October 21, 2010
Let’s talk about administrative action.
When New Haven Police raided Elevate in the early morning hours of Oct. 2, Dean Mary Miller officially responded by 6pm that same day, assuring Yale students that the administration was taking the police brutality seriously. She promised that the administration was requesting a formal investigation into the incident, and instructed students in how to file formal complaints about it.
Why, then, has it taken her seven days, over 2,000 online signatures, and coverage by The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, USA Today, Jezebel, Feministing, Slate’s Double X, Salon, and CNN to react similarly to the DKE action of Oct. 13?
Why didn’t Dean Miller send out a similar email to the Yale student body, perhaps instructing witnesses to the DKE action to file official complaints with the Executive Committee, Yale’s disciplinary body of last resort? When Broad Recognition requested an interview with Dean Miller on Tuesday, Tom Conroy of the Office of Public Affairs and Communications said in an email, “Dean Mary Miller is not doing media interviews at this time.”
Before yesterday afternoon, Yale students had heard from Dean Mary Miller once in the seven days since DKE pledges marched through campus shouting, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” and “I fuck dead women and fill them with my semen.” Her one official statement came on Friday, in room LC 102, at the “Forum on Yale’s Sexual Climate.” She delivered a ten-minute speech (which Broad Recognition has recorded and posted below) that was utterly disappointing and conciliatory.
After hastily referring to “the demeaning behavior we’ve witnessed on this campus” as “disturbing and appalling,” Dean Miller instantly diverted our attention to what she apparently sees as the silver lining of the DKE incident: that it has reminded us “that Yale is an extreme free-speech university.”
The complete irrelevance of this point (not even DKE has been so disingenuous as to hide behind the First Amendment) was matched only by its staleness. Miller was quoting the 1975 Woodward Report, which guarantees students’ right to freedom of expression on campus. She then opposed this with a quotation from an official Yale statement on sexual harassment—a false opposition that much legal scholarship has addressed (In the words of the fifth most cited critical legal scholar of all time, discriminatory acts are not protected by the First Amendment. Or, take a look at Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth.), but which the University nevertheless invokes whenever it wants to wash its hands of hate speech targeting its students.
After this pathetic feint, Miller went into a little performance to prove that she was still a foe of sexual aggression. “Sexual harassment is antithetical to academic values and to a work environment free from the fact or appearance of coercion,” she read from the official statement on sexual harassment, at which point she looked up at her audience, raised a finger, and repeated, “appearance of coercion,” as if to imply that DKE’s chants would indeed qualify as sexual harassment. “It’s a violation of University policy,” she said, “and may result in serious disciplinary action.”
But instead of expanding on that point, or saying right out that she deems DKE’s action to be sexual harassment under University regulations, she instead directed the audience’s attention to the Report issued to Dean Peter Salovey in May 2008 by the Committee on Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Education (SHAPE) in Yale College. The Committee was one of three formed at the behest of the Yale Women’s Center following the Zeta Psi incident of almost three years ago.
Miller seemed to be using the SHAPE report to assure us that work is being done by the administration—completely failing to mention that the report exists thanks to the insistent pressure of the Women’s Center Board right after the Zeta Psi incident. At the time, the WC sent a list of demands of the administration. The administration then sat on the report for an entire year.
Quoting from the report, Miller reminded her audience that Yale observes a policy of “no tolerance for sexual harassment or sexual assault.” But she markedly failed to comment on how the University has ever observed this “no tolerance” approach, or how it plans to observe it now. She probably failed to comment on this because she had no evidence to bring: as the pattern of misogynistic actions on this campus over the past three years alone has shown, the sort of behavior demonstrated by DKE last Wednesday has repeatedly been tolerated by the administration.
And instead of commenting on how the administration plans to deter such behavior in the future, Dean Miller wound up by calling (surprise, surprise) for further “dialogue”—the same dialogue she called for last year, with “the Preseason Scouting Report,” and which this DKE incident has shown to be a pitifully inadequate lesson. Toward the end of her speech, Dean Miller said, “If we don’t seize this moment to learn from one another, then a critical opportunity stands to pass.” She was trying to make us look to the future, but all I could see was a depressing replay.
Adriel Saporta is a senior in Yale College and the Editor-in-Chief of Broad Recognition.