During my first year at Yale, in the fall of 2010, my classmates — Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity pledges — chanted in front of the Yale Women’s Center, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” As a freshman, I remember being very jarred. But at the same time, I naively accepted that college life was just as popular culture portrayed it.
In the five years since I have graduated from Yale, the #MeToo movement has spread across the country, but instances of sexual harassment and assault continue to plague Yale.
In April 2019, the News reported that Professor Thomas Pogge still teaches at Yale despite allegations of sexual harassment from a former student and a letter condemning his actions signed by more than one thousand professors from around the world. In February 2019, three female undergraduate students sued Yale and the fraternities on campus in a federal class-action lawsuit, arguing that the fraternity culture at Yale facilitates sexual harassment and gender inequality. And in March 2018, the News reported that Yale received a record number of 124 sexual misconduct complaints between July 2017 and January 2018, a number likely resulting from more survivors bravely coming forward and reporting instances of sexual harassment and assault.
I am an advocate for gender justice and have spent the past year working at the National Women’s Law Center. All of these instances of sexual harassment and assault at Yale have left me wondering – what can Yale be doing better so that it can be the model university that it should be, and how can Yale alumni be part of this change?
Indeed, Yale has taken positive measures to address sexual harassment and assault on campus — especially as the law has changed to protect students. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects all students from sex discrimination, including sexual violence, and in 1977, in Alexander v. Yale, the 2nd Circuit held that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title IX. Following a 2011 Title IX Complaint and subsequent investigation of the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education, Yale improved its Title IX policies and created a University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC) to address sexual misconduct claims. Yale began publishing its records of sexual misconduct.
Following the 2010 DKE pledge event I mentioned, then Dean of Yale College Mary Miller opened a 6-month-long investigation before prohibiting DKE from engaging in on-campus activities. In 2018, Yale started requiring all students to complete annual Title IX training and not just read emails or booklets about the University’s sexual misconduct policies and resources. And following Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s proposed harmful revisions to Title IX regulations in 2019, Yale University President Peter Salovey critiqued these proposed revisions because they would “discourage survivors from coming forward to seek help and redress.”
Clearly, these changes are not enough. Yale still needs to address and prevent ongoing sexual harassment and assault on campus. The best way Yale can do so is by listening to current students and recent graduates and instituting policies to formally and substantively address their concerns.
Currently, Yale does not have a ban on hiring faculty with records of sexual misconduct, and if a faculty member is found to have engaged in sexual misconduct, the Provost, not the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC), has the final say on punishment. In a recent piece in the News, current students Valentina Connell ’20 and Miranda Coombe ’21 importantly suggest that Yale should institute and enforce a ban on hiring faculty with records of sexual misconduct, that the UWC should have the final say when it comes to punishment and that the chair of the UWC should have no previous association with Yale to ensure impartiality.
Furthermore, as the recent class-action lawsuit argues, the fraternity culture at Yale facilitates sexual harassment and gender inequality. Yale should seriously consider these plaintiffs’ concerns and look to model its campus social life off of peer institutions. Harvard now requires its fraternities, sororities and finals clubs — which are not officially affiliated with the University — to be gender-inclusive. According to university policy, members of such single-gender organizations are unable to hold campus leadership positions or be endorsed for outside scholarships. A Harvard task force found that finals clubs fostered “a strong sense of sexual entitlement.”
According to Mollie Johnson ’18, a survivor of sexual assault at DKE, “Yale trails far behind its fellow Ivies in protecting students. The administration has essentially thrown up its hands, claiming that it has no legal standing to regulate fraternities. This simply is not true, and both Harvard and Princeton have taken stands against Greek life. Why hasn’t Yale?”
While students play a central role in advocating for Yale to improve its sexual misconduct policies, we as alumni also have an important role in this process. In 2017, for instance, 145 alumni signed an open letter urging Yale to keep specific sexual misconduct policies amidst Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s proposals to revise Title IX.
This is an issue that all alumni should care about. We should form an alumni committee and have discussions with Yale based on students’ concerns. Yale should furthermore consider having an alumni steering committee of experts as part of the UWC.
Dr. Ann Olivarius ’77, LAW ’86, SOM ’86, Alexander v. Yale plaintiff and founder of the law firm McAllister Olivarius, thinks that alumni have untapped power and ability. According to Olivarius, “Yale has all the resources to be a leader in this area, but in my experience, it fights victims of sexual harassment… rather than concede that important professors or other members of the Yale community have done anything wrong. It is time for alumni to add their voices to those on campus who are still trying to make the promise of equal educational opportunities for women a reality.”
It’s thus on us, Yale alums, to make sure that Yale becomes the model university that it should be when it comes to addressing and preventing sexual harassment and assault. Let’s get to work.
Lauren Hoffman ’14 is co-chair of her 5th reunion committee and is currently a law student at American University Washington College of Law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.