reject hook-up culture,” Sept. 22) made us feel.

Sibarium’s views of men at Yale are both uncharitable and harmful. He writes that it is silly for us to “expect people, least of all 20-year-old men, to show the same respect to someone they have just met as they would someone with whom they are in a committed relationship.” We believe that every woman deserves the automatic respect owed to all humans, regardless of her relationship to the individual. It is not unrealistic to believe that men will behave this way — it is important to believe that they will. Not doing so feeds the outdated narrative of male sexuality as an irrepressible, uncontrollable urge, and builds in an excuse for perpetrators.

Perhaps Sibarium meant that even though all men should respect women equally, they unfortunately do not. Even so, the solution is not that we must all modify our lifestyles. It is that the men of whom Sibarium writes should modify their attitudes. It is not a victim’s duty to protect his or herself. It is the duty of the perpetrator not to commit crimes. It is society’s duty to educate would-be perpetrators, believe survivors and create a community in which men and women can have safe, consensual and shame-free sexual relations. We hold the men of Yale to a higher standard than Sibarium does; it is the standard we think they deserve.

Sibarium goes on to suggest that social norms confining sex to monogamous relationships would protect women against violence, and that without these norms, men must “increasingly rely on individual reason and restraint.” Sibarium fears that putting faith in the ability of men to exercise restraint is risky. This is an attitude that we find to be deeply problematic. Men are not animals. When a man preaches that women’s (and men’s) sexual liberty should be constrained, he must have a more compelling reason.

The crucial hypothesis of Sibarium’s article is that the results of the sexual misconduct survey, that sexual violence is far from rare on this campus, support his idea of introducing “healthy constraints”. Sibarium argues that something is wrong with Yale’s sexual climate — we agree.

We do not agree, however, that the explanation lies in excessive sexual liberty. As female Yalies, we can assure Sibarium that, far from the “you do you” affair he describes, female sexuality remains stigmatized. How many times do men refer to returning home after casual sex as doing a “walk of shame?” It is too often that we hear women and men refer to other women as “sluts.” We strongly disagree that increased liberty of female sexuality leads to increased sexual assault. The destigmatization of female sexuality has given us a voice, and slowly we are beginning to claim that voice. The more freedom women feel they have to express this sexuality, the less likely it will be that sexual violence goes unreported. We do not need more norms informing men and women that sexual expression is wrong, and misplacing blame for crimes.

We act as if we exist in a sexually liberated culture, but we still judge each other with outdated condemnations.  These social norms, deeply ingrained within us, must be eradicated. We must disagree with Sibarium as to the best trajectory for Yale.  We are not heading in the wrong direction; we simply have not yet reached the final destination — an egalitarian and open sexual climate for all members of our community. 

Holly Geffs and Clara de Pretis

The writers are sophomores in Silliman and Calhoun Colleges.