PORTRAIT: Carole Goldberg
The inaugural director of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center remembers her experiences cultivating an open discussion around sexual misconduct at Yale.
Nestled in a big embroidered armchair, sipping chai tea out of a straw, former SHARE Director Carole Goldberg cuts a compact figure. She is quiet, private, neatly put-together with a stylish scarf tied around her neck and colorful, stitched cowboy boots on her feet. There is a calm intention behind the office arrangement: The armchairs are placed a comfortable speaking-distance apart, and the muted, dark wood furnishings effuse a soft musk to put the guest at ease. She looks at me from behind her glasses and asks me to tell me about myself.
The request catches me off guard. I thought that I would be the one asking questions. But Goldberg has a knack for beginning conversations, a gift that comes from her genuine interest in what people have to say. Psychology was always an interest of hers — understanding why people do what they do and how people in the same environment can have such different experiences. While in graduate school, she discovered she had an interest in sex therapy. “Nothing scandalizes me,” she remarked with a smile. Her unflappability, she said, helped her find her path. It is in these moments of honesty, when an admission slips through her otherwise private, professional demeanor that Goldberg demonstrates her ability to establish an atmosphere of trust and confidence that never needs to be made explicit. So it comes as no surprise when she remarks that one of the most valuable things from her time at SHARE are the friendships formed with colleagues, and even past patients, that still continue today.
In June 2006, it was just her and a phone. One of a handful of employees in Yale’s nascent sexual misconduct response center, Goldberg was for many students the first point of contact for any sexual-related trauma when for years there had been none. Now in its 13th year, SHARE, located on the lower level of Yale Health, is one of Yale’s most valuable resources in building a safer and more supportive campus atmosphere. Often beginning with a phone call, students processing experiences of sexual harassment and assault now have a completely confidential place to speak with professionals like Goldberg in a low-stakes environment where no issue is too big or too small. Although SHARE can connect students to disciplinary procedures following their initial consultation, arguably its most important role, and Goldberg’s greatest achievement, lies in opening the conversation around sexual conduct on campus.
Goldberg first arrived on Yale’s campus in 1997, working in the Mental Health & Counseling Center, then called Mental Hygiene. Yale’s campus was beginning to adopt a more proactive stance towards mental health, though health education was still largely conflated with mental health care. Goldberg recalls becoming the face for the mental health center, hoping to encourage students to come in and talk. Personalizing the conversations around mental health has been one of Goldberg’s most innovative accomplishments.
“I wanted to see what concerns kids had,” she stated. Listening first to what affected students, she started to see a pattern in the prevalence of concerns about sexual misconduct.
There was clearly a gap in the resources that Yale had to offer. By subsuming sexual misconduct concerns within mental health services, Goldberg noted that “we were losing a lot of students because most students [didn’t] think of sexual assault as a mental health crisis.” Students calling Yale Health to report sexual misconduct were being sent to the emergency room instead of receiving sustained support.
Although Goldberg credits the University with giving SHARE a lot of support, she also remarked how the beginnings of the SHARE project came during a specific moment on campus. In the wake of the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter in April 2011 and the increasingly hostile campus sexual environment, the University felt compelled to more actively address sexual misconduct matters. “Things came into focus probably around 2013,” Goldberg remembered. As Yale implemented the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct in July 2011, SHARE continued to grow, increasing its contacts year after year.
“It’s been a steady, thoughtful process, but I don’t feel I ran into a wall — once we started talking, people started listening.”
Commenting on the sensitive nature of her work, Goldberg said that “there aren’t any good adjectives to describe something that involves somebody who has had a horrible experience.” Nevertheless, it is clear that closing down the conversation is not a solution.
“There is no way for us to understand their experiences unless they come and tell us. They help us understand what the world is like for them out there.” She jokingly remarked how she often feels like the grandma in the room and that sometimes in these conversations she might not “get it.” But this is where her training and unpretentious interest in understanding how individuals process their experiences step in. In these moments, Goldberg finds her work the most rewarding and even humbling. “When you sit down with someone and they trust you with their story, it feels like a gift. It’s an extremely privileged moment because we’re hearing things that no one else gets to hear.”
Looking at how campus culture has evolved during her time at Yale, Goldberg has observed an increase in the demand for mental health services but also a continuing prevalence of a “push-through” mentality, the desire among so many Yale students to do things for themselves. Students feel the need to put their health on the backburner or even refuse to label mental health as a health issue at all, but Goldberg explained that the stakes need not be so high. She views the conversations as a collaborative project: “It’s putting our heads together. You’re the expert on you, and I have a lot of training and experience.” And beyond the support she offers students in helping them process their experiences, Goldberg finds herself eternally curious about what students are capable of doing. “Sometimes I just think, how did you do that?”
Although it has been difficult for Goldberg to leave behind the work that she has found so rewarding, she looks forward to enjoying her retirement. “Right now I’m just having fun reading for the fun of it! It’s nice being well-informed with nobody to talk to,” she joked. The conversation turned to future plans. She might spend some time in the Caribbean, where she lived with her husband for 20 years. Wherever she goes next, she’ll bring the confidence and gift for conversation that no doubt contributed to SHARE’s success under her direction.