Earlier this month I was watching a baseball game on the couch with my cousin while he was finishing up his alcohol and drug use summer course for his university.
“Oh no, there’s a part two,” he whined.
“What is it?” I asked, interested.
“It seems to be a course on sexual assault.”
We talked a little while longer about our shared experiences with previous teachings on sexual assault before he put his earbuds back in and continued with the online class.
But our conversation sparked some questions for me. Like, why didn’t Yale have an online sexual assault program? Why was there no mention of consent in the online alcohol Canvas course we had to take before coming to campus? And why, of all the universities in the United States, was Yale not leading the charge in confronting sex-related crime on college campuses?
As he continued through the course, I glanced over his shoulder a couple of times to see what it was all about. Not only were there various modules addressing how to safely navigate sex in college but there were also surveys in which the user was required to respond to different statements. For example, one asked if the user felt responsible for preventing sexual misconduct on campus and he was prompted to respond on a scale of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” So not only had his university built a fully fledged online program to educate incoming freshmen about sexual assault but they were also collecting data on the views of the incoming class in order to continue their education on these matters in more detail once they came to campus. In other words, the university has made a conscious and cohesive effort to educate its students on safe sex.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and examine sexual violence on college campuses in the United States. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 23 percent of female and 5 percent of male undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Also, 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer and gender-nonconforming college students have experienced sexual assault. Finally, only 20 percent of female college students who have been sexually assaulted claim to go on to report it to law enforcement. This statistic seems surprising at first glance, but when defense lawyers ask questions like “How much did she have to drink?” and “Why didn’t she wear a more modest outfit?” as they did in the defense of Yale student Saifullah Khan in a 2018 rape case dating back to a 2015 off-campus Halloween party, why would anyone wish to recount their story in court to only face scorn and victim-blaming?
As of now, outdated myths about rape and sexual assault still reign supreme in the criminal justice system. Therefore, colleges must do more to not only provide counseling and other legal services to victims, but also institute programs to prevent assaults from happening in the first place.
Yale has addressed how to care for victims after an assault has occurred. The Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education office (or the overbearing acronym SHARE for short) offers myriad options and programs for victims of sexual abuse including evaluating a need for medical attention, facilitating support groups and providing ongoing counseling. However, SHARE seems to suffer from a lack of publicity; in the 2016–17 school year only 279 people contacted the office and only 140 of those people were undergraduate students. Of those 140, only 8 were contacting the office for information regarding sexual violence. It seems that SHARE only offers workshops upon request and a handful of webpages titled “Yale’s Definition of Sexual Consent” or “Bystander Intervention” that one could only find if one were looking for them. The website is a far cry from even a general mandatory online course on sexual violence like the one my cousin took. And when first years do come to campus, the mandatory CCE workshop does not genuinely engage its participants.
An innovative, world-class university like Yale can and should address this crisis head on. I am surprised that Yale thinks that its current actions are enough to fix the problem of sexual harassment. This university has the power to change the dialogue about sexual assault on college campuses across the country, but first it must demonstrate a commitment to its students by creating better and more accessible programming about sexual misconduct and how to prevent it. I chose Yale because I saw it as a community of doers who want to improve the world, and earlier than I expected, I am calling on the University to prove it.
Jose Davila IV is a first year in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.