Adrian Kulesza

Members of the Graduate Student Assembly and Graduate and Professional Student Senate are brainstorming ways to combat sexual assault in the wake of a recent report by the Women Faculty Forum that identified graduate students as the population most vulnerable to sexual misconduct by faculty members, according to Lucy Armentano GRD ’21, chair of the GSA’s Academics and Professional Development Committee.

The report, which was released last week, discussed Title IX cases involving faculty members and noted that graduate students were complainants in nearly half of the cases recorded since 2011. In its most recent Title IX report, released in August, the University said it received 35 complaints from graduate and professional students between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year — a record high number since the University started publishing the reports in 2011.

Since the release of the WFF and Title IX reports, the assembly and senate have discussed ways to improve the campus sexual climate for graduate students. While the two bodies have yet to fully articulate and evaluate specific proposals for combating sexual misconduct targeting graduate students, many members of the assembly have commended the reports for their openness, Armentano said.

“We applaud the University’s transparency in terms of sexual misconduct reporting,” Armentano said. “These reports that came out are a good way to represent what is happening and what the University is doing about it. … In terms of how we directly combat sexual misconduct, that’s going to be dependent on the projects that graduate students bring to the committee.”

Armentano and Graduate and Professional School Senate President Justin White GRD ’20 said that the assembly and senate both plan to have members from among their ranks on the University’s Title IX graduate and professional students advisory board, which will meet regularly to discuss student perspectives on matters of sexual misconduct that graduate and professional students deal with. White added that he is planning to meet with Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler in the coming weeks to discuss the most recent Title IX report and ways the Graduate and Professional School Senate can help improve campus culture.

Women Faculty Forum chair Claire Bowern, who authored the forum’s report last week, said graduate students are particularly vulnerable to sexual misconduct because they are surrounded by “faculty who have a lot of control over their future careers.” This power dynamic breeds an unhealthy environment in which students frequently become victims of harassment or assault and have a hard time coming forward, Bowern explained.

Spangler agreed that some graduate and professional students are reluctant to report sexual misconduct based on fears of “professional, academic or social repercussions.” To educate students about the resources available to them and University policies, the Title IX coordinators in the Provost’s Office pioneered a new online training program that was announced this summer.

“It is my hope that this program will provide you with an increased understanding of Yale’s prevention and response resources and the confidence that they are available to support you should you need them,” Spangler said in an e-mail announcing the online training program to graduate and professional students during the summer.

During the 2017–2018 academic year, 10 departments within the GSA hosted workshops, thus reaching a total of more than 3,800 graduate and professional students since the inception of the intervention training. Three more departments have scheduled workshops or are in the advanced planning stages.  This year, the GSA is planning to expand the workshops it offers to include postdoctoral students, staff and faculty members, according to former GSA representative and Graduate and Professional Title IX Advisory board member Stephen Albright GRD ’19.

“These workshops are an important part of Yale’s toolkit to prevent sexual misconduct on campus,” Albright said. “Complete prevention will only occur when all of us are able to recognize and shift the social norms supporting misconduct.”

While White declined to comment specifically on “how the University should respond to graduate students who have experienced sexual misconduct” because “it is impossible to offer a generic recommendation,” he said the continued centralization of resources will be effective in helping victims come forward.

He added that the Title IX Steering Committee should continue to evaluate the effectiveness of its responses to sexual misconduct complaints in order to ensure those measures “are improving the campus climate around sexual misconduct and not merely abiding a system that collects complaints and reports them semi-annually.”

Next spring, the University will participate in the Association of American Universities’ campus sexual climate survey, the organization’s second nationwide survey on sexual misconduct at institutions of higher education.

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