Every year during Camp Yale, a new class of freshmen is introduced to the sexual landscape of Yale through a series of sex education workshops. Among these is the CCE’s Myth of Miscommunication workshop on affirmative consent and reading social cues in sexual situations. Of course, what students seem to retain best from this exercise is the famous froyo analogy, a frequent punchline at Yale. However, in light of the recent release of the Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate Survey results, institutions such as the CCE program that are intended to combat sexual violence have taken on a new sense of urgency.
The main interaction between undergraduates and CCEs occurs through two mandatory workshops: the Myth of Miscommunication workshop for freshmen, and Bystander Intervention, for sophomores. Through these workshops and other initiatives, the CCE program aims to “intervene” in “troubling [sexual] dynamics” and to “raise the bar above consent.”
Yale does, indeed, need an intervention. The one that currently exists, however, is in itself quite troubling.
The “Myth of Miscommunication,” in focusing on the importance of affirmative consent, provides no background information on what hookup culture at Yale actually looks like. Students who come from cultural backgrounds that have not exposed them to the liberal sexual mores predominant at Yale are given no practical knowledge of how to navigate hookup culture when they encounter it. They are taught only how to recognize when someone is consenting to sex.
This model is premised on American-centric assumptions that fail to accommodate an ideologically and culturally diverse freshmen class. It thus presumes a certain baseline of prior knowledge about sex that many students do not in fact meet. Without a full understanding of how sex at Yale really operates, students cannot be expected to safely and happily engage in a positive sexual climate, nor are they sufficiently prepared to make their own decisions about hookup culture and casual sex. The CCE program’s attempt to respect a wide range of sexual choices de facto normalizes and implicitly encourages behaviors that simply are not right for all students. It therefore falls short of the all-inclusive education it purports to offer.
Even more troubling is the fact that the only other mandatory workshop is a Bystander Intervention training. I recently participated in the workshop and was disturbed by the way it entirely dismissed the role of alcohol in unwanted sexual encounters. The CCEs repeatedly and explicitly stated that alcohol does not conflict with perceiving consent because it does not remove or create desires, but merely lowers inhibitions. This response fails to acknowledge that there are troubling sexual situations where consent is not the problem. Even if a student “desires” their partner, they may not have wanted to have sex for personal reasons — they may, for instance, not want to complicate a friendship. Just because alcohol does not necessarily prevent affirmative consent from being given does not mean that we should delude ourselves about the role it often plays in unwanted or regrettable sexual encounters. The CCEs are right that affirmative consent is a necessary condition for a positive sexual climate, but it is not a sufficient one. As far as I can see, they have not “raised the bar” very high.
This year, the Bystander Intervention workshop took place in the wake of the publication of the AAU survey results. And yet, there was no option at all for sexual assault survivors to opt out of the training. A close friend of mine, a rape survivor, was forced to out herself to a CCE, who thankfully was understanding and helped her anonymously withdraw from the program. But if one in four women have been assaulted at Yale, it is deeply insensitive to demand that they undergo the exact same training as their peers who have not experienced sexual assault. At the very least, an alternative program should have been offered that catered to their needs. Yale does not seem to have taken the AAU statistics very seriously if it makes a monolithic demand for vigilante justice from the entire community, survivors and non-survivors alike.
The CCE program’s myopic reification of the sexual status quo at Yale, its failure to account for the diverse backgrounds of students and its lack of consideration for the needs of survivors sends a clear message: take care of yourselves, because Yale can’t take care of you.
This should not be the lesson students are left with. We can and must do more. We must actually raise the bar above consent, and stop fooling ourselves into thinking that the current conversation is enough. It’s not.
Sherry Lee is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .