The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate on Tuesday held a town hall meeting in collaboration with the Women Faculty Forum on uses and abuses of power in the academy, drawing a crowd of around 80 attendees.

The town hall — which featured women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Marianne LaFrance, Director of the Office of Gender and Campus Culture Melanie Boyd, University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler and Chief Diversity Officer Darin Latimore — aimed to highlight how gender-based discrimination affects the wellbeing of the entire Yale community and help promote a culture of bystander advocacy. Before the event began, chair of the senate and American Studies professor Matt Jacobson announced that the comments made during the public event would be off the record to ensure that all participants “felt at ease about speaking on such a contentious and sensitive topic.”

“This town hall was geared at people who already care about gender equality,” Jacobson said. “We knew that this was going to be just a beginning of a larger conversation that needs to be held on campus. Now that the ball is rolling, we can now fan out across the University and start bringing more attention to the issue of power imbalances according to gender.”

Last December, the Women Faculty Forum released a report on the status of women at the University, which included statistics on the number of leadership positions held by women faculty members and underrepresented minorities at the University, as well as a breakdown of appointments by gender for each academic department. According to Jacobson, the Women Faculty Forum’s presentation of the report to the faculty senate sparked a conversation on gender equality in academia and led to the senate’s decision to hold the town hall.

Actors from the Yale School of Drama and the Long Wharf Theater opened the town hall by reenacting scenarios of gender and sex-based discrimination. According to Jacobson, while some of the scenarios were hypothetical, around half of them were based on testimonies from Yale faculty members. The scenarios were intended to help the audience recognize problematic manifestations of gender biases that are not necessarily egregious or illegal, Jacobson said.

After the actors left the stage, Jacobson moderated a panel discussion about ways to address gender inequality on campus. Each of the four panelists — LaFrance, Boyd, Latimore and Spanger — represented a different area of expertise. While LaFrance discussed gender and power dynamics, Boyd talked about different forms of bystander intervention. For her part, Latimore focused on faculty recruitment, development and retention processes, while Spangler discussed the ways in which gender-based discrimination can impede a victim’s academic career.

“What I found great about the panel discussion was that they approached the same instances of gender inequality in various perspectives,” said American Studies professor Alicia Camacho, who attended the event. “For example, the audience gained the tools to address the issue right the moment through bystander intervention, but were also led to think about long-term changes in culture that need to be made.”

After the panel discussion, Boyd, LaFrance, Latimore and Spangler fielded questions from the audience about how to be more inclusive in professional settings, how to hold high-ranking faculty members accountable and how to include more people in the discourse on gender equality.

Camacho told the News that toward the end of the Q&A session, there was “a plea from a graduate student who brought up overt discrimination and harassment that clearly had detrimental effects on students’ lives and professional abilities.” Camacho said that while the town hall helped kick off a conversation about gender discrimination, students and faculty members need to reconvene in smaller groups to discuss particular concerns that were brought up at the event.

American Studies professor Zareena Grewal, who also attended the event, said the graduate student’s question was “at the core of the conversation on gender equality.”

“She was pointing out the enormous amount of discrimination and violence that is built into our system in academia,” Grewal said. “Often, we protect people and allow them to stay in places of power even after an egregious violation of conduct. To achieve gender equality, those people need to have the consequences for their violations.”

The faculty members interviewed after the event said they considered the town hall a success, despite the relatively small turnout.

Camacho said it was “wonderful” to hear about the different institutional approaches people have taken to address gender inequalities at Yale, but emphasized that much work remains to be done.

“We need to go further than this,” Camacho said. “We need to talk about this in our own departments and bring more people into the conversation. It would be terrible if everyone left this room satisfied.”

Grewal agreed that the town hall was informative, but said she wished more faculty members — especially men — had attended the event. Noting that there were about three women for every man in the room, Grewal said it’s important to have programs that don’t “only attract the choir, or the people who are already knowledgeable about the issue, but also those who are less informed but are definitely stakeholders in the solution.”

There are 22 faculty members in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate.

Serena Cho | serena.cho@yale.edu