Several dozen undergraduates, united in their mission to reduce sexual assault at Yale, spent over three hours this weekend in an auditorium on Hillhouse Avenue for the first official semesterly sexual-assault prevention workshops.
Piloted in spring 2016 by Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90, the two three-hour workshops aim to change the culture surrounding on-campus sexual assault through collaborative activities rather than via lectures.
This weekend’s workshops, which took place on Saturday and Sunday, were organized by Boyd in conjunction with University-Wide Committee on Sexual Assault Chair David Post and the University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler, who both joined in workshop discussions. The sessions, which were open to the entire Yale undergraduate community, sought to include new undergraduate voices in the dialogue around sexual-assault prevention.
“Our goal was to help people better understand the dynamics of the problems, with an emphasis on identifying opportunities and strategies for actively building inclusive, respectful communities,” Boyd said.
The biannual workshops, which were announced on Sept. 22, add to a number of other sexual-assault prevention efforts on campus including Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale and the federal It’s On Us campaign, which relies on Yale extracurricular organizations to drive the conversation on this issue within their own groups. In addition to posting a single status on its Facebook page, the Yale Communication and Consent Educators invited students whom they knew were particularly interested in preventing sexual assault. While event organizers said this strategy may have led to lower workshop attendance, the more intimate setting allowed for the workshops to progress more delicately.
“I have always been very skeptical of group initiatives and their ability to be genuine and impactful,” Anna McNeil ’20 said. “But the workshops made me realize that they can be more emotionally rousing in addition to being more practical.”
Boyd and her team aimed to give students the necessary tools and strategies for combatting sexual assault and creating a more positive sexual culture in their own communities.
This initiative is the first of its kind to tackle sexual assault without an affiliation to a student group or organization. Communication and Consent Educators currently lead mandatory workshops on sexual-assault prevention for sophomores and freshmen, as well as provide support to individuals affected by sexual assault.
Many of the 25 undergraduates at the workshop Saturday said they found the workshops informative and hoped they would be able to use the prevention skills they learned.
Student Affairs Fellow Chamonix Adams Porter ’15 said that if the Office of Gender and Campus Culture is to change the broader campus, positive change must first occur within smaller student communities through personal discussions initiated by undergraduate leaders.
Several students at the workshop held an optimistic view of Yale’s sexual culture, but said problems persist.
“This is a societal problem, and colleges are microcosm of society, so the same problems exist,” Reanna Wauer ’20 said. Wauer added that the workshops’ goal was certainly not to encourage sexual repression, but rather to promote expression.
As an example of a positive social climate, Matt Norris ’20 cited his a capella group initiations and group events, which he called “ideal experiences.”
Still, Norris acknowledged that not all areas on campus have such positive atmospheres, but that students can choose which environments they engage with.
“Self placement is key,” Norris said.
Porter said no specific event led to the workshops’ creation, though she noted that the workshops did have a specific Yale focus — it explored sexualized group initiation rituals and the influence of Toad’s Place on undergraduates.
The undergraduate training workshops will begin again at the start of next semester.