Editors’ note: It is the policy of the News not to publish anonymous columns, but in this case, an exception has been made. The name of the writer has been kept confidential based on their concern for retaliation should they be identified. The News has verified the identity of the writer and have confirmed their story through independent reporting. 

Content Warning: This column contains references to sexual violence.

SHARE is available to all members of the Yale community who are dealing with sexual misconduct of any kind, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence and more. Counselors are available any time, day or night, at the 24/7 hotline: (203) 432-2000. 

I joined the Yale Debate Association in my first year. I realized very quickly how close the team was. Every Thursday, we had a social event. Every weekend, we competed together, and in between every round at every competition, we talked with each other. There is this saying on the team that you will find “friends that outlast your tenure on the team.” I thought that this meant that the team would always support me. I realized two years later that this wasn’t true. 

In August 2022, I made a sexual assault allegation and Title IX report against a friend of some people on the team. It took me five months to say anything, because I was so afraid that others on the team would not believe me. A few days after making my allegation, two members of the Yale Debate Association stopped talking to me. One of these two members texted my suitemate asking for what they thought had happened. The other arguably acted worse, actively covering up for his friend. Today, both are still friends with the man I accused. Unfortunately, painting sexual assault victims as liars is an effective technique, and some of my teammates believed them over me, no matter what I said in my defense.

Luckily, the majority of the members of the Yale Debate Association have supported me privately. In public, however, they have pretended nothing is wrong in order to protect “team cohesion.” Consequently, there are official and unofficial spaces in the Yale Debate Association where I cannot feel included. These spaces include tournaments, social events and even practices that I officially lead. I have been de facto pushed out, or at the very least, sidelined by the Yale Debate Association.

The Yale Debate Association is a team where people are more interested in virtue-signaling than making efforts towards actual inclusivity. In doing this, members of the team protect the people who have been actively covering up the assault towards me. If you remain friends with somebody who supports an alleged assaulter, at the very least, you’re making sure nobody finds out about the assault so you don’t seem suspect by association. So members of our team, especially our novice class, and members of debate teams at other schools have been lied to this whole year about the moral character of our members. 

I think many of my teammates felt guilty about this. But this also means that the onus is on me to forgive them. People would tell me about all their friendly interactions with the people slandering me and covering up for the man I accused. They stated that they were sorry but defended their own actions. “It’s good to support other members of our team, no matter who they are.” “They were good at the formal position they had on the team, which I really admire.” 

They would ignore the toxic culture they were perpetrating by allowing this to slide. How can people feel safe on the team when nobody is willing to hold anyone accountable? Of course, I never showed discontent or asked for more support from my teammates. I didn’t want to lose the respect of others by criticizing them, especially given how many people stopped respecting me when I made the allegation in the first place.

The focus of some members of the team was not whether I was psychologically and physically safe on the Yale Debate Association. Rather, it was to make sure that the team as a whole did not find out about this. When I pushed back before our elections, knowing that it was important that we elect people who will protect the women on our team, they told me I had to be vague. They were worried that people would quit the team en masse. I used to hold these fears as well. But members of the Yale Debate Association have a right to know who they are trusting to lead us or to whom they are providing sensitive equity information or even who they are interacting with on our team. If I hide it and then somebody else gets hurt in a similar way, which is not unlikely, given that nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men will face sexual assault in college, it is on me for not warning them of the YDA history and how they may be treated by the powerful people on our team. 

So what now? On some level, I question whether this culture can be fixed at all. Debaters love to talk about ways we need to improve, but then never do the self-reflection to realize they are the reason we are talking in the first place. But if there is a member of the Yale Debate Association reading this who wants to do something, then they can begin by recognizing who the culture of “team cohesion” helps: the people who have things to hide and are glad that the team is washing away anything bad they have done. It doesn’t properly create team cohesion, because the shock when people eventually discover who we protected will create more distrust. The only way we can be proud of ourselves as a team and as individuals on this team is by putting in the work to make the Yale Debate Association better. This means angering the people who make this team unsafe. This means de-platforming people who are good debaters or good at their job but act against team values when in private. Because without radical action, this team will remain unsafe, and younger members will be subject to this as well. There is no good in staying silent about this.