After Yale and the Association of American Universities released alarming numbers on campus sexual misconduct five weeks ago, students and admissions officers alike are examining how the new data will affect the University’s ivory reputation, if at all.
According to the AAU survey, which polled students at 27 universities across the country, students at Yale are more likely than most to experience sexual assault: 28.1 percent of female undergraduate respondents reported experiencing “nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation” during their time on campus — a figure 5 percent higher than the AAU aggregate number. In the midst of an active recruitment and admissions season, Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions has acknowledged the impact of the survey and made efforts to explain the University’s plans moving forward, hoping to reassure potential applicants alarmed by the high numbers.
While several prospective students interviewed expressed concern and dismay at the survey results, all concluded that they would not be any less likely to apply to Yale.
On Sept. 21, the day the survey results were released, the Admissions Office issued clear instructions to its student tour guides to ensure that inquiries made by prospective students and their families during student-led campus tours are addressed in an appropriate manner.
“To be clear: your goal should not be to explain away the data, or to use canned talking points. I will not be providing any here,” Director of Outreach and Recruitment Mark Dunn ’07 wrote to campus tour guides in an email, which he also provided to the News. “When you receive questions about the results of the survey, you are right to acknowledge … that the results of the survey are distressing.”
Highlighting the sensitivity of the issue, Dunn also wrote that tour guides are prohibited from speaking with the press as representatives of the University and should not feel obliged to offer their personal opinions during tours. Instead, Dunn stressed that tour guides should focus on what Yale has done and will do to address sexual misconduct.
According to Dunn’s email, tour guides should tell visitors that the University will continue to gather data from the community, invite community members to voice their concerns and invite a national expert to evaluate the University’s existing prevention and education programs. Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith told the News in September that this individual may come from within Yale’s body of public health experts or from outside the University.
In an interview with the News, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan echoed the points that Dunn had made in his email to tour guides. Quinlan said the Admissions Office was very clear with its student tour guides that they should not try to minimize the concerns raised by the survey or find a silver lining in the results. Instead, he said, they should assure the public that Yale strives to be a leader in the conversation about sexual misconduct on college campuses.
Students interviewed expressed concern over Yale’s institutional image as a whole, but held differing views of the survey’s potential impact on undergraduate admissions.
Amalia Halikias ’15 said while she believes there are flaws in the survey’s broad definition of sexual misconduct that may make the overall numbers misleading, the statistics on forced sexual assault alone are still far too high to be ethically acceptable.
“If a parent believes these numbers, it is morally abhorrent that he or she would send a child to the school,” she said. “If a private university believes these numbers … it has a moral responsibility to shut down until it can guarantee a lower level of violence will occur on its campus.” She added that any response short of this would demonstrate that the University does not believe the study’s findings or that it does not take sexual assault seriously.
Sandy Wongwaiwate ’17 agreed that the problem of sexual assault needs to be addressed and said the survey showed that being an Ivy League institution “doesn’t mean everything is perfect.” Regardless of the results, though, Wongwaiwate said she does not predict a change in admissions, as these problems are not exclusive to Yale. Of the 27 schools that participated in the AAU survey, the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California reported higher rates of assault on undergraduate women than Yale. Still, Yale had the highest numbers in the Ivy League.
Several prospective Yale students said the results of the survey were shocking and shattered the image of a utopian Ivy League school. Still, of five prospective students interviewed, none said the survey would influence their college decisions.
High school senior Sherry Feng of Fairfax, Virginia said she was appalled that such high rates could happen at a place like Yale. She added that she thought people at Yale would have a stronger moral compass. However, Feng said there are benefits of the survey as well, as open discussion of the problem reduces the stigma on victims of sexual assault.
“I think it’s kind of healthy to fully understand the concerns of sexual assault on college campuses,” she said. “I understand that with [on-campus resources], the concerns are slowly being ameliorated, because by talking about it, it almost makes [the campus] safer … In a twisted way, it’s a benefit because more awareness is brought to the issue.”
High school senior Couty Fall of Potomac, Maryland said her biggest concern is not simply with the numbers but also with how the University will respond to them. She said that while Yale’s academic prestige is unmarred by the survey results, if the University does not take concrete actions, there will be concern in the eyes of the public. She added that in the instance of former Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, who carried her mattress to graduation in protest of what she saw as an inadequate response from the administration to her alleged rape, “the lack of the response from the university is what I heard.”
There were 30,237 applicants to the class of 2019.