When I chose to enroll at Yale, I had a laundry list of concerns. For the most part, my scruples were mundane: Would I make friends? Would I miss/be missed by my family? Would I like my professors?
My twin brother and I shared many apprehensive nights of conversation on these topics. He consoled me when I expressed my reservations about race and gender-based discrimination at Yale. Still, the discussions in the past year led by students confronting Yale’s legacy of racism gave me profound hope.
But another, far more insidious anxiety I considered alone: Would I be safe? Would my physical security be routinely threatened in the company of my peers? This particular worry was amplified when I read of the allegations against Thomas Pogge. I realized then that Yale’s dangers are not limited to my fellow students; some transgressors are on Yale’s payroll.
Yale, like professor Pogge, has a checkered past. As many student activists have recently pointed out, much of Yale’s present success and prestige has come as a direct result of its connections to figures like Eli Whitney, class of 1792, and John C. Calhoun, class of 1804, not in spite of them. It continues to be difficult for students, myself included, to grapple with the fact that American slavery and homegrown racism have benefitted prominent institutions like Yale. Confronting this fact — painful though it may be — has left Yale better off. We are finally having a real conversation about race.
But no such confrontation has taken place with Pogge, whose questionable behavior was first noticed by his former colleagues at Columbia University, then by his hiring committee at Yale and now by the general public. Somehow, Pogge has been pardoned. Somehow, he and I are bound by a shared affiliation: Yale.
Unlike his employer, Pogge has continued to thrive without owning up to his transgressions; his named accuser, Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ’10, will likely be identified forever by one incident in her past. In situations of alleged sexual misconduct at a university like this one, the stakes of reporting sexual assault are in a sense far higher. By simply sharing her experience, she is taking on not only Pogge, but also Yale in its entirety.
We have been taught that the danger lies in frat houses, or in drunken Saturday-night decision-making or in “drinking the punch.” But perhaps the truth is far more insidious. Sexual assault and harassment are ubiquitous, and there is no simple list of precautions we can take to avoid it. Danger may disguise itself as a world-renowned ethicist whose mentorship is the stuff of academic dreams. We can never lower our guards, even on a commercial flight hundreds of miles above ground; we can only pretend the head of our 50-something-year-old professor in our laps is not wildly inappropriate. The only thing more alarming than these actions is the prospect of our publicly naming them as such, without the courtesy of anonymity.
We at Yale are still figuring out how to reconcile our pasts and futures, institutionally and individually. Institutionally, we have begun to realize that we can acknowledge our history and reject the evil entrenched within it. But Yale has yet to prove that every individual here possesses an equal claim to a prosperous future. Through its handling of the allegations against Pogge, Yale has condoned a policy of selective remembrance — and denounced the few brave souls who dare to speak out against it.
Anna McNeil is a freshman in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .