After two years at the Yale Daily News, I have quit my role as a desk editor. I can’t stay silent on the endemic and toxic elements of the News’ culture that have led to my decision. The News often receives public criticism for its content, but not for the harmful environment that staffers have discussed each year I have been at Yale.
Don’t get me wrong — I have spent most of my time at the News doing meaningful reporting, forging strong connections with my community and building friendships that will last far beyond this place. But at a certain point, the intensity of the negatives outweighs any of the positives.
I ran for editor in chief during elections last semester. While I received praise from some due to my work and ideas, allegations that misrepresented personal situations were made against me during deliberations when I was not in the room. From what I’ve been told by over a dozen people, someone spoke about a callous comment I made that caused them harm months before, which from my recollection was not what I said and taken out of context. Everything devolved. Those with control over elections weren’t successful in stopping repeated attacks on my character or the faction of the room that interrupted and discredited anyone who dared to speak up for me. I felt failed by leadership, who I believe handled the situation poorly.
As a result, I felt forced to speak in front of 50 people about an incident of sexual misconduct I experienced at a fraternity to contextualize my comment, which I still maintain was not in line with what I recall saying. I want to make clear I don’t discount the harm I caused, even if unintentionally. I was still absolutely unfairly villainized by multiple people — including people I had never made eye contact with, let alone spoken to.
This was by far the most humiliating moment of my life. Before this, I had told a grand total of one friend about my experience at the frat. When the editor in chief called me back to the News building later that day for questions, almost no one would make eye contact with me.
When I looked over toward my friends and people with prior knowledge of the situation, they just shook their heads, and one told me, “I’m sorry.”
I struggled to breathe and stay composed as I apologized and attempted to explain my experience with sexual misconduct. Some people rolled their eyes. Many scribbled down notes about me to distribute to others around the room.
When I went back to my dorm after my election, I had a panic attack over the phone with my mom. Several people still encouraged me to come back for managing editor elections, and I did. I gave a new speech and tried not to shake and cry in front of the same people who sat by or made popcorn gallery remarks while I was being degraded hours earlier. Once again, I lost, but I agreed to become the City Desk editor. Partly because I love my desk and was still happy with the role in itself, and because I was scared of what quitting would mean for my career in journalism. But mostly out of a lack of self-respect.
Even before elections, my relationship with the organization was souring. Various people made discouraging comments about my candidacy to my face and behind my back.
Certain comments chipped away at my self-confidence and eroded my willpower. Even more disheartening were comments I heard about others. I won’t lie and say I hadn’t made any questionable comments either, but many things I heard about other people were downright cruel and slanderous. I tried to drop my candidacy thrice and was convinced otherwise every time — including by people who criticized me during deliberations.
After elections, I began hearing about the digs and insulting comments some people continued to make about me. Eventually, my sadness turned into resentment and anger. I couldn’t fathom that I was expected to be in a room every day with people who spoke about me behind my back, as well as ‘friends’ who listened to them disparage me. That was when I realized that I could count the number of people I was truly comfortable around on one hand.
Most of the people who did so, a friend noted one day, were white. I am a woman of color. I already knew that white women have decided throughout history that women of color don’t count as victims of sexual violence the way they do, but I hadn’t realized the way it worked here. Friends told me about white women who jumped onto attacks on me during deliberations and then discussed how overwhelming the situation was for them personally after the fact. My pain carried none of the weight that anyone else’s did, including that of people who weren’t involved at all. Despite me having to bear my soul about my own experience with sexual misconduct in front of over 50 people in the same hour, they didn’t afford me any of the same humanity they afforded themselves.
It was mortifying for several people to raise shouts over my apparent dismissal of sexual misconduct at Yale due to a comment that I believe was misconstrued. I have been subject to sexual misconduct multiple times and I survived domestic violence throughout most of my childhood. But to many people at the News, I’m not a person. I’m an outline of a character that they were too eager to pile onto the hate train for.
The next morning, food started tasting weird. For some reason, I could only stomach bananas. It reminded me of when I had the flu. I was too lethargic to get out of bed, too vulnerable to sit in the Elm, where News members like to camp out throughout the day. I got extensions on nearly all of my finals because I lost the will to continue. Telling the story again and again to my incredulous friends made me numb. No matter how many times people who were at the election itself tried to cheer me up by buying me coffee or ice cream, nothing helped. Some nights, I felt I couldn’t breathe.
My election hadn’t just ruined the Yale Daily News for me. It ruined Yale as a whole.
The events of last semester nearly decimated my drive to become a journalist. I told myself that if this was the culture of the often-competitive industry at large, it wasn’t worth it. I started to gain my sense of self-worth back when I worked at a professional newspaper this summer. Being in a newsroom with good, encouraging people showed me the industry doesn’t have to be this way. I slowly realized that I deserve much, much better than what the News did to me.
I’m not alone. During my two years at Yale, this was the fourth time a person of color who ran for upper management quit from their editorship after being negatively targeted in elections. Most of their tenures post-elections were short-lived, as was mine. You can only push a person so far before they’ve had enough.
My breaking point was receiving emails and texts from prospective writers excited to join my desk. At first, I was thrilled to help people along their paths to become more active community members or journalists. But as I made plans for brunches and coffee dates, I realized I felt unable to tell first years and sophomores in good faith to join an organization that has repeatedly tried to destroy its members.
In the words of a former editor who tried to console me after elections, this is “structurally a shitty place because it often props up people who are bullies or status-obsessed.” That’s what happened before elections with the discouraging comments about myself and cruel comments about others. To get to the top, people feel they need to step on others who might threaten them. As for during my election, I believe that criticizing me felt like a rite of passage or means of participation for some people who chimed in without stake. But those who ultimately dominated the conversation were upperclassman editors with power in the organization. I was a sophomore reporter.
I have been told that leadership is making efforts to improve the cultural and structural problems that have led to the mistreatment of myself and others. But so far, this situation has not been publicly addressed. Organization-wide, the record hasn’t been set straight — not about what happened to me and not about atrocious, unfair or racist deliberations that preceded resignations after the two previous elections.
In addition, casually and not-so-casually disparaging people around elections has become normalized to the point where close friends, including some of mine, have done it to each other. Not to mention the racial biases that have defined experiences here for over a century. It’s difficult to change a broken culture from the bottom up, no matter how well-intentioned the people at the top are. I personally feel I’m enabling all of this by just being at the YDN, period.
The News has created a hostile environment for some that others gloss over and minimize. There’s a retention problem — especially among people of color. I’m the second A-section desk editor to quit in the past two weeks because “maybe this place isn’t worth devoting time to anymore.”
It’s a shame that the place where I once spent countless nights becoming a sharper, more passionate reporter has become the place where I hit rock bottom. More than being a training ground for talent and tenacity, it’s become a training ground for jealousy, slander and apathy towards the suffering of others.
MEGAN VAZ is a junior in Pierson College. She formerly was a city editor at the News and can be reached at email@example.com.
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.