Since the start of the academic year, the Graduate Student Assembly has worked alongside Yale’s Title IX officials to conduct bystander intervention workshops in departments in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Yale’s Bystander Intervention Program aims to limit sexual misconduct in graduate and professional schools and teach intervention skills through a series of workshops. Although the program has existed for 18 months, Graduate Student Assembly representatives began contacting their respective departments only this academic year in order to create optional, department-specific workshops. If the department chooses to develop a workshop, members are invited — but not required — to attend the training program. So far, the Graduate Student Assembly, in conjunction with Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler, has hosted workshops in the departments of Physics, Neuroscience and Genetics and plans to hold six more.
“It’s meant to make students think about the social norms that surround our workplaces and our social spaces and think about the steps we can take to actually change something and make our communities more supportive,” said Stephen Albright, a Graduate Student Assembly representative who has taken the lead in coordinating the workshops. “So it’s not just necessarily about teaching skills to intervene in a singular incident but to think about reshaping our entire community.”
Albright added that sexual disrespect and harassment in the graduate and professional schools often take place within groups that work together over a long period of time.
Graduate Student Assembly representatives, Title IX officials and members of individual departments collaborate to create a unique workshop for each department. For example, the physics department’s workshop was anchored in interactions between postdoctoral scholars and graduate students, while some of the humanities workshops focused more on conversations in smaller group settings.
“I think it’s worked really well because they’ve designed it for individual departments,” said Wendy Xiao GRD ’18 MED ’18, president of the Graduate Student Assembly. “They can work with people within departments to get stories of things that have actually happened in their departments and talk about things that actually come up. People have really appreciated the workshops.”
Graduate Student Assembly leaders organized a workshop for the Graduate Student Assembly itself last spring before the group began developing similar programs for individual departments.
Xiao added that the workshops bring attention to a problem of which many students may not be aware. According to the Yale-specific findings from the Association of American Universities’ 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, 53.9 percent of women, 38.2 percent of men and 78 percent of people who identify with other genders reported having experienced sexual harassment as graduate and professional students. But only 5.7 percent of women and 2.7 percent of men who are graduate and professional students claimed to have reported instances of sexual misconduct to a University program.
Savannah Thais GRD ’20, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, said the workshop held for the senate’s executive board last August served as a good introduction to handling possible harassment scenarios. While the senate could not incorporate a training session into its meeting this semester due to time constraints, Thais said members are looking forward to including it in orientation programs for next year’s senators.
Thais said she attended a bystander intervention training program as a member of the physics department but noted that it did not seem very specialized.
“It seemed like it could fit for any grad student department. It didn’t seem very physics-specific,” she said. “The one that they did for our executive board was really well-customized, but I met with them to develop the specific scenarios we were going to talk about.”
Thais estimated that most of the people who attended the physics workshop were women and that the group probably represented only about 10 percent of the department. While she appreciated the program, she said, the people who attended it were probably the ones who needed it the least.
In Albright’s view, the goal of the programs is not to force people to come to the workshops but rather to instill values in the general community. He added that the more workshops the group hosts, the more traction the program will gain over time.
“We try to stay away from making these workshops mandatory because with programming like this, forcing people to attend workshops that they don’t really want to attend can lead to some unproductive resistance within the workshop,” Albright said. “So our general philosophy … tends to be start with the willing.”
Robin Dawson GRD ’19, co-president of Local 33, the aspiring graduate student union, said the workshops are useful but noted that more needs to be done to adequately address the problem of sexual harassment.
“While Local 33 supports any strengthening of Title IX and other trainings and protections to prevent sexual harassment, we ultimately believe only a formal third-party grievance procedure with appropriate restitution will sufficiently address the problem,” Dawson said.
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1847.
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