During the tumultuous few weeks before Thanksgiving break, as many students came forward with personal stories of unequal treatment and racism on campus, student activists called for Yale to establish clear procedures for reporting and addressing complaints of racial discrimination. In response, University President Peter Salovey has promised that current, little-known formal procedures for addressing discrimination grievances will be re-examined and updated to promote a more equal and inclusive campus environment.
The most basic step, administrators say, is to broadcast the procedures’ existence in the first place.
“The work of creating robust and clear mechanisms for reporting, tracking and addressing actions that may violate the University’s clear nondiscrimination policies will be rolled out in two phases,” Salovey wrote in a Nov. 17 email to the Yale community. “In the first, which will take place immediately, we will work with students to communicate more clearly the available pathways and resources for reporting and/or resolution. Then, in the spring, we will review and adopt, with input from students, measures to strengthen mechanisms that address discrimination.”
The call for more clearly delineated procedures in instances of alleged misconduct is not exclusive to issues of race: many students have also expressed dissatisfaction with, or confusion about, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct or the Executive Committee, which hears violations of the Yale College Undergraduate Regulations. But while most students interviewed expressed at least basic familiarity with the UWC and ExComm, 14 out of 15 students had never heard of existing University procedures that have the power to address complaints of racial discrimination. Nor were they aware that, in cases of student violations of the College’s nondiscrimination policies, ExComm can also take disciplinary action.
Currently, Yale students can pursue three formal procedures to address issues of discrimination on campus: the Dean’s Procedure for Student Complaints, the Provost’s Procedure for Student Complaints and the President’s Procedure for Addressing Students’ Complaints of Racial or Ethnic Harassment. The Dean’s Procedure is available to any student with a complaint against a faculty member or administrator of his or her school. Undergraduates can also file a complaint against a teaching fellow or freshman counselor through this process. The Provost’s Procedure, on the other hand, is generally used to take action against a faculty member or administrator not affiliated with the complainant’s school — in the case of a Yale undergraduate, one of Yale’s 13 graduate and professional schools. Both the Dean’s and Provost’s Procedures govern cases of general grievances that include, but are not limited to, violations of the University’s nondiscrimination policies. The President’s Procedure is the only one that exclusively hears complaints of harassment based on racial or ethnic origin, and students may utilize it for a complaint against any member of the Yale community, including a fellow student. According to the website of the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs, which assists in the University’s various grievance procedures and ensures compliance with University policies and state and federal laws regarding equal opportunity, students may only use the President’s Procedure if have not gone through any other grievance processes.
In each of these procedures, the student must submit a written complaint. A committee then reviews the facts of the case and writes a report summarizing its findings. The report is then submitted to the relevant administrator, who has the power to accept, modify or reject the committee’s recommendations.
University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, who is leading the process of reviewing these procedures, said the President’s Procedure has seldom been utilized in the past, although the Dean’s and Provost’s Procedures have heard a few cases each year. She said the administration’s first goal is to clarify these existing procedures and make sure that students know where to find the appropriate resources in cases of discrimination.
“I believe that the simple answer … as to why students are unfamiliar or unaware of Yale’s existing procedures is ‘branding’ and location,” Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard wrote in an email to the News. “Most students typically don’t spend a great deal of time perusing the Yale College or Human Resources websites to find policies and procedure that apply to them — so part of the issue is visibility, and part of the issue is awareness.”
Goff-Crews added that the process of reviewing, examining and changing existing procedures for discrimination will mostly take place in the spring semester. Calling the review “timely,” she said the administration had not considered examining and revising the existing procedures before student activists’ call for administrative changes.
At this point, she said, it is too early to know the format of the review or possible changes that could be made. She said one potential solution would be to create a online portal for students that summarizes all the available resources. Her office introduced the “Student Wellness at Yale” website at the beginning of this semester to help students better navigate the existing tools that promote student wellness and mental health on campus, and a similar website could be organized for reporting and addressing discrimination, Goff-Crews said.
She emphasized the importance of including student input, adding that any changes should reflect and respond to student demands.
Of 15 students interviewed, only Jun Yan Chua ’18 said he had heard of one of the three procedures for bringing charges of discrimination: the Dean’s Procedure.
Though students interviewed are generally not aware of the existing formal procedures, many said they would seek support and advice from their freshman counselors, residential college deans and masters and cultural center directors if they experienced any form of discrimination on campus. In fact, the first part of the guidelines for all three formal procedures encourages the complainant to seek informal resolution before pursuing the formal process, which could mean conversing directly with the individual whose actions have been found objectionable, informing a member on the President’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Harassment or seeking assistance from any of Yale’s administrators and faculty members.
“In many instances where I have experienced discomfort and racism on campus, I have reached out to the dean of my cultural center,” said Native American Cultural Center Peer Liaison Mitchell Rose Bear Don’t Walk ’16. “For the students of color, we reach out to our masters and deans — if we feel comfortable sharing that information with them — but for the most part we seek solace and help from each other.”
A freshman counselor who asked to remain anonymous because of his employment as a representative of Yale College said he would direct his freshmen to their residential college master or dean if they came to him having experienced discrimination. As a freshman counselor, he said, he has not heard of the formal procedures for adjudicating complaints of racial discrimination, though he is well-versed in the available resources for cases of sexual misconduct. Freshman counselors and peer liaisons are required to report any incident of sexual misconduct to University authorities, but there is no similar stipulation regarding discrimination.
In light of students’ general unfamiliarity with the three existing procedures, Howard emphasized the importance of making the processes as straightforward and convenient as possible.
“I would hope that any review of our process would consider how we might better highlight the existence of these systems and unpack the range of complaints that may be heard by these Dean’s advisory committees,” Howard said. “One huge step we might consider is how we might leverage existing technologies used by universities around the country to make reporting easier electronically, allowing students to include media [such as photos and videos] as part of the complaint, as opposed to the formal written procedures currently outlined.”