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Campus sexual climate:
mix of sun & clouds

"With regard to its approach to sexual misconduct, the Yale of today is substantially different—and better—from the Yale of last year or two years ago."

That's the view of Yale College students, according to a report (PDF) released May 15 by the university's Title IX coordinator.

The 2012-13 Campus Sexual Climate Assessment—which gathered input from more than 300 members of the Yale community last fall—found that undergraduates believe "Yale is making substantial change, and progress, in addressing the sexual climate," while noting that "there are still issues to address."

Written by deputy provost Stephanie Spangler, the report follows up on a crisis-provoked 2011 study by a committee of alumni. That earlier report, chaired by Margaret Marshall ’76JD—former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and now the incoming senior trustee on the governing Yale Corporation—came amidst a federal civil rights investigation of the university's handling of complaints of sexual assault and other misconduct. Both before and after the Marshall report, the university made changes designed to simplify and strengthen its means for responding to such complaints.

The Marshall Committee's charge, Spangler notes, was to recommend "how sexual harassment, violence or misconduct may be more effectively combated at Yale." The follow-up report focuses less on "what can we do better?" and more on "how are we doing?"

Among Spangler's key observations, drawn from questionnaire responses, online comments, e-mails, and numerous group discussions:

* "Climate is local." Students' experience varies widely according to their school, department, or social circles.

* In Yale College and in the graduate and professional schools, students broadly understand what constitutes sexual misconduct and how they can report it. Some confusion persists.

* For undergrads, sexual climate is all about social interactions with their peers. That experience changes drastically during their four years at Yale, and freshmen are "uniquely vulnerable."

* "Many students pointed to campus pressures toward casual sex; they felt these pressures caused difficulties for students who want to form other kinds of romantic relationships, as well as for students (often, but not only, women) who find themselves treated disrespectfully within the hookup culture.”

* For graduate and professional students, sexual climate is all about professional and educational interactions with faculty members. And it is interwoven with the power imbalance between students and professors.

* "Students referred repeatedly to . . . the potential for advisors to use that power not only to impose unacceptable behaviors but also to retaliate. . . Many worried that filing a complaint, or even just discussing an uncomfortable situation, would risk disrupting their careers.”

* "Almost all [G&P] students called for more faculty training on issues of sexual climate not only to increase their awareness of sexual misconduct issues and procedures but also to engage their active leadership in cultivating a positive climate.” In other words, students said, professors are responsible not just for their own behavior, but for that of their colleagues as well.

Filed under sexual climate, Title IX, Stephanie Spangler
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