An unfair critique

In a recent column (“SIBARIUM: Communication and conceit,” September 15, 2017), Aaron Sibarium ’18 argues that the CCE program fails to marshal evidence to support our work. In making this argument, he misrepresents both the CCE workshop and the research that it is based on.

The biggest and most harmful misrepresentation is to claim that the CCEs say “that the central reason so many Yalies suffer sexual assault is that their assailants just weren’t paying attention.” This is the polar opposite of what the Myth of Miscommunication workshops says. Rather, we present the research on communication, which tells us that “attention” has nothing to do with it; people are always aware of the signals of agreement and refusal. Combined with research on alcohol myopia, which tells us that intoxication does not stop people from processing cues or information, we come to the conclusion that even intoxicated people can see and comprehend the signs of unwillingness.

The sentences that Sibarium selected are all clarifications of the broader point that alcohol may interfere with prioritization but does not create new desires or aggression. Sexual assault happens because perpetrators disrespect and disregard others’ wishes, and arguing (against scientific evidence) that alcohol is transformative allows them to use alcohol as an excuse. Dispelling the myth that alcohol is responsible holds them accountable for their actions, a distinction which Sibarium seems unable to see.

Sibarium also tries to argue that the evidence presented on our website (admittedly in need of updates) is insufficient to evaluate the efficacy of existing prevention programs. He narrows in on Moira Carmody’s article, “Ethical Erotics.” On pages 2 to 4 of that article, you will find an entire section called “Educating about danger,” which essentially is a literature review of every article that has studied sexual assault prevention programs. To be sure, it is not an enormous literature — sexual assault on college campuses has not been in the purview of study for sociologists for very long, and research takes time —but there are citations for the clear evidence, based on examination of these programs and rates of assault at those universities, that such programs do not work. The choice sentence that Sibarium lifted does not come from this part of the article, but if he had read the article beyond a cursory command-F search, he would have seen this body of evidence; it’s right below the introduction.

Incidentally, the 2015 study he favorably cites was authored by Charlene Senn, a researcher whose work we have studied extensively in the creation of our workshops. Although her workshop is different from ours — for one thing, it would take 12 to 16 hours, time which is not available during first year orientation —we are and for years have been in conversation with her about our work.

Nor does the CCE program “spend a lot of time planning social events.” CCEs work within their communities to make existing social events more comfortable for participants (which can involve strategies like providing non-alcoholic options or making sure there’s enough room to dance without getting pushed) because the research tells us that people who feel empowered in their communities are safer, happier, and better able to stand up for themselves or their friends should they need to.

In our world of “fake news,” maybe Sibarium thought no one would pay attention to the fact that he is essentially misrepresenting every single piece of evidence he cites in his article. In doing so, he insults the intelligence of the Yale community and reveals his own lack of journalistic ethics. We should demand better of our campus columnists.

Sarah DiMagno ’18
Project Coordinator for the Communication and Consent Educators