Last week, my mom read an article about Yale — something she does often. She noticed that the reporter used “freshmen” instead of “first years” in the article, and so she emailed him to let him know.
She is proud that Yale is sure to include everyone. More than that, she’s proud that she knows that — because she has a daughter who goes to Yale. She sometimes texts me, “Good morning. Did you know you go to Yale? That’s amazing.”
I was accepted to Yale in the regular admissions process. To quell my nerves, my friends all came over to my house. My dad brought home Chinese food, and my friend that I had been in school with since first grade cracked open a fortune cookie and pulled out the little slip: “You will be called upon to celebrate some good news.”
When I opened the admissions decision, my world exploded. I was so excited to visit, to see all the old buildings, to look at it all and feel that it was something I was a part of. By and large, I was most excited for the people. I could imagine the conversations I would have, the ways the people around me would be working to make the world better. They would care about the things I cared about, and they would be informed and motivated to do something with their knowledge.
As Benno Schmidt Jr. ’63, the 20th president of Yale, said: “Yale is a crucible in American life for the accommodation of intellectual achievement, of wisdom, of refinement, with the democratic ideals of openness, of social justice and of equal opportunity.”
For the most part, Schmidt and I were right. Yale, more than any place I have ever been in, wants other people to feel comfortable being themselves. People are generally careful to use preferred pronouns and to respect the religions, sexualities and the backgrounds and opinions of others. Having dealt with sexual harassment in the past, I was thrilled to be joining a community that puts so much emphasis on consent and respect. The Community and Consent Educators and the open conversations all first years engaged in about what consent is and how to make sure that its respected in all situations were so comforting to me.
And yet, I don’t really feel welcome in many of Yale’s clubs. There are still spaces I don’t feel that I would be truly respected in. There are situations that my friends and fellow first years have been put in, by sports teams, clubs and other organizations, that have blatantly violated their dignity and have betrayed the concepts of consent and respect that are otherwise so treasured in Yale’s culture.
I recognize that Yale, in comparison to many other campuses, has very effective policies against hazing. Yale’s sororities, for example, should be commended for taking a clear stand against harmful initiations and leading by example. While I am grateful for this, I didn’t come to one of the best schools in the nation, 1,000 miles away from my family, to be hazed at all. And to be clear, many of the “initiations” hosted by Yale’s major clubs involve hazing, if even in its mildest form. As legally defined, hazing is any “willful action taken or situation created, which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health of another.” I have spoken with friends after initiations, and it’s clear that their health, both mental and physical, was not cared for.
A case in point: One weekend, I was sitting in a common room, and I overheard a pair planning an initiation. One said to the other, “If they’re all straight, we could have them like ‘do stuff’ with each other.” This mirrors exactly what seems to be the general Yale belief around respect within initiations: Your sexuality will be respected, but your agency will not.
The issue is not that clubs want to host a special event to mark a person’s entry into the group. The problem (at hand, at least) is not that many initiations involve serving copious amounts of alcohol to underage students, nor is the problem that any one group is being disproportionately affected.
The problem is that Yale condemns the breaches of consent that take place on Yale’s campus unless it is a club breaching that consent. The problem is that my mother, who is so proud that she can feel confident to tell reporters about a mistaken use of the word “freshman” could not possibly be proud of the hazing that occurs on Yale’s campus. The problem is that we are baiting and switching first years by promising inclusivity and agency and a culture of consent and simultaneously denying them all of that come initiation night.
We are proud of who we are when it comes to believing survivors of sexual assault and promoting the comfort of LGBTQ students and students of different cultures and religions, but we let that beautiful ideology sit out on initiation night.
Which is what I, as a result, will be doing, too.
Abigail Grimes is a first year in Pauli Murray College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .