Two weeks ago, members of the class of 2020 completed the Yale Communication and Consent Educators’ bystander intervention training. Sophomores are now prepared to intercede on behalf of those who are incapacitated to recognize signs of unhealthy relationships and to promote a more positive culture surrounding the sexual climate on campus. They acquired these skills by talking through scenarios provided by the CCEs. One such scenario went like this:
“You are taking a small seminar in what you expect will be your major. One day in class, a student picks up on another’s unfortunate choice of words and makes a rape joke. You can’t quite believe it; you’re shocked and even more so when the professor laughs. In the awkward silence that follows, the professor makes a pretty offensive segue back into the class discussion.”
In the words of the CCEs, let’s “raise the stakes” of this situation. What if the professor does not merely make a rape joke, but sexually harasses a student outside of class? Should you confront them about their behavior? Or would a more low-stakes option, like seeking institutional support by way of emailing a dean, a department head or a provost, be better?
While any of these would ostensibly help change the narrative regarding sexual assault and harassment, none of these helped Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ‘10 in her pursuit of justice against Thomas Pogge, world-renowned ethicist, current Yale professor and alleged sexual predator. A letter signed by 1013 people, including hundreds of professors, sixteen of whom are part of Yale’s philosophy department, did not help Ms. Aguilar’s case in the opinion of the University, nor did the fact that Pogge had been disciplined at Columbia University for similar reasons seem to matter at all.
My problem is not with the CCEs. They cannot control who teaches what class or who gets disciplined for what. My issue is with the Yale College Dean’s Office and with Woodbridge Hall. How can the YCDO sponsor a program that seeks to advance a positive sexual climate on campus when it is letting an accused offender teach a required course? Their complicity surrounding this issue is the height of hypocrisy and is nothing short of disgusting and infuriating. And, how can President Salovey stay silent on this issue when he, as provost, led the panel that found “substantial evidence” that Pogge had “failed to uphold the standards of ethical behavior” while he cast the sole vote denying Ms. Lopez’s initial complaint and her subsequent appeal? If an ethics professor cannot uphold standards of ethical behavior, what is he good for?
A column published in January of this year (KUMAR: “The silence on Pogge,” Jan. 20, 2017) claimed that students were also partly responsible for Pogge’s continued instruction. We “vote with our OCS worksheets,” and when we decide to take Pogge’s class, we “tacitly allow Yale to protect itself from its own transgressions.” But this isn’t exactly fair – as the News explored in September of last year (WANG & WANG: “Pogge’s first class full despite harassment allegations,” September 1, 2016), Pogge’s class or its equivalent, is required for the Ethics, Politics and Economics major.
Declared EP&E majors and prospective majors alike must choose between Professor Hélène Landemore’s Political Science 114 or Pogge’s Philosophy 178, both entitled “Introduction to Political Philosophy.” Professor Landemore’s class falls between the popular 1 to 2:15 p.m. time slot, so students may be forced to take the alternative. “I had to reconcile over the summer whether I want to jeopardize my academic career to take an ethical stand in the matter,” one student told the News last September when asked why she was taking Pogge’s class even in the wake of the allegations against him. She decided to stay in Pogge’s class, and why shouldn’t she? Isn’t it in her best interest to take the class that works for her?
Students shouldn’t have to make ethical decisions when choosing courses, so here’s a radical idea: Don’t let alleged sexual offenders teach required classes. It’s inconceivable to me that anyone would allow such a disgrace to take place to begin with, but then again, Pogge still has a job and an endowed professorship and, according to the program’s website, is still the director of the Global Justice Program.
As long as Pogge is allowed to teach a required course and as long as alleged abusers remain in positions of power, the CCEs should do away with scenarios regarding professors or attempts at altering institutional behavior – at this point, it’s morally vacuous and just plain sad. Those in charge of the YCDO, Woodbridge Hall and other sources of authority need to summon the moral courage necessary to ensure that students aren’t required to make ethical choices when choosing classes. Philosophy professor Seyla Benhabib said in an interview with the New York Times during the height of this scandal that “no institution likes a scandal, but at Yale there is a particular cultural silence … there is a culture of male discretion and ‘boys will be boys.’”
Administrators, your voice carries the loudest – use it, so we don’t have to.
Adrian Rivera is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org