When I joined the Yale Daily News in the fall of 2017, a new phenomenon was sweeping journalism, both at Yale and across the country. In October 2017, The New York Times broke allegations of decades of sexual abuse against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. In the months that followed, dozens of other outlets began publishing allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men around the world.
A year later, in the thick of what had quickly become the #MeToo movement, I was assigned to cover student life at Yale, with a focus on Title IX issues. I was 19 and starting my sophomore year of college.
My first day on the beat, I stepped into a national firestorm. When I arrived at Sterling Law Building, expecting to cover a small student protest, I spotted news reporters outside with their bulky cameras and hundreds of students milling around in the main hallway. Realizing something big was about to unfold, I skipped all my classes to stay at the Law School and cover a large-scale student sit-in protesting the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90.
My next two weeks were consumed by Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings and the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him. After Deborah Ramirez ’87 accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during their time at Yale together, I scoured the alumni directory, contacting anyone who might have known either of them. In between classes, I called women who had lived in Ramirez’s entryway during her first year at Yale, Kavanaugh’s brothers in Delta Kappa Epsilon and even Kavanaugh’s editor from his time as a sports reporter for the News.
Kavanaugh’s conduct as a Yale undergraduate was quickly becoming a national news story. A News article about Kavanaugh’s fraternity waving a flag of underwear went viral online, and The New York Times published a story about a bar fight on Broadway that Kavanaugh was allegedly involved in during his junior year. Reporters from across the country descended on campus, eager for a scoop. As I competed for interviews alongside professionals with camera crews, I started to feel like a real journalist.
Still, I felt an unavoidable connection to the story. When Ramirez’s former classmates told me about her cheerful presence in their entryway, I thought about the friendly faces I saw each day in my own. I walked by the Law School every day for errands and coffee runs. A few months earlier, I’d been in Lawrance Hall — where Kavanaugh allegedly exposed himself to Ramirez — during a Spring Fling party.
In interviews, some of Ramirez’s former classmates told me they weren’t surprised by the accusations — a culture of disrespect toward women was the norm at Yale back then, they said. That same week, an anonymous source had sent me a photo of an alleged DKE pledge shirt from 2006 that read, “If she’s old enough to crawl, then she’s in the right position.” I thought, “Seems like nothing has changed.” I remembered the many late-night conversations about sexual assault I’d shared with friends on my common room floor, on benches in my college courtyard and on walks up Hillhouse Avenue. Many people I knew at Yale had a story to tell of a hookup gone wrong, a violation, a loss of autonomy. I kept my mouth shut during interviews, though. After all, I proudly considered myself an unbiased reporter, and I didn’t want my reactions to sway my sources or alert them to my sympathies.
A few days later, when Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed inevitable and coverage began to wind down, I sat down in the computer lab to start my homework after two weeks of thinking only about Kavanaugh. Unable to concentrate on the problem set in front of me, my mind wandered back to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, which I’d read again from a transcript earlier that week. I thought of that Lawrance Hall suite on Old Campus. I thought of the other suites on campus where similar — and worse — incidents of misconduct occur. Overwhelmed and frustrated, I started sobbing uncontrollably.
On Oct. 6, 2018, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a vote of 50-48. I was relieved to finally be done with Kavanaugh. The next week, I was assigned to another story about sexual misconduct.
Along with two other staffers, I began reporting on Kyle Mullen, Yale’s former football captain, who had withdrawn from Yale the previous summer. Rumor had it that Kyle had dropped out because he was under investigation for “penetration without consent” — Yale’s term for rape. We thought Yale students deserved to know the truth about Kyle’s sudden departure, and for a month, we delved into Kyle’s personal life, trying to find a few sources to confirm his case. We also investigated the lives of multiple female students who we suspected had been romantically or sexually involved with Kyle. We mapped out his social circles, trying to understand this guy we’d never met who now refused to answer our calls.
Days after we confirmed the rumor and published a story about Kyle’s withdrawal, I stood shivering in the bleachers at Fenway Park and watched Team 146 take on Harvard without their revered captain. I felt sick to my stomach, wondering if we would be winning the game if Kyle — a talented defensive lineman — hadn’t dropped out. I thought of Kyle’s alleged victim, wondering how she felt and if she’d read our story. Would she ever come back for a Yale-Harvard game?
I also thought of Kyle, whose full name we had published in the newspaper alongside details of his alleged misconduct. The News typically publishes accused students’ names only if they are considered “public figures” on campus — a football captain counts — or if they are easily identifiable through other publicly available details. Now, when you Google Kyle’s name, our article is the first search result, forever plastered on the internet.
I stood by, and continue to stand by, our choice to publish the article and name him, but I felt an inexplicable sense of confusion. Attending the Game with my friends had seemed like a no-brainer, but I couldn’t shake off thoughts of Kyle’s case. Earlier that week I’d been nagging football players and coaches for comment on Kyle’s departure; suddenly, clad in a Yale baseball cap and sweatshirt, I was cheering for those same players.
At the time, I felt like I was the only reporter who felt this way, and I viewed my personal reactions to stories of sexual misconduct as a roadblock I needed to overcome. I always tried to view myself as a detached observer and the people I interviewed as sources for useful quotes. The only way to survive on my beat was to maintain a healthy emotional distance.
My last #MeToo story involved a retired School of Medicine professor Eugene Redmond. In the summer of 2017, Redmond sexually assaulted his intern — a Yale undergraduate — at his research facility on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. That summer, Redmond serially harassed the student and administered a coercive rectal exam on them. Months later, Redmond was found responsible for sexual harassment by Yale’s University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. He retired before receiving his punishment. During Redmond’s 44-year tenure as a Yale professor, he sexually assaulted five students and harassed at least eight others, according to the report of a Yale-commissioned independent investigator.
While Redmond’s case can now be summed up in a few sentences, the story took over five months to unravel. Another reporter I worked with spent over a dozen hours interviewing the victim, a senior at Yale at the time. We contacted Redmond’s former colleagues and interns on St. Kitts, and pored over the details of the victim’s summer and UWC case, unwittingly memorizing every date and fact in the process. Since it was my first time covering faculty misconduct, the Redmond story particularly affected me. Most of his former advisees and interns were Yale undergraduates, and it was hard to wrap my head around a Yale professor’s misconduct flying under the radar for so long.
Like all of the stories I’d reported, it was crucial to protect the victim’s anonymity and autonomy throughout the process. Though I never spoke directly to the victim in Redmond’s case — another reporter was their main point of contact — I grew attached to them over those five months. I sometimes saw them walking on Old Campus or attending campus events. While I felt certain that their story needed to be published to expose the flaws in Yale’s adjudication processes, seeing them lead a normal life at Yale made me question whether we were doing the right thing. We wouldn’t have published the story without the student’s consent, but I still felt conflicted. Was it wrong to make this student relive and retell their traumatic memories for the sake of a news article? Even though they wanted to share their story, were we being too aggressive?
Reporting on trauma always raises questions of journalistic ethics, compassion and compartmentalization. But for me, those questions were urgent and unavoidable. As I walked to friends’ suites or hung out on campus, I often bumped into sources or passed places that featured in stories I’d heard in my reporting. In interviews, I sometimes swung in the direction of cold neutrality, sitting stone faced as people across from me recounted horrific stories of assault. Other times, I found it harder to stay silent. I sometimes found myself shaking my head in disgust or responding, “Wow that’s fucked,” when I heard stories of trauma, even though I thought a proper journalist would never say that out loud to a source.
Similarly, my relationships with Yale administrators didn’t end when I hung up the phone or finished sending an email; if I ever needed academic or personal support from an administrator, they would be the same person, and so would I. I often thought of my conversations with friends about sexual misconduct. I wanted to trust in Yale’s Title IX processes for their sake, but it was getting harder and harder to do so.
After three semesters of writing about students at Yale, I no longer felt like one. Somewhat irrationally, I began to dread walking to my classes because I didn’t want to see classmates I’d interviewed, or tried to interview. Occasionally, I would experience a brief burst of excitement and adrenaline after discovering a new scoop. But usually those scoops would involve detailed accounts of sexual violence, and my excitement would quickly be replaced with horror at my own delight.
In January, I decided to quit my beat.
At the time, I struggled to articulate why I felt so unhappy. It was easier to tell my editors and friends that I wanted more time for my schoolwork and other opportunities on campus than to explain why I could no longer cope with the subject of my reporting. I felt guilty and ashamed, as if I hadn’t written enough stories about sexual assault or interviewed enough survivors to even justify this reaction. Still, I knew I couldn’t continue the mental and emotional labor of reporting on my classmates’ trauma.
Now, eight months later, I think my emotional instincts were more of an asset to my reporting than an obstacle. The ever-present clash I felt between empathy and objectivity was something I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, have tried to suppress. In the moments I tried to be most aggressively neutral, I unintentionally triggered survivors, alienated sources and grew cynical about Yale. I needed to care about survivors of sexual misconduct, to view my sources as college students like myself and not just strangers with information to divulge. I still could have done that while verifying the facts and retaining the requisite dose of skepticism. But I quit because I wasn’t sure how to reconcile the neutrality that being a journalist requires, the compassion I wanted to feel toward my peers and my own wellbeing as a female student at Yale.
Back at the Law School protest last September — my first day on the beat — students and staff took turns at a microphone sharing their own stories of harassment and abuse at Yale. Members of the press were supposed to leave the building for the open mic, but a Yale Law student organizer snuck me in, recognizing that I was a student too. I promised not to record anything and began looking around to take mental notes: Describing the sea of students in all-black attire would be a great opening line in my article, I thought.
But when the first person took the mic and began sharing their experience with sexual abuse in academia, my mind went blank. It felt wrong to be observing the event through the lens of an objective journalist — these students voicing their pain were not just potential sources, but my own community members. I felt like I belonged in that space as a student, but in that moment, I paused, wondering whether I could be there as a reporter, too.
Alice Park | firstname.lastname@example.org .