Tag Archive: women

  1. Examining the 80 percent

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    “Such a nasty woman.”

    During the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 19, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 addressed her plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to continue funding Social Security. In response to Clinton’s jab about his undisclosed tax returns, Republican nominee Donald Trump delivered one of his trademark interruptions. Shaking his head, as if to say “what a shame,” he branded his opponent with a now-viral phrase: nasty woman.

    No one can deny Trump has a gift for catchy nicknames. And with this one, he may have solidified Clinton’s lead in a key demographic: women, whose support for him was already plunging after the release of 2005 Access Hollywood tapes in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.”

    From mid-September’s pre-debates NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll to one conducted post-tape leak in mid-October, Clinton’s lead over Trump in a four-way matchup swelled from 6 to 11 percent. As of Oct. 11, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight had compiled 12 national polls to find that Trump trailed Clinton by 15 points among female voters. For comparison, in 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is estimated to have lost among women by 8 points. In the last few weeks of the election, as her lead widens, Clinton has eased up on direct campaigning, lending her influence to tight Senate and House races.

    Among college voters, even those who temper their support for Clinton, Trump’s statements have finally united self-identified “nasty women” around the Democratic nominee. At Yale, Trump’s debate comment set off a Twitter firestorm and launched multiple t-shirt campaigns. Eleanor Slota ’17 recalls her mother’s reaction during their viewing of the debate: “Has nasty women merchandise started circulating yet? Because it will.” And indeed, the Yale College Democrats have begun selling t-shirts emblazoned with “Nasty Woman” and “Bad Hombre,” another Trump debate quote.

    Azeezat Adeleke ’17, vice-president of the Dems, can’t wait to wear her t-shirt. She believes students have taken to the term as a rallying cry, citing photos they’ve posted with absentee ballots — Clinton/Kaine box checked — captioned with a Trumpian epithet. At Yale, 80 percent of students support Clinton for the presidency, according to an October survey by the News. Among students who identify as Republicans, 29.92 percent plan to vote for Clinton, more than the 26.14 percent who support Trump.

    It’s entirely safe to say Hillary Clinton has won Yale, though it’s no surprise that the undergraduate population has swung Democratic. (The University’s undergrads have essentially tended towards the leftmost fringe of political discourse since before the last footsteps of William F. Buckley Jr. ’50 echoed over the threshold of Skull and Bones.) But Clinton’s 80 percent is more complicated than it appears. According to a mid-October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Clinton stood 13 points ahead of Trump among younger voters. A September New York Times/CBS poll showed that more than a third of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 planned to vote for a third-party candidate.

    Though many at Yale supported Clinton from the start, as evidenced by the three-year tenure of Yale Students for Hillary, there was no shortage of ambivalence about her on campus. In August 2015, the News conducted its annual survey of incoming freshmen. The survey found that 38 percent of the class of 2019 supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (D–Vermont), while Clinton trailed with 23 percent.

    To the left, to the left

    For many students at Yale during the primary season, Bernie Sanders was a more appealing choice for president. During his visit to New Haven in April, Overheard at Yale was flooded with photos of the back of Sanders’ head — the closest one could get through the crowds that followed him.

    Gabrielle Diaz ’18, the current Ward 22 Democratic Committee co-chair, characterizes college-age voters as generally further left than the Democratic Party. Esul Burton ’20, who has canvassed a few times for Clinton through the Yale Dems, remembers the primary season as follows: “One week I’d be feeling the Bern; the next, I’d be with her.” As a woman of color, Burton found Sanders’ positions on criminal justice reform and the Black Lives Matter movement appealing.

    Though she voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, Rita Wang ’19, the political action coordinator at the Yale Women’s Center, says she did so to encourage the Democratic Party to embrace more progressive policies as she still expected to support Hillary Clinton in the general election. Wang believes her ability to see herself as a political person stems from seeing Hillary Clinton throughout her life. “She has been in the public sphere as a politician for as long as I have been alive, and her loss in 2008 was all too reminiscent of the high school campaigns I have lost.” For Wang, women in power promote broader gender equality, especially given the obstacles they may face in being elected.

    Musing on Clinton’s lack of support during the primary season, Wang said, “Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t speak the ‘woke’ language easily that us Yale students are so used to hearing from Bernie and on campus.” Layla Treuhaft-Ali ’17, former chair of the Party of the Left, believes the animosity from leftists toward Clinton reveals “pretty serious sexism.” But she argues that millennials, unlike their parents, are more interested in candidates’ policies than their identities. That opinion would resonate with the many millennial feminists across the U.S. who refused to support Clinton solely on the basis that she might break the last “glass ceiling” aspired to by their mother and grandmothers. “Is Hillary a good candidate for feminists? Her policies are much better for women than Trump’s, in terms of reproductive rights and health care, and that’s what I care about,” Treuhaft-Ali said. “Is she, personally, a feminist icon? Probably not, and that’s okay with me.”

    In early February, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a controversial statement: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Many believed her remark was directed at women, especially younger women, who were not planning to support Clinton.

    As if to underscore the shift from generation to generation of feminists, a senior at Yale, sitting in the Women’s Center during their voter registration drive, responded to Albright’s comment with an explosive “fuck you!”

    Identity Politics

    Yet women may still need to help each other. There’s no denying it: simply because she is the first woman to be a major party nominee, Clinton has faced some unprecedented difficulties on the national stage. Sarah Rose ’17, a member of the Party of the Left, mentioned that, for her, Clinton lacks a charismatic stage presence — but sarcastically noted that charisma, for many Americans, is “much easier to display when presenting as male with a deep voice.” Burton acknowledges the deep and subtle power of entrenched gender expectations, saying “part of me bought into the sexist portrayal of Clinton. She seemed untrustworthy and cold, and I didn’t want that in my president.”

    Burton now enthusiastically supports Clinton. She believes that the labels assigned to her — “liar,” “crook,” “untrustworthy” — would not have been assigned to male politicians on either side of the aisle, mentioning Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 and Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Florida). Burton argues that “politicians across the board aren’t genuine and aren’t transparent, but we expect Clinton, as a woman, to be held to a higher standard.”

    Though she acknowledges many are thrilled to shatter the glass ceiling, Rose believes that electing women as leaders must extend beyond the White House, and that the wage gap and social gender norms need to be addressed as well. Emaline Kelso ’17, who previously supported Bernie Sanders, agrees, but more bluntly. “Hillary will not ‘shatter the glass ceiling.’ A white, wealthy, highly-educated woman with deep political connections becoming president does not, cannot and will not signal the end of the patriarchy.” Kelso points to President Barack Obama’s election, arguing that it did not eliminate racism or resolve racial tension.

    Eleanor Runde ’17 tempers Kelso’s argument. “Our national narrative changed when Obama was elected. The stories that we tell ourselves about what America is, and what America can be, changed. The same is true this November.” Runde argues that facets of a candidate’s identity matter to Americans who share those identities, and beyond that, to those who advocate for greater equality.

    In her 1995 speech at the United Nations as First Lady, Hillary Clinton said, “Women’s rights are human rights,” a statement she echoed in her 2008 concession speech. During that campaign, Clinton had not stressed her identity as a female candidate, lest she receive the same criticism as 2000 Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole, of whom one GOP consultant complained, “she has to have a message beyond ‘I am woman, hear me roar,’” referencing Helen Reddy’s 1971 feminist anthem. The idea among millennial feminists that gender should not be a primary motivating factor is not new.

    But on July 28, 2016, Hillary Clinton was introduced by the voice of God, Morgan Freeman, to accept the Democratic nomination. Opening the convention, she had appeared after the portraits of all the men she hopes to succeed in the White House on a massive screen, in the midst of shattering glass. Into “18 million pieces,” as Clinton put it in her 2008 concession speech, referring to the number of votes she received in the primary. Despite a less ardent desire to see a woman in the White House from younger feminists and criticism of her behavior from both sides of the aisle, Clinton had decided to embrace the historic nature of her candidacy. Ironically, it is her opponent who has unintentionally allowed her to capitalize on it in the final weeks of the election.

    The Trump Touch

    When Trump closed his eyes, shook his head and called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” he appears to have underestimated how many women had yet to cast their ballots.

    Josh Altman ’17, president of the conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale, believes Trump’s attitudes toward women everywhere have now drawn far more focus than Clinton’s own gender. He believes the tapes seriously hurt Trump’s candidacy due to a wives-and-daughters effect. “Republican men cannot fathom having to justify these comments … to their female family members.” Emmy Reinwald ’17, co-president of the Yale College Republicans, calls the tapes “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for many Republican women who had previously backed Trump, ignoring his personal behavior and prioritizing conservative values and Supreme Court nominations. But for some Democrats on campus, this shift is too little, too late. “If the majority of those middle-range voters cared about women and respecting women, they would have been suspicious of Trump before his pussy-grabbing comments,” said Diaz.

    The “nasty woman” comment also touched a nerve among younger voters. It made Burton “livid,” shocking her in a way the Access Hollywood tapes did not. “Maybe it was because he said it during a presidential debate on national TV, which meant he intended it to be heard publicly, but I was pretty upset.” said Burton. “To say that directly to Clinton when debating her on live television? It’s disgusting.”

    Helen Price ’18, co-director of Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale, argues that this election in particular has “put a spotlight on the kind of subtle sexism that virtually every woman is familiar with — the obsession with Clinton not seeming “likeable” and that being discussed in very gendered terms; the fact that she — the most qualified candidate to ever run for president — has to stand on a stage and debate with a man who is wildly unqualified and misogynistic as if they were equals.” Price said that the “nasty woman” moment has electrified many millennial women and allowed them to identify more closely with Clinton. “Women at Yale, and educated women everywhere, are so often characterized as aggressive, mean or pushy for voicing our opinions or being ambitious.”

    From her years as part of the Yale Political Union, Treuhaft-Ali remembers men criticizing her as “too aggressive,” and “too angry,” while men speaking alongside her were praised for being “assertive and convincing.” She was instructed to lower her voice so as not to sound too feminine. Men in the audience gestured for her to cut her speeches short.

    However, the effect of #NastyWoman has some doubters. Bree Peilen, a junior at the University of Michigan who previously organized for Bernie Sanders and now does so for Clinton, said the phrase seems to be uniting feminists already committed to Clinton, rather than swinging undecided voters.

    On the right, Amalia Halikias ’15, a former member of the Yale College Republicans, the Tory Party and the Buckley program, thinks the “nasty woman pride response is laugh-out-loud hilarious.” She wonders if her social media feeds would have “blown up” had Trump called Hillary a “stupid woman” instead. Reinwald, also of the Yale College Republicans, characterized the phrase as a great sound bite, saying, “the Clinton campaign couldn’t have scripted anything better; it was a hashtag waiting to happen!” She says, “It’s become a rallying cry for feminists; they’ve reappropriated the insult and wear it as a badge of honor.”

    Runde couldn’t agree more. She believes the reclaiming of the epithet on social media has allowed women to create power out of disempowerment, celebrating their “nastiness.” “To self-label as a ‘nasty woman’ is to acknowledge prejudice and to proudly proclaim non-conformity to restrictive standards,” said Runde, who will perform tonight with the Sphincter Troupe, a feminist political comedy sketch group, at their “Nasty Women” show.

    “It is to laugh in the face of that prejudice, and sometimes, that’s all you can do.”

    The Impossible Election

    In her commencement speech at Wellesley in 1969, before she was Secretary Clinton, HRC, Hillz, Hil(liar)y, or simply Hillary, Hillary Diane Rodham told her graduating class, “the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.”

    Many things that seemed impossible are now quite possible. A thrice-married tycoon was chosen as the evangelical standard bearer in a primary landslide, from a field of 17, including senators and governors. The Speaker of the House has refused to continue campaigning with his party’s candidate. A self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” gave an establishment candidate a run for her money that ultimately threatened to split the Democratic convention. And a woman is running for president.

    Contact Elizabeth Miles at

    elizabeth.a.miles@yale.edu .

  2. Student group fosters gender diversity in CS


    Like most universities in the U.S., Yale awards more computer science degrees to men than women. Indicative of the so-called “leaky pipeline,” which describes the phenomenon in which women drop out of educational programs in STEM fields, this gender imbalance has long been a source of concern for Yale.

    But the undergraduate organization FloatYale aims to be part of the solution to this problem.

    According to its website, Float’s mission is to empower, inspire and celebrate women in computer science. Founded in January 2014 by Christine Hong ’15 and Victoria Nielsen ’16, Float promotes gender minorities in computer science through a mentorship program, workshops, speakers and an annual hackathon.

    Hong said that her motivation for starting the organization was to create a support network for women in computer science — something that previously hadn’t been available to students at Yale. Additionally, she hoped the organization would be proactive in teaching practical skills, such as web development.

    Current president Payal Modi ’17 said that while the organization is aimed at promoting women and gender diversity in computer science, the organization’s events are open to all genders.

    “Including men in the conversation is important,” Modi said. “While it is important to have spaces that are gender- and minority-specific, it is important to include them in the picture and help them understand the things they can do to help and increase awareness.”

    Others also expressed the necessity of having support networks for women. Six female computer science majors interviewed said that issues relating to gender diversity become obvious during office hours, as well as while forming project groups in higher-level classes. Several added, however, that professors in the department have become cognizant of diversity issues and are making a concerted effort to address them.

    Although gender diversity has always been a priority within Yale’s Computer Science Department, discussion around this issue has occurred only relatively recently, according to computer science professor Holly Rushmeier.

    “We don’t have a coherent plan [for diversity] yet because prior to 2008, this wasn’t even a thing,” Rushmeier said. “Our major was tiny with a graduating class of 15 people. Then, the problem with the pipeline was that we were trying to get anybody in the pipeline.”

    Rushmeier attributed the sudden surge in interest in computer science during the last decade to a variety of factors, including the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Facebook, and “The Social Network” film. She added that computer science departments around the world are overwhelmed all of a sudden by the number of majors.

    Last semester, Float hosted its first town hall meeting. According to Modi, last semester’s meeting largely consisted of discussion and the group plans on hosting one town hall meeting every semester.

    “Float did a great contribution by having the town hall last spring,” Rushmeier said. “It raised issues [the Computer Science Department] wasn’t aware of — the sorts of things that were making people uncomfortable. There were individual anecdotes that people were not aware of. It hadn’t occurred to us that this was affecting some populations differently and discouraging some people.”

    Most recently, Float hosted a dinner for their mentorship program, in which upperclassmen computer science majors were paired with underclassmen mentees.

    Sonia Gadre ’20, a Float mentee from Lexington, Kentucky, said she joined the program to find a community of people, adding that sometimes computer science can be intimidating in the beginning.

    Jessica Pancer ’17, Gadre’s mentor, said that she originally joined Float for moral support in computer science. Pancer is also the founder of Women of 323, a group she created for female classmates in CPSC 323, a high-level computer science course.

    Rushmeier said that last year’s events surrounding race and inclusion on campus raised everyone’s awareness about diversity. She added that there have been many conversations regarding the progress of the department with respect to these goals, as well as what else can be done.

    The Computer Science Department is committed to diversity in both students and faculty, Rushmeier said. Currently, they are putting energy into hiring a diverse faculty and addressing a shortage in graduate students.

    “There’s the perennial problem of the graduate student population and faculty recruiting. It’s not choosing the diverse people from the applicant pool, it’s getting applicants in the first place,” Rushmeier said. “We have to work hard to make it known to the people we want to apply, ‘Hey, Yale is here, and we want you to come to graduate school here, and we want to hire you.’”

    Float will host its second town hall meeting on Nov. 4 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

  3. CS department sponsors students at women in tech conference

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    Last year, only a handful of students represented Yale at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, an annual conference celebrating women in technology. This year, however, upward of 30 Yale students attended as a result of increased funding from Yale’s Department of Computer Science.

    The conference, which according to its website is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, is produced by the Anita Borg Institute — a social enterprise aimed at promoting women in technology. Its mission is to highlight the contributions of women to computing by convening the field’s women leaders. For three days last week, college students from across the world traveled to Houston, where they networked with leaders from industry, government and academia. According to the schedule of events, offerings were diverse, ranging from presentations on data science and social entrepreneurship to computer science career fairs.

    The conference, however, comes with a hefty price tag. According to Payal Modi ’17, President of FloatYale, a student organization aimed to promote women and gender minorities in computer science, Grace Hopper normally costs approximately $1,200 per person.

    “It was empowering, particularly as a black woman, to go to a conference where there are a hundred, two hundred black women in one room,” said Saran Morgan ’18, a computer science major. “It was super empowering and inspiring, and I got the feeling where people were okay to admit their faults, their struggles, and at the same time be able to celebrate their successes.”

    Computer science professor Holly Rushmeier said that this year, the students who attended the conference sought out funding from a variety of different sources, adding that the department was allotted $36,000 a year to send students to Grace Hopper. According to Rushmeier, this funding came from a variety of sources including the offices of the University provost, the dean of Yale College and the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. This funding will be renewed every year for two more years, she added.

    “Approximately 25 [students] were funded through this money, and then [FloatYale] got additional funding of their own,” Rushmeier said. “Then, various students applied directly to the Anita Borg Institute, and they awarded scholarships to go to the conference through that process.”

    According to Rushmeier, the department had roughly $5,000 in funding to sponsor students for the conference last year. However, because registration for Grace Hopper begins at the end of the summer, by the time the department learned of the funding, the conference was already sold out. The only students who were able to take advantage of the funding last year, therefore, were those who had been waitlisted for the conference.

    Students interviewed said that attending the conference had a tremendous impact on both their personal lives and early careers.

    “It was empowering to see everyone there, because usually you don’t see such large ratios of women, and that sometimes leads people to question if you have a future [in computer science],” said Summer Wu ’18, a computer science major. Wu received funding to attend last year through Google, but was sponsored through Capital One this year.

    Other students spoke of experiencing a renewed commitment to computer science after attending the conference.

    Emon Datta ’18 said she appreciated hearing from women who are interested in the social implications of technology, which, she said, the tech industry hasn’t historically focused on.

    “I’m someone who’s always wanted to go into STEM and not [Computer Science] specifically, so it’s not something that changed ideas of what I want to do in the future,” Datta said. “But it renewed my commitment in computer science, and I got to see powerful role models who look like me.”

    Rushmeier said that looking forward to next year, she is optimistic about the availability of funding. Now that a constant source of funding for the next two years is in place, the department can buy bulk registration and accommodation in advance, she added.

    In selecting students to sponsor, Rushmeier said she did so by seniority because this was the most easily applied and equitable measure. Seniors and juniors were given priority, and previous computer science courses were also considered. She added that for the next iteration of Grace Hopper, she will again prioritize seniority while selecting students, although students who have already attended will be given lower priority.

    Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was founded in 1994.

    Clarification, Oct. 28: A previous version of this article was ambiguous regarding the source of Summer Wu’s funding to attend the Grace Hopper conference. While Wu received funding to attend Grace Hopper last year through Google, she was sponsored through Capital One this year.

  4. My Years in the Berkeley Brothel

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    This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.


    One dewy morning in the spring of 2010 (I remember — the grass was very wet), I, then a high school junior, took my first campus tour of Yale. Our guide, a petite, vivacious senior from Trinidad named Rheaya, walked backwards, her arms gesticulating, peppering the typical spiel about Yale’s many gems with little-known factoids to make us laugh, and, I suspected, to give us something other than the usual college tour fodder to hang onto.

    This is not a story about how I chose Yale, or why I chose it, or how, even, I am feeling now that I have come full circle. No, it is a story about how one of Rheaya’s little asides left an indelible imprint on my college experience.

    At a certain point during our tour, a timid, mousy-sounding girl raised her hand and asked Rheaya to discuss Greek life at Yale.

    Fraternity parties were an opt-in sort of social scene — there if you wanted them, totally invisible if not. Sororities were such a small portion of campus, she said, that Yale had only three at the time. And because of an old Connecticut law on the books since the colonial era, no more than seven women could live in each sorority house. Any household containing more than seven unrelated women was legally considered a brothel.

    Two full years later, when the time came to decide about sophomore housing, I knew I wanted a change. I’d come to Yale in search of community, but the extracurriculars I’d joined – the News, a psychology lab – didn’t offer the same social scenes as my suitemates’ activities, the marching band and the Frisbee team. What was more, I only lived with two other girls, and we all deeply wanted more suite-mates with whom we could gossip and host spontaneous dance parties.

    We joined forces with three other girls living across the hall, but there were too many groups vying for Berkeley’s limited number of sophomore girl sextets. So one of us reached out to a pair of floaters and invited them to our suite for a “housing meeting.”

    What ensued was an hour I’ll never forget: a get-together that began awkwardly and ended with our two new additions performing a choreographed dance routine to Beyoncé’s “Love On Top” while the rest of us whooped and cheered.

    We were going to live together, which meant we would sign up for Berkeley’s only octet, which meant that eight girls would be living together in one “household” in Berkeley. In short, we were a Brothel.

    The Berkeley Brothel.

    It was silly and perhaps wildly inappropriate, but the Berkeley Brothel (or BKB, as we like to abbreviate it) became our home and our identity. After dinner, my suitemate Carla typically turned to me and asked, “Are you studying in the Brothel tonight?” When any one of us bumped into another on the street and asked where we were headed, a perfunctory “the Brothel” was enough. One time, one of my suitemates wrote my dean an email and CC’d “the Brothel” – a moniker that, thankfully, she didn’t question.

    Over the summer, we ordered BKB shot glasses and a stainless steel cocktail shaker monogrammed with the initials “B.K.B.” We formed a Google group and inaugurated a semesterly advice column called “Ask Annie,” in which all of us would submit obnoxiously pointed questions like “What is the proper etiquette on showering with one’s partner in a public bathroom?” (A resident Brothelite was infamously guilty for committing such a crime.) We hosted many parties, but as much as we joked, none of them ended up “red light district”-themed.

    It was funny. Despite our name, none of us lived particularly Brothel-esque lives. We took on the 12-college challenge as a group and only made it about halfway through. Mostly, we were a group of girls (and over the years, a handful of guys) who stuck together because we could look beyond Yale norms — GPAs, achievements, frat parties, hookups — to support each other for the simple thing that we were: friends. Our Brothel provided us with a safe space to feel desired and a group of people who would be there no matter how far we strayed.

    At the end of sophomore year, the Berkeley Brothel faced its first real test. One of our suitemates, Karin Shedd ’16, decided to take a year off, and we filled her spot in the octet we’d selected for our junior year with our guy friend Andres Bustamante ’15. With Andres, the Brothel was no longer technically a brothel. But to acknowledge as much would have been to jettison all the “BKB” cutlery and attire we’d acquired, not to mention the communal significance we’d attached to the name. Instead, we wholeheartedly (if nonsensically) anointed Andres a full brothel member.

    In any case, it was clear that the Brothel constituted far more than eight girls living precariously above the law. It was a group of friends, ever growing, who like me had been seeking to carve out a true family at Yale. And even though many of us floated through other communities, this artificial one we’d shaped felt the most authentic of all.

    This year, I live in a sextet with five of the original eight Brothelites. Two of us became frocos, the last just finished her junior year over in Swing Space, and Andres, our ninth member, lives across the courtyard. Still, our brothel mailing list (which doubles as the guest list for all closed Brothel events) now numbers 14 people.

    As I write these words, I’m sitting in a fellow Brothelite’s Cape Cod home, where we’ve come to spend dead week. Before starting, I procrastinated a little by googling Rheaya’s “brothel law” explanation. As you may have suspected, dear reader, it turns out that the brothel law, the one on which I’d built my Yale family, doesn’t really exist. It is, the Internet tells me, one of the longest-enduring folktales in the history of higher education.

    It seems silly that none of us had thought to look up the law sooner. Perhaps we were in denial, subconsciously afraid to throw off an order that felt so fortuitously perfect. Or perhaps we knew that even if Connecticut didn’t legally recognize us as a brothel, we always would identify ourselves that way, no matter where we were living. And that’s the true value of the thing. Though we will no doubt mature out of our Brothel antics, I know that we will stay united in spirit, one figurative household living precariously above the law.


    Michelle Hackman is a senior in Berkeley College. She was a city editor on the Managing Board of 2015.

  5. Murder With an Exclamation Point

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    “Murder and Women in the 19th Century,” at the Sterling Memorial Law Library, confronts viewers with death, rape and assault — all consolidated into two neat glass cases.

    The exhibit features illustrated pamphlets that depict some of the 19th century’s most famous murder cases involving women, whether as victims or perpetrators. And although many of the pamphlets contained attractive typography and eye-catching drawings, the brutality they depicted made for an unsavory contrast.

    My eye shifted from one gruesome scene to another and finally focused on a black and white drawing neatly placed in the corner of one of the two displays. The drawing depicted the “beautiful” Miss Alice A. Bowlsby, victim of the Trunk Tragedy. Occupying the upper half of the image was a group of men in top hats crowded around a trunk, peering into its horrifying contents. The looks on their faces were worried, but also overwhelmingly curious.

    Although billed as a legal history, the exhibit also chronicles a history of voyeurism. As I examined each piece, I felt transported — like a rubbernecker on an extremely lethal highway. And despite my horror, I was enthralled.  As I looked from image to image, from one cheaply produced pamphlet to another, I felt like one of those unapologetically curious men in top hats.

    At the top of most pamphlets was a price, ranging from ten cents to about 25. Just below, most featured bold lettering exclaiming some of the case’s most scandalous details: “The Unfortunate Wife is now Dying in Prison!” The pamphlets’ aesthetic reminded me of cereal-boxes boasting prizes inside — prizes that never quite lived up to the hype. Similarly, the facts of each murder were never quite as colorful as the headline suggested.

    Each headline promised to provide the “ultimate,” tantalizing details about the grotesque event. Yet each pamphlet was starkly unoriginal. In most, the woman was “beautiful,” “pretty” or “unfortunate.”  “Pretty Rose Ambler, the Connecticut Beauty” reads one. All we glean about Ambler’s life is a one-liner that communicates her general physical attractiveness. “Pretty” tells us nothing about Ms. Ambler’s personality, presence or relationships. Anybody interested in 19th century gender-roles would have field day.

    It makes me wonder, did these people get funerals with their loved ones? Or was this it?

    For the purposes of the pamphlet, that one-liner sufficed, coloring the subject in just enough to win the viewer’s affection. This, in turn, made her death worth 10 cents. The accumulation of so many murder stories in the exhibit seemed like a huge mass grave in which the personalities of the victims (or criminals, in some cases) was lost in a sea of indistinct faces.

    Murders weren’t the only 19th century occurrences to merit pamphlets, which were also used to spread information about topics like religion, politics and even sex. The universality of the medium further homogenized the lives and deaths of these individual women.

    But sensationalist pamphlets provided people with a desperately needed sense of involvement in another world. “Be the Judge, Be the Jury,” read the cover of one publication. This sounds like the title of a children’s game. Was this the 19th century version of The Sims? Unlike computer-generated automatons, though, these were real people dying, something these mass-produced pamphlets make it easy to forget.

  6. Funny Girls

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    In a basement classroom of William Harkness Hall, a tangle of beta decay equations and Chinese characters and Spanish phrases occupy the chalkboard. Stray potato chips lie scattered on the seminar table. Six students are settled in around the table, their laptops open and their voices lively — but this is not your usual discussion session. Rather, it’s a meeting of the Fifth Humour, Yale’s oldest sketch comedy group. And this isn’t your usual Fifth Humour meeting, either. The male members of the group have disappeared into the night, and the six students sitting here, belly-laughing their way through sketch read-throughs, are all women.

    These women are preparing for a show to take place in Sudler Recital Hall, located just upstairs. On Saturday night, the room will play host to no student recitals or chamber music performances; instead, it’ll be occupied by students-turned-spectators, who have come with enough laughs prepared for two hours of back-to-back comedy performances, all by women.

    Billed as a “leading lady-driven version of Saturday Night Live” on its Facebook event page, “That’s What She Said” is organized by Sabrina Bleich ’16, who works as a staffer at the Yale Women’s Center. The showcase serves as Bleich’s individual staffer project for this semester and will feature women from almost every comedy group on campus in a lineup of approximately 20-minute-long sets. Bleich is surprised by the enthusiasm that the event, originally intended to be low-key, has received so far. “I underestimated how many women are involved in comedy on this campus,” she tells me.

    * * *

    “That’s What She Said” isn’t the first event of its kind to happen at Yale. In fact, the Women’s Center has sponsored two other all-female comedy showcases in recent memory, one in 2007 and the other in 2009. As Bleich explains, she’s aimed for a similar structure in this Saturday’s showcase by tapping into the existing establishment of sketch and improv groups, which are already accustomed to collaborations and joint shows. Bleich hopes to provide an opportunity for women to break off from their respective groups for a night and come together as a larger community.

    Yet the structural similarities between this Saturday’s event and the previous ones belie some of the shifts that Bleich has observed in the wider comedy landscape in the past several years. “It’s definitely become more of a discussion recently with all these movies coming out, like ‘Bridesmaids’ — what is women’s place in comedy?” She goes on to cite other examples such as the leading ladies of “Broad City,” with whom, according to Brooke Levin ’16, her sketch comedy group Red Hot Poker had the opportunity to meet and work two years ago at a comedy festival. While Bleich believes that changes still need to be made, there has already been significant progress. “In 2007, that idea that girls aren’t funny was still part of the dialogue. I think that’s sort of been turned on its head a little bit and is being used to the advantage of female comics who are saying, ‘Oh, girls aren’t funny? Okay, let’s prove otherwise.’”

    Elizabeth Villarreal ’16, head coordinator of the Women’s Center, who helped Bleich organize the event, nonetheless makes a qualification; while she would like to believe that much progress has been made, the fact that such a stereotype still remains recognizable only indicates that it continues to exist in the discourse. And that’s a problem.

    * * *

    But in the comedy scene at Yale, women are standing up and standing out.

    The Fifth Humour is equally divided between males and females. In the experience of co-director Brooke Eastman ’16, Yale offers a range of opportunities for comedians of all gender identifications: “I’ve never once felt that, as a female comedian, there were things that I couldn’t say that my fellow male comedians could say. In some ways, I think that Yale is a far more progressive place than the world of mainstream comedy.”

    Sophie Dillon ’17, assistant director of Red Hot Poker as well as a member of improv group The Viola Question, notes a similar experience, telling me that her group currently has more women than men.

    Of particular interest is one group that consists purely of women: the all-female, feminist sketch comedy group, the Sphincter Troupe, of which both Bleich and Villarreal are members. According to Bleich, not many college campuses can boast such a group.

    All of this stands in stark contrast to what Henry Connelly reports in the Oct. 10, 2007 issue of the News: “The vast majority of sketch and improvisational comedy groups on campus are directed by men. Both the winners of the January 2007 Last Comic Standing competition were male. There can be little doubt, some say, that comedy today — at least at Yale — is dominated by men.”

    Thus it would seem that Claire Gordon ’10, who organized the Female Comedy Showcase in 2007, was addressing a context decidedly distinct from the one that Bleich is working within now. In light of how female comedians seem to be thriving on campus, justifying the existence of such a showcase at Yale becomes less straightforward — it goes deeper than gender ratios alone. There is enthusiasm here for the showcase, lots of it, and there is still the sense among the women that I speak to that something like this continues to be relevant — even necessary.

    * * *

    Dillon and Eliana Kwartler ’16, a member of the Yale Ex!t Players, were the only two female performers in this October’s Last Comic Standing event, although both advanced to the final round. Neither was able to attribute the low representation of women in the event to a specific cause, particularly without knowing how many women had auditioned. Reluctant to point to any active bias on campus, Dillon nevertheless perceives a continuing struggle for women in the stand-up world at large.

    “Women get a rep for not being funny,” Dillon explains, “because everyone is brought up to recognize the male perspective, so that [perspective] makes sense to a much larger group of people.” The very fact that she finds Louis CK’s jokes about fatherhood and male masturbation humorous, she says, is a testament to the predominance of the male worldview. For Dillon, comedy provides a vehicle for experiencing other worldviews. Thus, events like “That’s What She Said” have value because they bring us closer toward parity in the realm of comedy — and beyond.

    While these women all praise the progressive environments of their respective groups, they clarify that none of them are actively feminist in the way that the Sphincter Troupe is. Although Bleich herself is a proud member of Sphincter, she emphasizes that the showcase itself is not designed to be explicitly political, but participants can go in that direction if they choose.

    Many of the women in the showcase have drawn inspiration not only from successful female figures in mainstream comedy, but also from the work of their female peers. Eastman has nothing but admiration for Sphincter, especially their gender-bending performances. Whereas the act of playing the opposite gender often serves as a punch line in the world of comedy, she says, such a focus is absent from Sphincter’s performances. Rather, their humor comes more from the characters they create and the structures of their sketches; in a group composed exclusively of women, gender becomes incidental. Eastman and her co-director, Allison Kolberg ’16, have enjoyed that same freedom from gender considerations when putting together the script for their group’s performance on Saturday.

    Villarreal remarks that a women-only space can be politically significant in itself, pointing to the existence of her own group, Sphincter. “Even if the other groups don’t have this sort of explicitly feminist content, it’s a cool political statement just that this is happening. And that sends a message that women are funny, women are funny at Yale, and women are doing funny things right now.”

    Kwartler finds something uniquely constructive in the comedic medium itself. “Improv is an incredibly supportive march — you need to be helping the people around you, so at its most basic level, it’s kind of feminist in that we’re all equals,” she observes. In both form and content, in the empowering characters and the novel worlds that her group pulls out of thin air, Kwartler believes in the inherent ability of improv to open up a wider range of perceptions, even if the word “feminism” is never directly uttered. On a more fundamental level, humor in itself is an accessible medium, connecting performers to audience members and making otherwise difficult content approachable.

    In his 2007 article, Connelly takes note of some students who had been uninterested in that year’s showcase, perceiving it as focused less on comedy and more on agenda. Yet, given the nature of comedy as a particularly conducive platform for provoking dialogue through dialogue, it seems indeed a waste for comedy never to have an agenda.

    * * *

    “That’s What She Said” has Annemarie McDaniel ’16, board member of the Women’s Center and graphic designer for the event, to thank for its title. It’s particularly apt, an acknowledgement and celebration of these women’s voices that runs counter to its usual usage. Villarreal agrees: “That’s what good comedy does, right? Especially female comedy. It takes something that already exists and subverts it and gets the female perspective out there.”

    And in the vein of getting things “out there,” the showcase seeks to draw Yale’s female comics out as well, into the spotlight. This is what Kwartler is talking about, when she says: “I don’t know what’s going to happen in our set, but I know that we’ll be up there saying, ‘Hey, we’re here.’ And that’s really cool.”

  7. Too Tall! Go Home!

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    I had lots of expectations for senior year. Back in my youth, I’d heard upperclassmen describe it as a golden era, a time of bucket lists and day-seizing and buying wine legally. I’d imagined I would spend it hosting terribly grown-up dinner parties, reading philosophy in the bath and swanning about campus wearing something glamorous.

    It seems I was wrong. So far, my senior year has confusingly turned out to be, of all things, a hotbed of casual sexism.

    Cut to Friday night, late August. I’m zipping down Chapel Street in heels. As always, I’m horribly late, but is that going to stop me from checking myself out in the Rite Aid windows? I’m all dressed up, and Avril Lavigne circa 2001 is telling me how fly I look. I am, in fact, feeling pretty fly. That is, until the homeless man on the corner turns and yells at me, “Too tall! Go home!”

    Take it from me: Nothing shakes the old confidence quite like being called an eyesore by a man wearing an empty sriracha box for a hat. I complained to another tall friend about the injustice of this. “You think that’s bad?” she asked. “One time in Chicago, someone said the same thing to me. Then he spat on me.” Charming.

    Now, I am a head above many ladies; I’ll give the nice man that. But I don’t think that means that I should have to stay home. This isn’t the Dark Ages; I feel like in 2014, being 5’10” isn’t some deformity you have to hide in a cloister. Particularly given that 5’10” is the height of the average U.S. male. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that Mr. Sriracha stands on the corner of Chapel and Temple flipping off every average American man that passes.

    I wouldn’t mind this brush with casual sexism so much if it were an isolated incident. But it’s not. I moved off campus this year, and my new landlord must have put me on some sort of local misogyny Tinder. The minute my lease began off campus, seemingly every benevolent sexist in the Greater New Haven area has swiped right on my doorstep.

    When I moved in, I found that one of the neighbors had left me a cream pie on my back stairs — which should have been all the warning I needed. Taped to the pie box was a note that began with “Sweetie” and offered me $150 — on the condition that I spend it only on, and I quote, “lubricants or toys for me and Kamil.” The note was signed, alarmingly, “Dad.” I still don’t know who Dad and Kamil are, but I immediately regretted asking my mother to help me decipher the handwriting.

    Soon after came the real struggles. My landlord is notorious for leasing apartments that fall apart around you and not deigning to fix them. Sure enough, for the first week of classes, I had to choose between having my bedroom lights permanently on and killing power to my entire apartment. I called my landlord several times to explain politely that using a circuit breaker as a light switch wasn’t ideal. No dice.

    So, eventually, I toddled down to their offices for a serious chat. I had thought that chat would be between a dispatcher and me, but it was actually between a dispatcher and my chest. Then, when I called again the next day, the man answering the phone told me that he remembered me: “the pretty English girl.” Dude, I was wearing PJs, was sweating profusely and had circles under my eyes the size of a pumpkin because my lights won’t turn off when it’s time to sleep. The same man then told me he would send me an electrician, “But only because English girls are my favorite kinds of girls.” Thank you, good sir, for giving me access to a service you are legally obliged to provide, on the condition that you can describe me as a sexual object! No, really, you really shouldn’t have.

    I think the kicker came later that day, when my electrician, a gentleman missing four teeth, asked me to let him know personally if I ever needed a light bulb changed, because, as he reliably informed me, girls can’t do that for themselves.

    Which brings us to the million-dollar question of my senior year. How many SWUGs does it take to change a light? Evidently, fewer than there are sexists in New Haven, reaching for your bulbs.


    Contact Eleanor Michotte at eleanor.michotte@yale.edu .

  8. Flirting with Female Figure

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    Have you ever made an appointment to see a robot? Well, I have and I highly recommend it. Though beforehand, I felt rather scandalous as I shuffled nervously into the mirrored room of the David Zwirner Gallery, not quite knowing what to expect.

    I was greeted by New York sculptor Jordan Wolfson’s “Female figure” — a tall, blonde animatronic woman wearing a witch mask, and singing and dancing wildly.

    She is somewhere between woman, monster and machine. From the back, she looks un-human, but not unattractive. She is attached to a mirror by a large metal pole, fastened on the other end to her body, bisecting her breasts — a sharp cut to her womanhood and a reminder that her body does not support itself. The witch mask, dark green and paired with forehead wart, hooked nose, and hawk-like eyes, covers the majority of her face. Peaking out from just below the end of her beak, soft pink lips allude to the delicate face that could lie below the mask, if she were a real person. Yet, Wolfson leaves the viewer unsure of what is beneath — either wiring or more fake skin, just dyed and treated to a more flattering and feminine quality.

    She wears a white strapless leotard with a short transparent skirt that barely grazes her bottom. Tall, heeled white boots end several inches above her knees and matching long white metallic gloves comprise most of her arms past the elbows. Nailed into this white metal, her skin layers over the gloves and takes on an armor-like quality. Finally, around her neck, she wears a thick white choker.

    All of her joints are visibly mechanical. She is not pretending to be a real person, but the grace of her movement makes her closer to erotic dancer than robot. She eerily looks at herself in the mirror as she dances, as if keeping the beat only by perceiving her pulsing hands and hips. The thumping of dubstep, electronic and pop music seems to encourage her. Remarkably, nothing she does looks programmed.

    In between thrusting her body back and forth, she stops abruptly to offer musings that one might be able to categorize as “autobiographical information.” Adding further surprise to the already alarming creature, her voice is deep and male. In one memorable proclamation, she twists her hands through the air above her head, announcing, “I don’t believe in God. My mother is dead. My father is dead. I’m gay. I’d like to be a poet. This is my house.”

    The animatronic woman — and Wolfson through her — aims to shock. Her entire being stands at the intersection of repulsive and suggestive. Wolfson names the work, “Female figure,” which — along with her voluptuous body — make her woman. Yet, she is neither fully female nor fully figure. She is instead somewhere between a rough machine with visible joints and a sexy dancer. Yet, the work does comment on both definitions of the phrase “female figure” — bodily form and a woman in the public sphere.

    Wolfson’s work makes a claim about the sexualization of the female body for popular consumption by placing a both erotic and monstrous platinum blonde in a room full of mirrors that she calls her “home.” We cannot see her front unless we look into the mirror she faces, ourselves. Perhaps the reflection that we are staring into — of that disturbing witch mask — is our own reflection. There is a certain grotesqueness to us coming to see this curvaceous blonde dance from behind. Videos and pictures are allowed in the room, but it is nearly impossible to capture the “Female figure” without appearing in the mirror in your own recording. Wolfson won’t let us forget that we are attracted to this tattered and freakish animatronic woman.

    The sculpture also raises questions about feminine morals and what it means to be a “proper” woman. She says, “good morning mom … raised me well now here I am,” and “I’ll have sex with you but that’s not my goal.” But she also orders, “Close your eyes, close your eyes.” Her confusing proclamations raise questions — should she be embarrassed or should we? Which party is “badly raised”?

    It’s difficult to get an appointment to see “Female figure,” but it’s easy to see her online. Wolfson has used all of the available recording technology to bring this perversion of performance art to anyone who wants to see it. Still, it’s not quite the same if you’re not there while she dances.

  9. Solve for XX

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    In Mr. Rumack’s seventh grade algebra class, we sat at tables that were too close, knees and elbows spilling over into the backs of each other’s chairs. Along with teaching math, Mr. Rumack directed all of our middle school’s theater productions. He had a quacking duck toy that he used to get our attention, and a rubber duck-patterned tie that he wore every Wednesday. Mr. Rumack pulled me aside one day while the rest of the class worked in groups, speaking in a stage whisper so that I could hear him over the chatter. “I don’t know what you think about math,” he told me, “But if you like it, I want you to know that I hope you pursue it. You’re good enough to do anything you want to do in math.”

    At the time, there were only four girls in my accelerated math class of 20 students, but I never noticed this imbalance. I didn’t know, as I know now, that women are underrepresented in math and in the sciences. I didn’t know that teachers like him had a reason to try to get girls like me excited about math. Though I suspect that my gender motivated him to encourage me that day — he didn’t, after all, similarly encourage any of the boys in our class — I am grateful that he didn’t make that fact obvious to me.

    At the time, my ignorance was a luxury — had I been more sensitive to the gender discrepancy in class, I might have felt less secure in my position in it. As important as it is for us to discuss the gender divide in math, we must be cautious with how we choose to address it. Sometimes, hyperawareness reinforces the very realities it seeks to combat.

    Organizations and companies that aim to make math more appealing to girls often do so by playing on gender stereotypes. The website of L’Oréal’s “For Girls in Science” campaign is dotted with photos of various makeup products, framed by pink and purple banners. Science-themed toys marketed toward girls often more closely resemble the accessories for a Bratz doll than anything found on a lab table. These products suggest to young women that they can’t do the same kind of science that boys can. Marketing to the (socially constructed) tastes of tween girls relies on an assumption that the only way to get girls involved in science is to make the tools of science aesthetically appealing to them — and that, by extension, the only thing girls are ultimately motivated by is the physically beautiful.

    The summer before my senior year in high school, I attended a math camp at Stanford. Every morning, we walked to lectures underneath red Spanish arches. In the afternoons, we sat at picnic tables and worked on problem sets in groups.

    “I didn’t think you’d be this good at math,” a boy told me once, after I had proposed a proof. His palms reached out toward me in what he thought was kindness, as he added, “Girls aren’t usually good at math.”

    While commentary on my interests is usually tied to my gender in a more subtle way — “It’s so great that you’re a girl in math!” — even encouragement that isn’t blatantly offensive can be damaging.

    Such words suggest that my gender somehow makes my academic interests more significant. They remind me that I am not the face of mathematics — and that no one who looks like me ever has been. I didn’t worry about being a woman in math until I realized that it was unusual to be a woman in math. I recall those words as I walk into math class, concerned that perhaps I should not have chosen to wear polka-dotted tights that day.

    I don’t want my being a woman in math to mean anything, but it does, simply because I am part of a certain kind of inheritance. My gender and choice of major will matter as long as women are underrepresented in the field, as long as anyone could still believe that, “Girls aren’t usually good at math.” I worry that I have some responsibility to be the proof that women can be remarkable at math — to be remarkable in a way that I fear I am not.

    The crucial truth of the matter, though, is that I shouldn’t have to be extraordinary at math to justify my pursuit of it. This, perhaps, is the problem perpetuated by much of the discussion of the gender gap: that girls should think they are held to some different standard. When we treat girls differently from boys, even when we do so to encourage them, we run the risk of making them believe that they have different capabilities. Girls can do math without being “girls in math.” Math — in its unshifting rules and patterns — isn’t gendered. Its truth is beyond humans, unmoved by the boundaries that confine us.

  10. Periods Are Funny


    It’s the platinum age of television. Like, it seriously has never been this good. Still, what I seldom see in the media is what I have experienced in terms of female friendship, or even, like, female-ness. What kind of world do we live in if more than half of the writers for the second (not as good) season of “Girls” are men? Well, we get representations of female relationships that are just tropes. The bitchy mean girls, with the ditzy friend and the ugly friend. This is because of the severe lack of women in writing rooms. When we think of comedies that are accurate, insightful and hilarious representations of womanhood (hoo-rah) we think of, like, “Bridesmaids” and “The Mindy Project,” both written by some kick-ass lady folk. They’re a start, but still not enough. There are things I talk about with complete strangers, hilarious things about being female that are just not out in the world — and, specifically, not on TV: the joys of a good pillow; your vibrator purchase showing up on your parents’ credit card bill; the horrors of hair removal; and PERIODS.

    There is a huge reservoir of untapped comedic potential when it comes to women. I had a conversation recently with a man-person who was uncomfortable when my friends and I were joking about periods and the gross and awful things that happen to your body during pregnancy. My response? I hear a dick joke every day. Every. Single. Day. I know all of the embarrassing shit that happens to middle school boys and their uncontrollable boners. There is that hilarious risk of zipping it up in your jeans, and if a ball gets thrown in that general direction, oh my god, time to die. I get that. Writers write what they know. We are missing out by not having more women comedy writers because even though accidental erections are funny, nothing is more hilariously embarassing than a period. Seriously, half of the human race will get it. More than that, talking about it and joking about it has informed my guy friends. Did they know that some medicines’ side-effects includes spontaneous lactation? No! But it’s funny. Did they know that oral contraceptives can put you in the hospital, or, in some cases, cause you to cry uncontrollably while watching the cast of “Glee” perform on “Oprah”? No, but that’s hilarious too!

    And how about female friendships? There is so much bromance everywhere I look. We’ve heard of the bromance, we’ve seen it acted out in the media. “BAND OF BROTHERS.” We see male friends competing over women, or, like, Viking warriors come together to challenge authority and raid England. And let’s compare this to what we see of female friendship, shall we? We learn that women are catty, that we talk about our friends behind their backs, and that cool girls don’t hang out with other women — we hang out with men.We watch sports with men; we enjoy potty humor with men. “THE LEAGUE.” Because why would you want to hang out with those strange, fake bitches, right?

    Forget bromances, I LOVE my female friends. I’ve only recently realized how powerful sisterhood is. When I’m feeling happy, sad, apathetic, angry, sad again, I know they’ll be there and I sure as hell will be there for them (aww “Friends” reunion 2014!). My friends have encouraged me to be brave, to grow, to ask people out (because fuck it), and show maturity. Even when I don’t see them in a while and even when they are a continent away, I love my ladies; I’ve got their back. They are my advisors, my cheerleaders, my critics, my financial consultants, my heroes and my family. I am a better person for them. GIRL’S DAY. They are such a central part of my life, and how I see the world, and I know a lot of women who feel the same. If art imitates life, why don’t we see more of that, you know? It’s getting better, but until the day I see a joke about period vomit, it’s just not going to be enough.

  11. Funding an education, finding an audience

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    From her perch in the Calhoun dining hall, card-swiper Jessika Booker plays mother hen to Yale students not much younger than she is. She teases one boy about his mustache; she recommends hot chocolate to the flock coming in from the cold. And underneath her seat, she stores a shelled, white thing — this mother hen’s equivalent to a nested egg.

    It’s a textbook.

    “I’m a full-time mom, full-time employee, full-time student,” Jessika chirped. At 23, this Gateway Community College student pays her own way through school. She whips out her schoolwork during pauses — burps — in the hubbub of the dining hall where she happens to be employed.

    Or if you want to look at it another way: She’s a Yale employee who happens to go to Gateway.

    Student or worker, which is she? A pedantic question, perhaps. But to Yale employees officially classed in the Clerical & Technical, Service & Maintenance and Managerial & Professional divisions and weighing enrollment at a local or online college, the answer can seem obvious: Your job comes first. This is especially true because the only way many can pay for school is by taking advantage of Yale’s tuition reimbursements program, an opportunity available to workers as long as they remain on Yale’s payroll for the duration of their course of study.

    And things get complicated. Full-time employees who have been here for five or more years pocket a 100 percent reimbursement (not to exceed $4,600 a year). Meanwhile, full-time employees with less than five years’ service claim 75 percent reimbursement (and up to $2,300 a year).

    The provisos, unwinding, could dizzy you. Yale’s Human Resources Office writes on its website that all employees seeking tuition reimbursements must receive a passing grade of C- or better to claim the promised benefit. But, back in Calhoun, Booker was under the impression that she needed at least a B average.

    Other dining hall staffers tried to disabuse me of the notion that Yale would pay for them to study whatever the hell they want — now, why would Yale do that, they asked, assuming limits on the degree programs they could pursue.

    They were wrong, but not entirely: Yale does not dictate what employees should study, but does offer a separate subsidy for professional development (a consequence of local union bargaining). For workers weighing education costs, the two programs are easy to confuse.

    Rather than getting caught up in the obscure nuances of benefits, many employees seem largely nonchalant about them. At most, they are slightly peeved at what they perceive as irrelevant minutiae — if they’re even aware of all the differences in benefits, which none of the 10 interviewed for this piece were.

    K.C Mills, the operations manager at Silliman College, is cheerfully, if sporadically, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of New Haven. Mills, who earlier in her life completed some course work at another UNH (the University of New Hampshire), showed me her online reimbursement portal and explained that she plugs in her information, and that’s that. There’s no point in haggling with a computer, and for Mills, who has had her entire tuition covered by Yale, no need. She’s content.

    Calm like Mills’ is the norm, but that’s until employees’ plans hit a roadblock. Imagine the dilemma: They’ve used up their reimbursement funds. They’re not exactly full-time, and don’t qualify for sufficient reimbursement. They don’t know reimbursement will cover a degree in art history.

    That’s where the Yale Women’s Organization (YUWO) scholarships might come in handy.

    For a woman.

    * * *

    While students are scrambling for grants and fellowships, it’s also application season for some female staff on campus. If Yale won’t fully reimburse their course tuition, the little-known but well-funded YUWO might, provided they apply by March 1. Decisions are reported by April 30.

    When Working Mother magazine cited Yale as one of the 100 best (read: working mother-friendly) companies in the nation, it specifically mentioned the YUWO scholarships, along with the University’s tuition reimbursement program. But while a national magazine caught wind of the opportunity, many of its potential beneficiaries have not.

    At five residential college dining halls, female pantry workers interviewed said they had never heard of the YUWO scholarships. One refused to volunteer her name, lest we report her to her manager for even considering the option. Some thought we were hawking wares. “Tell me more about this scholarship?” they said, leaning in.

    Felicia Tencza, the current scholarships coordinator for YUWO, says the organization sends flyers to supervisors and department managers, and that information about the scholarships appears in the newsletter “Working at Yale.”

    And Trudy Bollier, a YUWO member and scholarships coordinator for 2010–’11, says some candidates to the scholarship have applied at their supervisor’s urging.

    But based on those dining hall conversations, one can suspect that certain supervisors — maybe a sampling error’s amount — are loath to accommodate an employee prioritizing education over work.

    When asked whether she would now consider applying for the scholarships after having been informed about it, one dining hall worker, the same one who withheld her name, laughed us off.

    “I don’t have time anyway, because my schedule’s all messed up.”

    One might think the Yale University Women’s Organization is out of touch with the lives of the women it’s trying to help.

    But its scholarships were conceived out of empathy, not sympathy. Kay Ross, the founder of the scholarships, whose husband, Bollier says, was an administrator in the sciences, had her own college studies interrupted before her marriage. In 1972, she awarded a first scholarship of $100.

    Since then, the YUWO — now a club of local female Yale affiliates — has been awarding scholarships to women employees or the wives of Yale employees wishing to start or resume an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or to pursue a degree from another certificate-granting program (say, for teaching). It’s sincerely looking to help women who had their studies interrupted before they completed their higher education.

    Yes, their name might make one think of a prissy, white-gloved society luncheon — this is Yale, after all. And, as if on cue, Bollier told me that the group’s three highlights — in addition to the interest groups, like book, bridge and music clubs, advertised in their brochure — are a wine-and-cheese event, a holiday party and a May luncheon.

    But the holiday party serves a noble purpose: fundraising for the scholarships. The guests of honor at that May luncheon are scholarship recipients.

    They’re not the patronizing old birds we’d like to imagine, instead the YUWO’s leaders prove to be a classy bunch sans snobbery.

    * * *

    YUWO wants to help — but it can only do so much.

    Nowadays, depending on the generosity of donors, YUWO awards around seven annual scholarships — one of them in honor of Kay Ross — that each provide between $1,000 and $3,000. According to its website, the organization has awarded 310 scholarships, totaling some $316,675.

    Money for the scholarships comes entirely from donations, mostly from the over 300 members of the Women’s Organization and their friends, Bollier says. Those donations are made on top of membership fees.

    So, given the state of the economy, the organization’s resource pool has predictably shrunk. In lockstep, the number of awards has steadily declined in the past few years. In 2008, 12 scholarships were granted. In 2009, nine. In 2010 and 2011, seven.

    Last year, only five scholarships were awarded.

    “What we’ve tried to do is move to larger awards as opposed to something under $1,000, because it’s a little more meaningful,” current coordinator Tencza says. But she emphasizes that the number and size of the scholarships depend on “who applies and what their financial need is.”

    In a follow-up email, Tencza wrote that, in order to reduce the number of inquiries from ineligible candidates, YUWO “strives to sharpen our narrative description of eligibility.”

    “It seems to be working. … Inquiries are reduced, not eliminated,” she wrote.

    The application process for the scholarship is not especially arduous. Aside from basic (mostly financial) information, it asks for a one-page statement of purpose and two letters of recommendation. It is hard to imagine that many degree-seeking Yale employees don’t qualify.

    Of course, first they need to be aware of its existence.

    Michelle Gary, the card-swiper at Branford dining hall, was the last potentially eligible Yale employee interviewed for this piece. And her verdict on the scholarship was clear: “We should know these things.”