With the recent controversy surrounding the Yale Men’s Basketball team, I have been thinking more about the problem of campus sexual assault and the sexual climate at Yale. I am not writing to comment on the actions of any members of the basketball team or the Yale administration. Rather, I want to suggest a practical way that Yale can reduce the number of sexual assaults on campus.
Much of our discourse about sexual assault revolves around the claim that we need to teach men not to rape women. Indeed, some men at Yale may feel entitled to women’s bodies and harbor backwards attitudes about a women’s right to say no. However, I imagine that it would be difficult to find a man on this campus who actually believes that rape is okay. Sexual assault occurs when men stop caring that rape is bad.
According to data collected by Yale, almost 20 percent of freshmen and 24 percent of seniors report drinking enough “to forget where they were or what they did within the last month.” With nearly 5500 undergraduates, that means that over 1000 undergrads black out in a given month. Many at Yale know of incidents where people have gotten blackout drunk, resulting in the destruction of property, fighting and other undesirable activities. And most accept without question that alcohol played a role in bringing these events about.
So why don’t we believe the same thing about sexual assault? Beyond anecdotal evidence, one study found that 25.6 percent of college-aged men who became sexually aggressive during a date report “heavy drinking” during the date. Another study found that 74 percent of rape perpetrators admit to drinking alcohol prior to the incident.
We should stop ignoring the role of male binge drinking in sexual assault. Rather than just lecturing men about why rape is wrong, we should also strive to create a culture that discourages men from getting blackout drunk.
Currently, Yale offers an online alcohol education course called “Think about it” to show students the potential consequences of drinking. While this program is a good start, two modifications could increase its efficacy in preventing alcohol-related cases of rape: The course should spend (much) more time on empirical studies that link heavy drinking to higher rates of sexual assault; it could also discuss cases in which alcohol appeared to play a role in sexual assault. In addition, the program should be done in-person, in a fashion similar to the “Myth of Miscommunication” and “Bystander Intervention ”training we received as freshmen and sophomores.
Currently, “Think about it” only includes two videos, each about one-minute in length, discussing the possible consequences of blacking out. To my knowledge, none of the videos explicitly mention sexual assault. This is a heavy topic to bring up during the first few weeks of freshman year, but one look at Yale’s most recent Title IX sexual assault report illustrates the enormity of this problem on campus — and the need for drastic measures to combat it. If scaring some freshmen is the price we pay for significantly reducing the number of sexual assaults on campus, I think it would be well worth it.
Specifically, we need to stress to male students that, even if they know rape is bad, alcohol can lower inhibitions to the point that they no longer care. They should also be informed about the legal, academic and social consequences of being accused of sexual assault, even in cases where the university cannot find sufficient evidence to prove misconduct occurred. Ideally, students will make a conscious effort to stay well below the threshold for complete loss of inhibition and/or memory while drinking, and less alcohol-related rapes will occur — even if self-interest is their only motivation.
All freshmen must complete the “Think about it” program before arriving on Yale’s campus. Unfortunately, since incoming freshmen presumably watch these videos alone before being introduced to Yale’s drinking culture, it is easy to treat them as a simple formality. Students may not take the videos seriously or fully understand the Yale-specific situations presented. This is especially true for those who have never tried alcohol before coming to Yale. It would be better for students to arrive on campus and hear about cases about blacking out or binge drinking that resulted in embarrassment, regret and most importantly sexual assault.
Other factors of course play a role in sexual assault, and these need to be addressed. But in the meantime, there’s no good reason not to take this one step to reduce the incidence of sexual assault.
Austin Muñoz is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .