Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of discussion about mental health and sexual assault at Yale. Some have praised Yale’s response to each issue, while others have been more critical. No doubt, both responses are warranted. However, all this dialogue got me wondering: What was the response to mental health and sexual assault like five, 10, 15 years ago? To find out, I went digging through the News’ online archives for articles written on each subject. What I found stunned me: Over the past 15 years, Yale has seen nothing short of an administrative and culture revolution.
Let’s start with mental health. Mental health stigma has decreased on this campus to an astonishing degree, while open discourse and discussion have increased. In 2002–04, there were only a scattered dozen or so articles on mental health services, culture and resources. In 2013 alone, I found 20 articles on the subject (and even more in 2014). This increase in discussion through very public forums represents a total paradigm shift from just 10 years ago, when mental health seemed to be a relatively obscure, niche issue. In addition to these articles, countless people have raised questions about the care that Yale provides, and many have demanded changes. It is amazing to see people so openly advocating for an increased focus on mental health, considering that this movement barely existed a few years ago.
I can even attest to this shift in just the last 3 years, during my time at Yale. At the very first meeting of Mind Matters, a mental health awareness and advocacy group at Yale, members discussed both their own and their families’ personal experiences with mental illness. I could not have imagined such a frank dialogue taking place my freshman year. Sharing personal anecdotes about mental illness in a group setting would have been seen as incredibly bold. But today, it isn’t so. People felt very comfortable sharing these stories unprompted, and not an eyebrow in the room was raised. Even the YSO show this year addressed Yale’s culture of stress. To anyone involved in mental health on campus, the shift is nothing short of miraculous.
Similar to mental health, we (especially the administration) have made leaps and bounds with regard to sexual climate and our collective response to sexual assault. To begin with, discussion of sexuality and sexual assault has gone from a taboo to a cultural imperative. Student groups like The Sexual Literary Forum and the Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale are obvious examples of how common it is to discuss sexuality and sexual health at Yale. And anyone who has attended a Sex Week event in the past would snort at the idea that sex is taboo.
In addition to this cultural shift, we must give credit where credit is due and acknowledge the massive institutional changes reforms that Yale has implemented. We’ve seen an explosion of University resources, such as the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center, Communication and Consent Educators, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, the Office of LGBTQ Resources and more. Every Yale undergraduate attends at minimum three sexuality workshops by their third full semester. Again, to a student even 15 years ago, this wealth of resources would have seemed unimaginable.
But perhaps even more, it is incredible to see how far we’ve come in terms of reporting sexual assaults. In 2004, the University reported a single case of sexual assault. One. Today, things couldn’t be more different: We have the rigorous, 6,000-student AAU climate survey, which shows that there has been a massive increase in the number of students taking advantage of the University’s resources for reporting and responding to sexual misconduct. But 10 years ago, op-eds published in the News were simply trying to convince people that sexual assault was actually a prevalent and important issue on campus.
There is, of course, room for improvement. Many students still do not prioritize their own mental health. Stigma is still a significant barrier to treatment. And waiting times at Mental Health & Counseling are still quite long for many students. There are still an inexcusable number of sexual assaults every year, and both students and administrators have a way to go before the crisis is solved. Nevertheless, I think it is incredibly important to recognize the progress that has already been made.
We need to take a step back and think about how many incredible and positive changes there have been, both on our campus and across the country. My hope is that by building off these changes and examining how they came about, we can utilize our newfound openness and zeal to create a University that is safer and healthier for everyone.
Eli Feldman is a senior in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .