Faith Tomlin

The Office of International Students & Scholars on Tuesday afternoon held a talk focused on campus culture in the #MeToo era.

The talk was the sixth and final presentation in this year’s iteration of the Understanding America series, an annual program that OISS has hosted for 15 years to expose international students and scholars to different elements of American culture. The goal of Tuesday’s presentation —  attended by around 20 people — was to outline the history of Title IX and explore its implications on Yale’s campus in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Ksenia Sidorenko ’14, a postgraduate associate in psychiatry and a Yale College Title IX coordinator, began the presentation with a brief overview of the development of Title IX and its history at Yale. President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law in 1972 in an effort to combat the limitations and restrictions that professional women experienced in the workplace. Title IX eventually evolved far beyond its initial scope to protect women in athletics and, eventually, help determine how universities adjudicate sexual harassment cases, Sidorenko said.

Yale has left its own mark on the history of Title IX. In 1980, Catharine MacKinnon LAW ’77 helped undergraduate students draft a formal complaint arguing that an instance of campus sexual harassment constituted sexual discrimination under Title IX, leading to the landmark court case Alexander v. Yale.

“Although the students did not win this specific case, this legal recognition of their complaint validated sexual harassment as an issue covered by Title IX,” Sidorenko said. “Yale has an important role in this history.”

Maria Gutierrez, Yale’s Title IX program manager, offered a broad overview of the #MeToo movement within the context of Title IX, emphasizing that the viral movement “represents much more than bad guys like Harvey Weinstein.”

“The #MeToo campaign has created a culture that encourages women to share their experiences with sexual assault as an act of solidarity,” Gutierrez said. “Here at Yale, we are very fortunate in that we have mechanisms in place to deal with instances of sexual misconduct that don’t always exist in the real world.”

Yale’s sexual assault procedures, however, have received their fair share of criticism. Sidorenko explained that a 2010 incident in which Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity members yelled sexually aggressive chants outside the Women’s Center prompted student complaints about the inadequacy of the University’s response to reports of sexual harassment. These complaints ultimately led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and Yale subsequently updated its procedures for addressing sexual harassment grievances.

Melanie Boyd, Yale College assistant dean of student affairs, concluded the talk with information on the programs that Yale College currently has in place to address and prevent incidents of sexual assault among undergraduates.

Yale’s most significant sexual assault prevention programs are currently offered to first years and sophomore students. However, Boyd said, simply becoming aware of the problem is not enough to stop people from engaging in sexual harassment or better equip them to respond to it.

Boyd says her office’s current goal is to target sexual misconduct by helping students form positive goals for themselves and their relationships.

“What are you looking for in a relationship? What makes you feel comfortable? What does a good hookup look like? Boyd said. “These are the important conversations.”

Stefanie Kickinger, an international scholar from Austria, said she attended the talk because she has been following Europe’s reaction to #MeToo movement and wanted to hear how it has been discussed in America.

The University Title IX officials monitor Yale’s Title IX compliance, and helps direct students to a wide variety of anti-discrimination resources.

Faith Tomlin | faith.tomlin@yale.edu

Correction, April 4: A previous version of  this article mistakenly stated that the Yale’s Office for Equal Opportunity programs monitors University Title IX compliance. In fact, the Title IX officials oversee the compliance process.