University President Peter Salovey on Friday morning sent an e-mail to the Yale community reaffirming the University’s commitment to preventing sexual misconduct. But to students, this was not enough.
Hours later, students began a call to action, demanding that Salovey explain why Yale has not responded to well-publicized accusations of sexual misconduct leveled against three University professors: English professor Harold Bloom, philosophy professor Thomas Pogge and Spanish professor Roberto González Echevarría. Rachel Calnek-Sugin ’19 and Robert Newhouse ’19 created a Facebook event inviting members of the Yale community to respond to Salovey’s e-mail with information regarding the allegations against the three professors. As of Friday evening, 143 students responded that they were “going” to the event, indicating that they had participated in the e-mail campaign.
“Speaking personally, I sincerely agree with the content of Salovey’s email, and I truly hope we can create a Yale that is ‘a safe, respectful, and inclusive campus where all can learn, work, and thrive,’ ” Calnek-Sugin said. “But doing that means much more than just sending a PR email with an affirmation of values. Confronting outstanding complaints — publicly, and with concrete steps — is necessary and right and would be a great way for the University to show that it’s committed to the work that it’s committed to [Salovey’s] email’s affirmation that ‘sexual harassment and misconduct are antithetical to our purpose and have no place in the Yale community.’”
As of Friday afternoon, Salovey had not yet seen the e-mails. He said he could not speak to any specific case or anything involving specific people.
But he added that “if any member of the Yale community has a complaint against any other member of the Yale community, they should take it to a Title IX coordinator.”
In recent months, the nation has seen a deluge of new allegations against prominent figures in a range of industries, from media to government. But the allegations against Bloom, Pogge and Echevarría date back to long before the floodgates opened.
“For a long time, I’ve been frustrated and disoriented to see how men in all arenas of public life have faced the consequences of their alleged misconduct, but not those at Yale,” Newhouse said. “[The email campaign] is not necessarily an accusation of Yale’s past ineptitude but rather a recognition of Yale’s renewed effort … to combat issues of sexual misconduct on our campus, and a challenge to make good on these promises by addressing the long-outstanding allegations against these three famous professors.”
Others took greater issue with Salovey’s e-mail. For Rachel Suyeon An ’19, Salovey’s remarks were “hypocritical.” An said that, while the e-mail encouraged students to report and speak out, Yale has historically silenced victims. Nurit Chinn, ’20, a member of the Title IX Student Advisory Board, said that Salovey failed to “fully grasp” the reality of widespread sexual harassment at Yale.
In a New York Magazine story in 2004, Naomi Wolf ’84 accused Bloom of “sexual encroachment.” Wolf contacted Yale about the incident in 2003 to try to “start a conversation … to ensure that unwanted sexual advances of this story weren’t still occurring,” but she has said that Yale was unresponsive, even after nine months of phone calls and e-mails to University officials.
A 2016 Buzzfeed article chronicled the story of Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ’10, who alleged Pogge had groped her and made a series of inappropriate remarks, among other charges, when she worked as a translator for him in Chile. After she spurned his advances, Lopez said, Pogge retaliated by rescinding his offer to a paid postgraduate fellowship at the Global Justice Program he runs at Yale. Upon reporting the sexual harassment to University administrators in 2010, Lopez said, she was offered $2,000 on the condition that she sign a nondisclosure agreement, which she accepted. But in 2011, Lopez filed a formal complaint against Pogge. An adjudicative panel at Yale did not find Pogge guilty of sexual harassment or that professional retaliation occurred.
In October 2015, Lopez filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging that Yale violated Title IX and asking the government to investigate whether Yale has ignored evidence that she and other women have provided to prove that Pogge is a danger to females students.
Susan Byrne, a former professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, filed a lawsuit claiming that Echeverría sexually harassed her, that professors in the Spanish department bullied her and that she was denied tenure as retaliation for speaking out against it. According to the lawsuit, Echevarría repeatedly made crude comments to and about female professors in the department, played with the hair of his students and kissed Byrne on the mouth at a 2014 party in front of hundreds of colleagues. Byrne was denied tenure in 2015 and terminated from Yale on June 30 after months of appeals.
Since 2011, the University has used a “preponderance of evidence” standard to determine if an individual is guilty of sexual misconduct. Earlier in that same year, the Obama administration issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” that recommended a set of policies for universities to handle reports of sexual misconduct. Salovey said that earlier in his presidency he had informal conversations with officials in the Obama administration’s Department of Education to discuss Yale’s sexual misconduct prevention programs and reporting procedures, such as the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.
But earlier this fall, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that her department would review the Obama-era Title IX policies. In response, Yale said that it would maintain the “preponderance of evidence” standard despite ambiguities at the federal level.
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