Light & Verity

Yale, alumni committee respond to Title IX complaint

Assessing the campus's sexual climate, and making changes.

For the past decade, campus activists have been pushing Yale to do more to prevent and deal with sexual misconduct on campus, with mixed success. In 2006, Yale created a new central office for reporting of and getting counseling on sexual misconduct; but in the past three years, Yale committees have produced at least four reports that have led to little more than further committees. The most recent report, however, issued in November by the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate, is accompanied by something new: the glaring spotlight of an ongoing Title IX investigation.

Well before the report’s release, Yale was already implementing steps such as a streamlined sexual misconduct complaint process. Further changes are now going ahead, including better communication to students about the new complaint process, and enhanced discussion of sex and gender on campus.

When President Richard Levin ’74PhD convened the Advisory Committee in April, Yale was one month into a nationally publicized investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which had received a Title IX complaint signed by 16 Yale students and recent alumni alleging a hostile sexual environment for women on campus. Levin’s choice of Margaret Marshall ’76JD, former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, to chair the committee suggested both a desire for rigorous analysis and an awareness that the university was being closely watched. Marshall was joined by Seth Waxman ’77JD, former US solicitor general; Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83, ’86JD, vice president for campus life and dean of students at the University of Chicago; and Libby Smiley ’02, a former president of the Yale College Council.

Over five months, the committee spoke with more than 150 students, faculty, masters and deans, coaches and athletes, freshman counselors, and others at Yale, as well as alumni in five major cities. Tasked with investigating not just Yale’s existing policies but its broader sexual and gender environment, the committee says it heard from students “that the casual sex culture has become the social default, even though many students do not endorse or participate in it.” Students also “expressed a hunger for some direction or clarity concerning what it means to have positive intimate relationships, with or without sexual involvement.”

The committee recommended expanding mandatory discussion of sexual mores and behavior during freshman and sophomore years. It commended the college’s creation in August of a new Communications and Consent Educator program, in which 36 paid student workers are trained to educate and engage their peers on sex and gender issues. It also endorsed Yale’s elimination of the old complaint system, which had separate procedures for each school, in favor of a central University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. This new body, which had been recommended by prior reports, aims to guarantee—to students on both sides of a complaint—investigations that are more thorough, timely, and professional.

One recommendation Levin explicitly rejected involved regulation of off-campus student groups, such as fraternities and senior societies, which often operate beyond Yale’s oversight. The committee advised that Yale require every undergraduate group to register with the university and sign a statement promising to abide by Yale rules, even in off-campus housing or events. Levin chose instead to pursue “improved communication, as well as enforcement.” He urged student groups to form leadership councils, like the Singing Group Council for a cappella groups.

Fraternities have expressed resistance to this idea. One fraternity president told the Yale Daily News that a leadership council could become “an overbearing, regulatory agency that aims to limit the activities of our fraternity.”

Jill Cutler, who recently retired as assistant dean for academic affairs in Yale College, and who heard many complaints regarding off-campus groups during her long tenure as secretary of the Yale College Executive Committee, thinks a stronger hand is necessary to avoid “total, and preventable, disaster.” She pointed out in an e-mail that “there have been many ’soft’ efforts to reach out to the frats, etc. along the lines Levin suggests, and they have not succeeded.”

The committee recommendation that has sparked the most student ire was its suggestion that the university ban “Sex Week at Yale,” a student-led program featuring porn star speakers, which was recently sponsored by a sex toy company. Levin chose not to ban the program but rather to request a proposal for a new version of the event that would warrant its continued role on campus.  


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