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Campus sexual climate:
what are the next steps?

As campus sexual violence—and colleges' handling of it—move into the national spotlight, Yale officials say they have more work to do.

President Peter Salovey ’86PhD spotlighted the issue in his weekly e-newsletter on Monday.

“There are many priorities that will continue to be important assignments for all of us,” he wrote. He listed three, beginning with “strengthening our campus climate”:

We have continued to make significant strides this year in addressing sexual misconduct and we have intensified our focus on alcohol and other drug use on campus, but we all have more to do to ensure that our campus is a safe place where everyone is treated with respect.

And last week—on the heels of a White House report; the federal Education Department's announcement that it is investigating 55 colleges and universities for their handling of sexual violence; and a rare finding of noncompliance against Tufts University—Yale deputy provost Stephanie Spangler sent a community-wide e-mail seeking anonymous input on “the current sexual climate on campus.”

The anonymous feedback form was available in 2012-13, when Spangler conducted an assessment of the campus climate. Her May 1 message doesn't specify why Yale decided to repost the form now. But she notes: “We have used this input in a variety of ways, including to stimulate further discussion and planning . . . , to clarify our policies and procedures, and to refine our training programs.”

Separately, Spangler told the Yale Alumni Magazine last week that Yale will conduct a quantitive campus climate survey next school year, attempting—apparently for the first time—to document the prevalance of sexual misconduct. Such surveys are the top recommendation of the White House task force.

Yale's response to sexual misconduct has been a hot topic for several years. In 2011, students and recent alumni filed a complaint with the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, alleging that Yale's “hostile sexual environment” violated Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination on campus. Among other criticisms, they contended that the university let perpetrators off easy, partly by discouraging victims from pursuing action.

In an article this week, the website Vox calls the Yale complaint “particularly influential in bringing the issue to public attention.”

Yale settled the complaint in 2012 with a formal agreement to assure “an environment and culture in which all students feel safe and well supported,” and to respond “promptly and effectively” to complaints of sexual misconduct. (That's why Yale did not appear on the Education Department's list of current investigations last week.)

Among the steps Yale has taken:

  • designating Spangler as the university's Title IX coordinator;
  • streamlining the various mechanisms for reporting sexual misconduct—which critics described as confusing and inconsistent—into a University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which hears both formal and informal complaints from students, faculty, and staff in Yale College and all the graduate and professional schools;
  • using outside fact-finders, rather than faculty or staff, to investigate formal complaints;
  • commissioning an alumni-led report on the campus climate in 2011;
  • conducting a follow-up assessment in 2012-13;
  • creating a “consent education” program for undergraduates, which emphasizes that sexual consent must be clear, affirmative, and sober enough to count;
  • releasing twice-yearly summaries of all misconduct complaints filed and their resolutions.

Along “policy and structural” lines, “things are much better now,” Alexandra Brodsky ’12, ’16JD, one of the 16 complainants who prompted the federal investigation of Yale, tells Vox. “People know that they can report” misconduct.

“But it's unclear what that means for students on the ground,” Brodsky says, casting Yale as reluctant to “kick offenders out.”

“It is true that sexual violence is an incredibly complicated, difficult issue,” she continues. “That being said, there is so much low-hanging fruit right now. We can talk about dismantling the rest of the patriarchy after we've confirmed that students who rape multiple classmates probably shouldn't be on campus anymore.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

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