As temperatures rose to the mid-60s and students flocked outside to enjoy the sun, hundreds congregated in front of Sterling Memorial Library to show their support for survivors of sexual violence on campus.
Two student groups, Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale and the Yale Black Women’s Coalition organized the “chalk-in” with funding help from the Yale Women’s Center. Approximately 450 students attended the event over the course of four hours, etching hundreds of colorful messages on the steps of Cross Campus, such as “We are not victims, we are survivors” and “We stand with you.” The event was intended to open a dialogue about the current sexual climate at Yale, rather than focus on recent campus events surrounding the Yale men’s basketball team, according to USAY co-director Helen Price ’18. After weeks of rumors and allegations surrounding former basketball captain Jack Montague, the News confirmed on Wednesday that he was expelled for sexual misconduct. But Price emphasized that Wednesday’s chalk-in was not specifically in response to Montague’s expulsion, but instead to the sexual climate on campus.
“This is something that people have been dissatisfied with for a long time,” Price said. “Rape culture didn’t just suddenly emerge in the last month, and people have been negatively affected by Yale’s sexual climate for a long time. Hopefully, this is going to provide a framework for really addressing that and talking about it. Hopefully it will encourage organizations to enact tangible changes.”
On Feb. 26, the Yale men’s basketball team took the courts for a nationally televised game against Harvard wearing T-shirts bearing former captain Montague’s number and nickname on the back, and “Yale” written backwards and inverted on the front. In response, posters went up on campus accusing the team of “supporting a rapist.”
Instead of focusing on this incident, however, USAY and other groups are attempting to shift the dialogue away from the men’s basketball team and onto Yale’s overall sexual climate.
“[The chalk-in was] sponsored by United Against Sexual Assault at Yale, but it was really an effort of women … who felt really strongly about recent events on campus and wanted to provide a space where survivors could be empowered,” said Celeste Dushime ’18, a co-coordinator of USAY’s campus ambassadors program. “It was a couple of people who came together … and wanted to do something for survivors to feel as if they have a space on campus.”
Students who participated in the chalk-in said they saw the event as a meaningful way of showing support for those affected by sexual violence. A number of administrators were also present at the event, including Calhoun College Dean April Ruiz ’05 and the Morse College Dean Joel Silverman. Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar, who called the chalk-in “wonderful,” said she attended in order to support students and be present for them.
Price said members of the men’s basketball team reached out to the chalk-in’s organizers to discuss their attending the event, so she and president of the Yale Black Women’s Coalition Dara Huggins ’17 agreed to meet with the team’s seniors to discuss the events of the past month.
However, Price said the team canceled at the last minute for unknown reason.
“It was disappointing and hopefully we’ll be able to speak to them in the future and they’ll be open to those discussions, but in light of the [fact] that we didn’t get to discuss it with them, we felt it really wouldn’t be appropriate for them to turn up, especially since there hasn’t been any kind of public statement,” Price told the News Wednesday afternoon, hours before the team released a statement at 5 p.m. The statement contained an apology for any inadvertent hurt the team’s public support for Montague caused.
While most of the chalked messages focused on providing words of support and care for survivors of sexual violence, some spoke more directly on the recent controversies surrounding the men’s basketball team.
One message, for example, stated that “Women >> basketball.” Other messages targeted the broader community of male athletes, with statements such as “The only team I’m cheering for are survivors @ Yale — dismantle men’s athletic privilege” and “Imagine if Yale men cared as much about ending rape culture as they care about sports. Be an ally.”
“For a male athlete, it can be alienating,” said a male varsity athlete who did not wish to disclose his name or team due to the sensitivity of the circumstances. “It feels divisive rather than constructive — people trying to unite against another group.”
Other athletes interviewed expressed similar views and said messages against the male athletic community served to further divide students on campus.
Price said Wednesday night that she had privately spoken to people who had posted similar sentiments online, noting that most were receptive to discussing the matter.
“This time is a learning experience for everyone on campus and I hope everyone will be open to that kind of reflection,” Price said.
USAY was founded in October 2015 as a student advocacy group that combats sexual misconduct on campus.
Ayla Besemer contributed reporting.