Yale's Gender Equality Problem


In October 2010, Yale Fraternity pledges from Delta Kappa Epsilon marched around campus chanting “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal."

Because of this incident, along with other acts of sexual harassment by fraternities on campus this year and in years passed, a group of 16 students and alumnae filed a Title IX violation suit with the federal government, claiming an unsafe and hostile environment for women. As one female student said, the environment “precludes women from having the same equal opportunity to the Yale education as their male counterparts.”

Whether or not you agree with the validity of the Title IX claim, I believe that there needs to be a deeper understanding of how these kinds of seemingly meaningless incidents can contribute to a more dangerous and violent sexual environment for women, not only at Yale University but beyond.   

Sexual harassment is so common in our society that it is rarely taken seriously and that is a serious problem. Incidents of sexual harassment are seen as exaggerations or misunderstandings on the part of the complaining parties. While everyone responds differently to sexual harassment, it should not be something that is ignored, as it has real effects on people’s lives. Some students who have claimed to have been sexually harassed on campus have reported feeling self-conscious, angry, and afraid. Some victims have said that as a result of sexual harassment they’ve dropped a course, avoided certain areas, and, more drastically, transferred schools. There is a fine line between a simple sexual advance and sexual harassment — the line being the appropriateness of the act and the response by the person on the receiving end; there is no doubt that the actions of these fraternities are extreme examples of sexual harassment.

Yale has stated,“Sexual harassment is antithetical to academic values and to a work environment free from the fact or appearance of coercion. It is a violation of University policy and may result in serious disciplinary action.” Yet the students responsible for the fraternity incident have only been forced to make a public apology and their pledging activities were suspended for the semester. Do you think this is serious disciplinary action?

I see this discipline as a quick fix with no real consequences for the individuals who participated. Besides a public apology, there has been no sense that these men feel remorse or understand the impact their chants had.

According to a study by the American Association of University Women, 62% of female college students claimed to have been sexually harassed. From that group, only 10% have actually attempted to report the incident to a university official.

Naomi Wolf, a former Yale graduate and prominent feminist, has said in interviews that Yale “stonewalls victims” that try to report sexual harassment in order to protect the image of the university. Toby Simon, the director of the Women’s Center at Bryant University and former dean at Brown University, has claimed that students are rarely expelled for sexual assault. Instead, universities, in an attempt to save face, engage in deals that allow the harasser to withdraw without any record of the incident, and even sometimes help the student find another university.

The real problem lies in people’s complacency toward sexual harassment. The Yale pledging chants are sexual harassment by definition — an unwanted sexual remark meant to coerce and intimidate. While it may have been meant as a joke and taken as such by some people, I know if I were in my dorm and heard a bunch of men yelling this, not only would I be disgusted (as I was, hearing it on the news), I would also have been alarmed.

Very blatantly, these “educated” men, who may go on to hold prominent positions in the government or in a multi-million dollar business, advocated that “No,” in fact, is permission for sexual activity. These chants can be seen as a way to tell other men not to take “No” as an answer. Sexual harassment is one thing but these chants, in my opinion, are on the verge of advocating date rape.

It is the responsibility of the university to educate their students on the complexities of rape and sexual harassment. Not only is it Yale’s responsibility to their students and their safety, it is their responsibility to the institution’s image. As a private university, Yale has the ability to enforce whatever punishment they see fit onto students who behave in a way that violates the mission of the university. While I believe that punishing someone solely based on their opinion or perspective is counterproductive, I do believe there needs to be more consequences for the people who are constant offenders. It seems to me that the fraternities on Yale campus have made sexual harassment of their female colleagues a pledging trend and this is unacceptable.

There are so many ways that Yale can encourage open dialogue on the campus (through curriculum change or sensitivity requirements, for example) but it should not be a quick fix, it can’t last for one semester or one year, and it has to be included in the university’s mission. Considering that Yale and other Ivy League universities were all-male institutions up until the middle of the 20th century, I would say that they would benefit greatly from a curriculum overhaul towards greater gender equality.  

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