Content Warning: This article contains references to sexual assault.
On Nov. 20, 2019, Yale released the school-specific data from the 2019 Association of American Universities (AAU) Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. From the many important findings of this survey, I focus here on this: sexual harassment is widespread within our community and is interfering with our students’ ability to do their work. Thus, it is an academic problem and must be treated as such by the whole Yale faculty.
In the last year, half of our students at Yale have experienced sexual harassment in at least one of five forms, which are referred to as “offensive behaviors” in the full report released on Oct. 15, 2019.
Offensive behaviors are defined by the survey as: making offensive sexual remarks, jokes or stories; inappropriate or offensive comments about one’s body, appearance or sexual activities; sexual statements of a crude or gross manner in an attempt to make one unwillingly discuss sexual matters; use of social or online media to send unsolicited and offensive sexual remarks, jokes, stories, pictures or videos; and persistently asking to go out, to get dinner, to have drinks or to have sex, even though these requests have already been refused.
A quarter of students have experienced offensive behaviors that interfered with their academic work. This is a problem across the university and especially affects people from marginalized communities. Harassment occurs across all ethnicities, with some groups — such as Black men in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — experiencing especially high rates. Trans, queer and nonbinary students not only experience these behaviors more frequently but also are more likely to indicate that the harassment had an impact on their Yale activities. Disabled students report higher rates of experiencing offensive behaviors. While harassment of women is more extensive than for men, the rates for men are also unacceptably high.
Sexual harassment negatively impacts a student’s academic performance, whether a student feels comfortable in an academic environment and whether a student feels that they can participate in an academic program at all. Negative effects documented from survey results included having difficulty attending classes, changing majors in order to escape compromising situations, changing residence or housing situation and poorer health habits.
Each of these effects is clearly detrimental to learning and to the quality of life of our students.
On campus, sexual harassment is by no means limited to student-to-student harassment. In just under one-third of the cases in this year’s survey among women in graduate and professional schools, the harasser was reported to be a member of the faculty. This is an utterly unacceptable use of power that must be acknowledged, and the faculty must be held accountable for this. Harassment in our community reflects disrespect for our students and our institution as a whole, and has no place here, or anywhere.
While the Women Faculty Forum will continue to advocate for tougher and more consistent repercussions for faculty misconduct, I call on all faculty members to make combating student harassment a key priority in their own academic life.
Although I know that most faculty members take the well-being of their students seriously, simply not harassing students is clearly not enough. It is the responsibility of all faculty members to stand up against sexual harassment and advocate for the well-being of our students. This means calling out harassment when you see it and explicitly stating that harassment will have no place in your classrooms and labs. It is vital that faculty members recognize their privileged position in the University and use it to advocate for the safety of our students. Do not stand by and watch your students suffer.
At the Women Faculty Forum, we are thankful for all of our administrators, colleagues, staff and students at Yale who help stand up against sexual misconduct. We are thankful for those who collect data on sexual misconduct at the University, for those who provide support for those who have experienced sexual misconduct and for those who conduct peer counseling and bystander intervention training. We are especially thankful to those who are disproportionately targeted by sexual misconduct yet continue to strive to make our University a better place for everyone.
To faculty members who have viewed this as a problem that does not affect them, I say: this affects you too. It is affecting the students in your classes and in your labs and is preventing them from making the most of what Yale has to offer. When you do nothing, you allow the problem to continue and worsen. Stand up for your students. They are depending on you.
GABRIELLA MARTIN’19 is a Postgraduate Associate at the Yale Women Faculty Forum and wrote this piece on behalf of her and her colleagues.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .