Last week, University President Peter Salovey announced that he would “maintain current policies for addressing sexual misconduct,” even after the Department of Education announced aggressive plans meant to protect men accused of sexual assault.
Salovey’s decision to take a stance against sexual misconduct was needed, especially in that moment. After all, we’re living in a world where high-level government officials are supposedly allowed to grab women by the pussy, a world where people continue to come forward with new #MeToo allegations. In such a world, we should all unquestionably strive to make Yale a place where sexual misconduct is addressed, where students feel comfortable coming forward with allegations.
Right now, we as a University need to ask ourselves: Is our current disposition towards sexual misconduct a good one to have? Is it enough to maintain current policies in this climate? And, if so, is the discourse surrounding sexual misconduct at the University adequate?
Let’s start with misconduct claims. Cases of sexual misconduct are prevalent on campus. According to an August 2018 report on complaints of sexual misconduct at Yale, 154 complaints about sexual misconduct were filed in the past year. This number, obviously, should be zero. Perhaps even more appallingly is that these 154 complaints don’t reflect the actual number of incidences of sexual misconduct on campus. A quick look through the pages of the News will also show you that sexual misconduct continues to dominate campus discourse. An anonymous column titled “No Neutral Ground” detailed one person’s experience with members of the Yale administration after they were assaulted by a member of the fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon.
Even if you don’t think that those 154 cases are a sufficient number to constitute a problem (I personally think that any number of complaints does), who knows how many people decide to remain silent? According to an article written by Shailia Dewan for the New York Times, many women decide not to file reports on sexual misconduct. Some are afraid that their stories don’t add up, and others are attacked for “not acting like victims.”
We need to create an environment that is more amenable to addressing issues surrounding sexual misconduct.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that many Yale affiliates are willing to change the discourse around the issue. The conversation surrounding the hearings of Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 was anything but promising. Even after Christine Blasey Ford — and others — came forward with allegations accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault, many Yale affiliates remained silent. Few wrote editorials. Salovey wasn’t quick to dissociate from Kavanaugh. Faculty members like Akhil Amar testified on Kavanaugh’s behalf (even though Amar later wrote two editorial pieces attempting to remedy the situation). The conversations that did exist surrounding the issue were sporadic and uninspiring.
How can we expect to adequately support victims of sexual misconduct here at Yale if we saw such a tepid response from Yale administrators during the Kavanaugh trial?
I’m not sure that we can. Even though Title IX legislation has taken strides to ameliorate sexual misconduct issues, sufficient progress has not been made. We hear about more and more instances every year. People who were accused of sexual assault, like Saifullah Khan ’19, are allowed back on campus. We see drunk first years stumbling into frat houses every weekend, while we share think pieces about feminist issues on Facebook. We create more programs to “stop” sexual misconduct, even as faculty members still remain silent on these issues. The cycle remains unbroken.
We need a cultural shift. One small protest against Kavanaugh isn’t enough. Yale is a powerful institution, with powerful students and an even more powerful endowment. The name Yale carries weight, and with that, influence. I know that you’re probably thinking, “Blah, blah, blah. Here goes another social justice warrior, out on a witch hunt to punish our young men.” But this thought, this tiny thought, is so clearly wrong. Sexual misconduct exists and there are statistics — so many statistics — out there which prove that this is true. Yes, I do think that everyone has the right to a fair trial, but I also think that victims have a right to due process. But how can that ever be possible if high-level administrators don’t take a strong stance against sexual misconduct, especially in high-profile cases?
Isis Davis-Marks is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College and a former Opinion Editor for the News. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .