Confusion and silence

Barry Falls

Barry Falls

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In an effort to streamline its procedures and encourage victims to come forward, Yale has now created one committee to handle all sexual misconduct complaints. Starting this academic year, if almost any Yale student, undergraduate or graduate, reports an assault, he or she will be directed to the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. Victims will be able to seek informal mediation or discipline for their assailants—and they’ll be able to change their minds, switching to another avenue if they wish. The centralization of Yale’s grievance procedures may also allow the university to better fund the new committee, without having to allocate resources among its 14 schools.

The University-Wide Committee will also hire independent fact-finders trained in investigating sexual misconduct. Michael Della Rocca, a philosophy professor who will chair the committee, said the new fact-finders will be able to “give their prompt, full attention to investigating cases of sexual misconduct, which will allow for thorough fact-finding in a timely way.”

In mid-May, Yale also made a move toward more transparency. In an e-mail to students and faculty, Dean Miller explained part of the outcome of the Executive Committee’s investigation into Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges’ chants of “No means yes, yes means anal” on Old Campus last fall—an event that, by many accounts, sparked the Title IX complaint. Acknowledging that “it is unusual to send a memorandum regarding a particular Executive Committee decision to the Yale community,” Miller wrote that “a wide range of community members have been affected by this incident” and that she chose to publicize the outcome to “not only shed some light on a matter of public concern but also provide notice of the outcomes to all those who may have been affected by sexual harassment and, accordingly, educate our community.”

Miller declined to share details of cases involving individual DKE members, citing confidentiality restrictions. But she recounted sanctions the Executive Committee imposed on the fraternity as a whole, including a five-year ban on conducting recruiting or other events on campus and using Yale e-mail to communicate with members.

Diane Rosenfeld, a Harvard law lecturer and Title IX advocate who advised the Yale complainants, called the sanctions “an important first step” toward creating “a campus culture that doesn’t tolerate this type of sexual disrespect.”

First Amendment advocates, however, are less than pleased. “Whether we like what DKE did or not—and I don’t—their chants were protected speech,” says Nathaniel Zelinsky, a rising junior. “It’s kind of an unsettling conclusion to come to, but we don’t want to make content-based decisions on speech.”

While controversial, the sanctions themselves are not groundbreaking: because DKE is not a registered undergraduate organization, it was already mostly prohibited from conducting activities on campus. The university’s choice to publicize the penalties, however, is a departure from the past. “In cases with such broad impact, the university will consider such sharing of results,” explains Caroline Hendel ’83, an associate general counsel with Yale, “but we have to be mindful of privacy laws and the university’s own policies which generally do not permit disclosure of disciplinary actions against specific individuals.”

Yale has also funded a new educational effort to address the cultural roots of harassment and assault on campus. Yale’s endeavors in this area in the past have been mostly confined to a few sessions during freshman orientation. Now Melanie Boyd ’90, the director of undergraduate studies for the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies program and a major player in Yale’s reform efforts, will work with two student affairs fellows and 36 paid student workers to create a continuing conversation about sexual mores.

While many of these recent changes have been brewing for years, the spotlight accompanying the Title IX investigation spurred Yale to accelerate its timing in rolling them out. In April, President Richard Levin ’74PhD announced a further measure: the appointment of four high-profile alumni to an external Advisory Committee on Campus Climate, which will recommend improvements to Yale’s sexual misconduct policies. It’s a step signaling Yale’s willingness to remain in the spotlight as its reforms go ahead. Levin says that the committee, which is chaired by Margaret Marshall ’76JD, a former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and a former Yale trustee, has already come to campus and conducted more than 100 interviews with students, faculty, and administrators.

If Yale aspires not just to satisfy federal investigators but also to lead national efforts to reform campus sexual culture, it still has students to convince. When I ask Alison what she thinks of the new University-Wide Committee, she rolls her eyes. “‘We’re going to make another committee! We’re going to combine all the grievance boards!’” she says sarcastically. “‘We’re going to listen to students’—that’s always what Yale has said. The reputation that it listens to its students is crumbling and false.”

But committees are Yale’s way of getting most anything done. If Yale follows through on its promised reforms and creates a culture in which incidents of harassment and assault are reduced—and victims have a clearer sense of where to turn—perhaps future students will have a less skeptical attitude about their university. 

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