In the wake of campus sexual climate survey results released by the Association of American Universities last month, several Directors of Undergraduate Studies are considering the non-academic roles they can play to support students confronted with the alarming figures.
Last Tuesday, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd and University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler deconstructed the survey findings during a routine DUS meeting, as part of a series of discussions they held with various campus groups about the results. Attending DUSs were given an explanation of how the survey was conducted and what the numbers represent. DUSs were also reminded of their role as mandatory reporters, as Title IX regulation requires “responsible employees” to report any incidents of sexual misconduct they hear about to Yale’s Title IX coordinator. Although most DUSs interviewed told the News that their primary role on campus is to support students academically, they also acknowledged the effect the sexual climate has on students’ overall well-being and said they hope to offer an additional layer of support for undergraduates navigating issues in their personal lives.
“DUSs were contacted because they are sometimes undergraduates’ first point of contact,” Holloway said. “Students come in to talk about their classes and majors, but there might also be something else going on.”
According to William Rankin, DUS for History of Science, Medicine and Public Health, around 30 to 40 of the over 120 DUSs attended the discussion. Immediately afterwards, Rankin sent out an email to the 65 declared majors in his department to discuss the survey results, inviting students to see him as a source of support.
“The results are really upsetting — infuriating, even,” Rankin told the News. “To think that all the effort that we as faculty put into teaching and mentoring might be overshadowed for many students by this kind of violence — it’s terrifying. And it makes me want to let students know that the faculty care about this and that we want the norms and expectations on campus to change, and that we want to be part of the conversation and part of the solution.”
While Rankin acknowledged that most faculty members are removed from student life outside of academics, he said that initiating conversations with students and sharing faculty responses to the survey have been very important to him in supporting students in his department. The line between the academic and non-academic dimensions of Yale is blurry, Rankin said, and there is space for faculty to extend their impact. Communicating by email and making themselves available to concerned students are the very least that directors in any department could do, Rankin added.
HSHM students interviewed said they appreciated Rankin’s gesture, but they differed in their opinions about the extent to which directors can offer non-academic support.
Sukriti Mohan ’17 said she was very happy to receive the email from Rankin, adding that he has done a great job of making himself available. However, she said, the DUS would probably not be the first resource students reach out to for personal matters.
“I’ve never thought of the DUS as a role outside of the academic context,” she said. “Maybe I would talk to the DUS about career goals.”
Felix Cancre ’17 also said he viewed Rankin’s email in a positive light, adding that he hopes to see more directors make an effort to advise students beyond academic issues and foster a supportive culture within the major.
Rankin acknowledged that the conversation about sexual misconduct should be happening on multiple levels among administrators, students and faculty. Any role DUSs can play should not be unique, he said.
DUSs pointed out that besides acting as a general point of contact for undergraduates, they could take a more active role should they learn about a case of sexual misconduct from their students.
Julia Stephens, the DUS for South Asian Studies, said all DUSs encounter an interface of academic, personal and social issues when advising undergraduates. In cases of sexual misconduct, Stephens added, DUSs could help students navigate the “complex bureaucracy” and find the appropriate resources, thus reducing the stress involved in these processes. The calm and rational perspective that DUSs bring to students during emotionally tense moments could be a relief, she said.
DUSs are also a point of faculty continuity throughout students’ undergraduate careers, as they often interact with the same students over several years, Boyd noted.
Other faculty leaders were also spurred to reach out to their department’s undergraduates. Elizabeth Carroll, director of the Education Studies program, said one of her main takeaways from the AAU survey was that a large number of students did not report cases of sexual misconduct. She said the University must take action to decrease the number of incidents, but also create a climate where students know that there are adults they can talk to — a climate department leaders can help foster.
“Some resources are more directly related to students’ personal life, like college deans and frocos, but I want to make sure that my students know I am here to support them as well,” Carroll said. She added that she has contacted students in Education Studies as well as those in her seminar.
Faculty interviewed also said the size of the departments do not necessarily correlate with the advisory role DUSs can play. Carroll said that while it makes sense mathematically that students form more personal relationships with faculty members in small departments, faculty in all departments can easily reach out to students and show their openness as a resource.
According to the AAU survey, only 27.4 percent of women at Yale who experienced penetration by force reported their experiences to an authority.