Yanna Lee

At 11:30 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, I was sexually harassed by members of Yale’s student body.

Statements of this nature are by now heartbreakingly familiar on Yale’s campus, and most students know all too well how ubiquitous sexual harassment is among us. But perhaps most students would be stunned to hear that the above statement describes my experience of the Bass Strip (also referred to as the Naked Run), a long-standing and beloved Yale tradition.

In 2002, Will Sullivan wrote of the Bass Strip, “Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the event, however, is not the pure spectacle of naked students … It’s that hardly anyone gives them a second glance.” (“We like getting naked,” Dec. 11) In that article, a participant in the Bass Strip noted that Yale students were “unshockable.” These descriptions seem like a far cry from the gleefully indecent festivities that Yalies know today. Now, large throngs of people wait at the foot of the stairs in anticipation of the naked runners and late-night Bass occupants hoot, holler and catcall as clusters of nude students streak past.

My own reaction to the Bass Strip was anything but indifferent. Having received no prior warning that the nude run was set to happen that night, I was leaving the L&B Reading Room in Sterling when I was unexpectedly confronted by the sight of three completely nude men running straight toward me, screaming, “Embrace it!” Terrified and shocked, I instinctively flattened myself against the nearest wall as they approached, pelting me with pieces of hard candy. It was only after they had disappeared that I realized that they must have been taking part in the Bass Strip. Somehow, arriving at that conclusion did little to stop me from trembling for a long time afterward.

Like most beloved college rituals, the Bass Strip profits from the subversion of traditionally offensive behavior. Its desired effect of shock relies on disrupting a public space with flaunted nudity, which is considered taboo in our society. Perhaps for many at Yale, nudity is not a strong taboo, especially under the Western liberal status quo for sexuality, which might account for the observed reactions of both indifference and celebration to the Bass Strip. However, public nudity is a particularly serious taboo due to its undeniable cultural associations with sex. The event, though it might be amusing or titillating for some, inherently discriminates against others. Students from more sexually conservative cultures, survivors of sexual assault — especially those who may see their assaulter in the crowd — or those who simply don’t want to see other people’s genitals in an unsought context are all likely to be punished by the Bass Strip. The invasive nature of the event irresponsibly demands that potentially unwilling bystanders become participants in an act of a sexual nature without explicit individual consent.

It should be disturbing that the Bass Strip goes on unquestioned, semester after semester, even at a time when sexual harassment on campus is being brought forth as one of Yale’s most pressing issues — only months after the release of the AAU survey results. I am appalled that the underlying assumption of the Bass Strip seems to be that my presence — however accidental, however unintentional — qualifies as consent. Or worse: that my consent is not a factor whatsoever.

Perhaps, then, a well-publicized warning is all that’s needed to rectify the issue of the Bass Strip, to ensure that those who would wish to avoid it have ample opportunity to do so.

To believe that, however, would be to place an unfair and problematic burden on those who do not subscribe to the liberal sexual mores that permeate most of Yale. The reality on campus is that with regard to students’ comfort, many spaces operate according to a zero-sum calculus. During the Strip, for instance, Bass accommodates those who wish to publically display themselves naked, at the direct expense of those who are uncomfortable with seeing nudity. The possibility that the Bass Strip could cause an unknowing individual to be guilty of “being in Bass at the wrong time” operates along the same repugnant logic that could fault a victim of sexual harassment of being present at a party. No one should be forced to leave a space to accommodate others, especially a library which people should reasonably expect to be able to occupy undisturbed. Our campus default should not require that I leave a space because I don’t wish to have someone’s exposed genitals shoved in front of me.

But maybe I am overreacting. After all, public nudity has been, in Sullivan’s words, “an important aspect of the Yale experience for many students.” Who am I to deprive people of such a fundamentally significant experience?

Perhaps, as is the appropriate response to offensive material at Yale, I should have just looked away.

Sherry Lee is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at chia.lee@yale.edu .

  • morse2017

    Where do I even begin…

    First of all, to call the bass strip “sexual” completely misses the point of the whole thing. As the author said herself, the event is a subversion of traditionally offensive behavior, a way of disassociating the taboo tradition of nudity with sexuality. The attitude that the mere sight of a naked person is enough to warrant calling it sexual assault/harrasment is practically Victorian in its short sightedness. Are you going to accuse the Europeans of sexually harrasing you on their beaches or on their television? Frankly, associating the bass naked run with sexual assault is insulting and demeaning to victims of real sexual harrassment and assault who have suffered magnitudes more physical and emotional damage than the mere shock of seeing someone naked. While I wouldn’t necessarily condone the actions of the three men who ran toward the author nor the gleeful crowd of spectators, I would merely call it distasteful rather than outright disturbing.

    Why does the sight of bodies of naked people who aren’t engaging in any kind of sexual action, gesture, or speech, constitute sexual harrassment? Not to mention the fact that hanging around bass the last night of reading period before finals if you have an allergy to public nudity (and then complaining when you are subjected to it) is like going to a SAE party while not rich and white and then complaining about discrimination. (BOOM that’s right, I said it. ok, i get that people feel like everyone is entitled to the right to enjoy shitty frat parties — seriously, whether or not the allegation is true no one was surprised except for those of us saying, why do people even go to sae parties any more — but this is a separate issue and you do get the point of my argument. ). And please don’t say that this line of logic is the same one that leads to victim blaming of the victims of (real) sexual assault, the situations are not the same.

    While the authors’ claim that the bass naked run caters to those who are uncomfortable with nudity while ignoring the discomfort of others, her call to rethink (implicitly, the call to ban) the run simply does the opposite. I (and I suspect many others) would be extremely uncomfortable if the naked run stopped happening because people were too uncomfortable by nudity (oh, the irony)…
    At best, I think the only reasonable points that can be extracted from this article are,

    1. don’t be a douchenozzle if you participate or spectate the run
    2. it does suck that victims of _actual_ sexual assault might have to see their assaulters in the naked run. but I would say that if we could actually fix the sexual assault problem (or at least how they are handled at universities) then sexual assaulters would not be around to participate in the run. or alternatively, you should not be hanging around bass last day of reading period before finals at midnight if you think that the sight of a naked person could cause emotional trauma.

    • SvenTheBold

      “Why do people even go to sae parties any more?”

      I don’t know, maybe if you’d let us in, we could tell you.

    • SvenTheBold

      “Hanging around bass the last night of reading period before finals if
      you have an allergy to public nudity (and then complaining when you are
      subjected to it) is like going to a SAE party while not rich and white
      and then complaining about discrimination.”

      …both are really easy to do if you make a habit of forgetting how many dicks there are in this place.

  • SvenTheBold

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/battery

    Battery:
    In tort law, the intentional causation of harmful or offensive contact with another’s person without that person’s consent.

    The most confusing thing to me about the naked run is why the streakers seem to think being naked gives them the right to throw things at people. Three summers ago, I was staying in New Haven for research and almost killed one of my roommates when I accidentally chopped onions on a cutting board that had had cheese cut on it that morning. I then put the onions in the soup we were making, he had some, and was hospitalized (he has a life-threatening milk allergy). To be clear, I knew better than to cook food that had been in contact with milk; but knowing that didn’t stop me from being careless. I’ve since learned that all sorts of products which shouldn’t have milk in them often still do. I doubt the average Yale streaker knows any of this better than my roommate.

    One of the deepest and most significant rights in a civilized society is the right to bodily autonomy. Being naked doesn’t give you the right to trespass literally onto someone else’s body, and an allergy is only one of the many reasons why someone might not have the choice of just “embracing it”.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Other people doing things decent people can look down on is:
    Good, Bad, Fun, Discuss.

  • Nancy Morris

    Actually, it does not matter that Yale students ignore ungarbed sexual organs as they fly by in Bass and Sterling. This entire article is gibberish that should be tossed out with the rest of the artifacts of the “microaggression” craze and the old holiday wrappings.

    What DOES matter is that, believe it or not, there is a woman claiming to be a feminist running for President of the United States, but who for decades has actually been the principal enabler and accessory-after-the-fact of the serial rapist and sexual assaulter to whom she is technically married. By reliable accounts she was long in charge of suppressing and defaming his victims for his and her political advantage and to deny those victims the justice to which they were and are entitled. Even more amazingly, millions of people of both sexes calling themselves “progressives” are ignoring those facts and history, resulting in her actually being the front runner among those competing for the nomination of a major national political party! And she is a Yale alumna.

    THAT matters.

    Nothing in this ridiculous article matters. Ignoring a penis or vagina zooming by does not matter. Ignoring multiple rapes and uncontested sexual assaults in the face of the victims’ pleadings for justice matters. A lot. That someone up to her heck in such monstrous behavior is so close to the Presidency based on the massive hypocrisy and dishonesty of millions of phony liberals matters. And it’s disgusting.

    The author of this article should unplaster herself and her mind from that library wall and write about THAT.

  • ElaineG

    As a Yale graduate of a previous generation, and a lifelong feminist, it is horribly depressing to see today’s college women take such a censorious and shrinking violet approach to college life. Today’s young women, as exemplified by the author of this piece, appear to have relinquished all agency in favor of a stance of unmitigated victimhood. She feels “discriminated” against because she was surprised by seeing some naked people in what she freely admits is a light hearted tradition meant to be subversive of traditional attitudes towards sex. (One wonders what her foremothers – like those just a decade or two before my own time, who couldn’t even attend Yale – would make of such a definition of “discrimination.”). So what are her two answers? Obviously, because she is unable to disassociate nudity from sex (or perhaps aggression – she speculates about seeing an assaulter naked but does not claim that she actually experienced that), she decides that it would be better for all to impose her personal standards of repression and prudery on the community as whole. (Talk about check your privilege – Ms. Lee seems to have forgotten (which her Victorian counterparts in sensibility would have remembered) that the privilege of delicately offended womanhood is an extraordinarily first-world and class-based phenomenon). She “ironically” quips that it would be better just to look away, but of course doesn’t mean it for a second. No indeed, she was startled for a few seconds and now she wield all the repressive power she can to make sure everyone else keeps their clothes on at all times. One might suggest “getting a life” would be a better, third course of action, but that smacks of an ad feminem attack. Why not use some agency, Ms. Lee, instead of just arguing for top-down repression of others? Organized a protest with your sisters in victimhood. Call out the naked by name. Maybe make posters of them with scarlet “N’s” for Nakedness emblazoned on them. Have a speak out to explain just how bad seeing naked people makes you feel… Or yeah, maybe just get a life.