Three months after a town hall on sexual-misconduct statistics at the Yale School of Management, SOM students say the school has not moved from conversation toward specific policies, while administrators maintain that change takes time.
In January, following the release of the Association of American Universities’ aggregate survey data on sexual climate at Yale, SOM Dean Edward Snyder held a town hall where he presented SOM-specific statistics to the student body. In early February, Snyder sent an email to the community, laying out provisional ideas for tackling the issue. He suggested four steps moving ahead: changes to the orientation program, constituting a group to conduct a case study on the SOM environment, committing to the design of an annual or bi-annual survey or assessment and inviting student representatives to conversations with the Dean’s office.
Months later, students are still highlighting what they said was a skeptical tone in Snyder’s presentation of the AAU data. But administrators say it is important to approach the information with an awareness of its limitations.
“Yale SOM students who responded to the survey experience high rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault during their times at Yale,” Snyder said in his February email. “Putting aside many questions about these data, we recognize that the indicated behaviors are completely at odds with our values.”
None of the graduate and professional schools have published their school-specific numbers beyond their respective communities.
The student said there have not been any concrete actions beyond the initial deliberations. In particular, the student said, when Snyder presented the SOM-specific data at the January town hall, he raised questions about the reliability of the data, which led some students to think that the administration harbored doubt about the survey results. This apparent doubt, the student said, undermines the administration’s credibility in tackling the issues that the numbers highlighted.
“I don’t understand why the administration thought [the results] were unclear,” the student said. “It’s not every day that we get such a comprehensive survey.”
Snyder said his motivation for raising questions about the data was to be “factual,” to know what is behind the numbers and to point out the gaps left by the AAU results. For example, Snyder said, the AAU survey lacks information about where sexual misconduct takes place or the relationship between perpetrators and victims. He added that the gaps in the AAU results are what motivated the SOM’s plan to conduct its own, more comprehensive survey.
Alex Savtchenko SOM ’16 agreed that the AAU survey results lack specifics, and he said it was reasonable that Snyder raised questions about the data. For example, when presenting the data, Snyder pointed out that the results do not indicate if harassment comes primarily from one repeat perpetrator or from a group of people, Savtchenko said.
Still, Savtchenko acknowledged that Snyder’s remarks may have sounded dismissive to some people at the town hall, and he said he wished Snyder had taken “a harder line.” Even without complete information, the administration can still take many steps to address sexual misconduct, he said.
“The most important thing is that [sexual misconduct] is happening — not who or how or when,” Savtchenko said.
SOM Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and Student Life Sherilyn Scully said Yale’s graduate and other professional schools are considering conducting a joint survey on campus sexual misconduct next spring. The SOM is “quite interested” in participating, Scully said.
Five SOM students interviewed praised the administration’s efforts to address the issue but said more could be done.
“There are promises made but very little follow-up,” the anonymous student said. “Understandably, the school wants to take it slow so as not to overalarm, but [the slowness] feels like a blow to students’ appeal for credibility.”
Scully said the school has also planned to add a bystander-intervention training program to its orientation for new students. This interactive orientation session will present sexual-harassment scenarios specific to the SOM, Scully said.
Yale College’s Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd said her office shared the Communication and Consent Educators’ bystander intervention materials with SOM and had a good conversation about the workshop design. They also discussed ways the programming might be adapted for a professional-school audience, she said.
Indeed, the sexual climate at SOM may differ sharply from that at Yale College. SOM students are older and usually have more work experience.
According to the anonymous student, a sizable portion of SOM students has worked in environments with less sexual equity than the SOM, and so they might perceive the school as a paradise of gender equity. This might lead to the perception that “nothing could go wrong at SOM” and the expectation that one should not be “pushing too many envelopes,” the student said.
The student added that the smallness and tightness of the SOM community also makes it harder for victims to confront perpetrators or report sexual misconduct.
Savtchenko said some students at the SOM have had experiences working in male-dominated environments, which makes them used to a masculine culture. Therefore, Savtchenko said the school needs to communicate with students to explain what the appropriate sexual climate should be at SOM.
Snyder said because SOM has the highest proportion of international students among all of Yale’s academic units, it needs to ensure that students, especially internationals who might not be familiar with U.S. laws, know what the rules governing sexual misconduct are at Yale and within the school.
Three SOM students who attended the January town hall said the AAU results suggested that faculty-to-student harassment is a prevalent type of sexual harassment at the SOM.
Savtchenko said the faculty-to-student harassment does not refer solely to inappropriate physical contact. Because the AAU question was framed as “have you been made uncomfortable” by the faculty, students who answered yes might have been thinking of noninclusive language or gender stereotypes in classrooms as a form of harassment.
Savchenko added that faculty have been responsive in talking about the issue, and students have worked with the faculty to make plans to revise examples of case studies that might be gender-biased and to pay attention to use of gender-inclusive language in classrooms.
Snyder said the process of bringing changes will not be a swift one.
“The expectation of a quick set of final steps that will solve the issue [of sexual misconduct] is not realistic,” Snyder said, adding that although he understands victims of sexual misconduct may feel a sense of urgency, no one should expect the dean’s office to come up with a list of concrete, top-down steps and swing into implementation. “That’s not how a community solves problems, especially difficult problems.”