May 29, 2012
Apartments have been subletted and graduation has come and gone: summer is upon us. A look back at the year in feminist and queer issues:
New workshops for freshmen: Freshman orientation included expanded discussions of sexual harassment and assault. Sessions were held during Camp Yale in students’ residential colleges with Masters, FroCos and Deans. A group of specially-trained undergraduates, Communication and Consent Educators, led small-group sessions later in the year. Additionally, representatives of every student group were required to attend sexual harassment trainings. Sophomores can expect a second round of workshops in the coming school year.
While the CCE curriculum stands on solid feminist ground, general student response seems tepid. It remains to be seen if mandatory workshops can foster real change, but the CCE program, directed by Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd, is a good start. Smaller workshops on topics such as bystander intervention are in the works for the upcoming year, and Yale’s feminists can look forward to the program’s evolution.
A better Yale?: Early in the year, a group of students called the “Undergraduates for a Better Yale College” emerged, decrying the evils of Yale’s “hookup culture.” In a series of editorials, this group of students argued that the supposed “hookup culture” is “fertile ground for acts of sexual selfishness, insensitivity, cruelty and malice.” Their moralizing seemed condescending to many students, and their argument that Sex Week in and of itself created a toxic sexual environment failed to resonate. Feminists recognized that stifling dialogue would be unproductive or even dangerous. (In Broad Recognition, Demetra Hufnagel ’14 presented an admirably thorough piece on this subject.)
Marshall Report: The “Advisory Committee on Campus Climate,” formed in the wake of the Title IX complaint, presented its report, known as the Marshall Report, to the university public on November 10th. It highlighted certain policy changes, particularly mechanisms for reporting and handling sexual misconduct. More controversially, the report seemed to conflate casual sex with sexual assault. It also recommended that Sex Week, a biannual event which it called “highly problematic” and “titillating,” be banned from using Yale’s name or facilities. The report described Sex Week as not “consistent with a climate of respect and responsibility“ making a dangerous inference that conversation about sex and sexuality somehow leads to sexual irresponsibility and, presumably, sexual violence.
Ward 1’s alderwoman: The race for Ward 1, an aldermanic district composed primarily of Yale students, dominated campus politics in the beginning of the year. Sarah Eidelson ’12, a progressive candidate known for her commitment to the LGBT community, won the race, defeating Vinay Nidak ’14.
It is, of course, an election year, and, exasperating as national politics are as of late, New Haven seems to be heading in a promising direction. The election of Sarah Eidelson and the creation of the “Students Unite Now” organizing group are both encouraging signs of the power of progressivism at Yale.
Sex Week returns: The organizers of Sex Week at Yale 2012 prevailed, even after the Marshall Committee’s argument that they not be allowed to use Yale’s name or facilities. Discussions with administrators, reconfiguration of the schedule of events, and an end to corporate sponsorship allowed the series to go on. While the series’s name was changed to “Sex Week 2012,” events were in fact held in Yale facilities. In February, nearly two weeks of speakers, workshops, and discussions brought important conversations on gender, sex, and sexuality to the Yale community. Sex Week 2012 boasted an impressive roster of events, including some co-hosted with unexpected student groups such as the St. Thomas More Center, indicative of the organizers’ commitment to real collaboration and dialogue. Highlights of the week included faculty lunches, a Shabbat discussion of sexuality in Judaism, a panel on sex-positive writing, a lecture from Sociological Images’ Lisa Wade, and a (Broad Recognition-sponsored) panel on “Privacy, Sexuality, and the Law.”
Real dialogue, however, was absent in an unexpectedly hilarious Fox News video in which a student explains that she will be “too busy reading Yeats” to spend the week having sex and another argues that, while George W. Bush may have graduated from Yale, “we” “don’t produce great presidents.”
True love: The Undergraduates for a Better Yale College reemerged in February to plan “True Love Week,” a series of events intended to counter Sex Week. True Love Week was controversial, particularly as some LGBT and allied students argued that its speakers took a discriminatory stance toward LGBT individuals. The lecture of Anthony Esolen, a professor at Providence College given to tangents about Irish step-dancing, was interrupted by a “kiss-in”; as protestors filed out post-kiss, one woman shouted, “Homosexuals hate step-dancing!” In the days following, some campus conservatives claimed that their right to free speech had been violated by the peaceful, one-minute protest. Their argument that Esolen’s previous writings—in which he suggested that societal acceptance of homosexuality would lead to bestiality, necrophilia, and incest—had nothing to do with his suitability as a speaker was similarly unconvincing.
Patrick Witt scandal: What was an uninteresting news item in the fall erupted into a national scandal in late January, when the New York Times revealed that the Yale quarterback had not decided of his own volition to turn down a Rhoades scholarship interview to play the Harvard-Yale game but, rather, had been forced to do so due to allegations of sexual assault. As the story unfolded, it became clear that the Yale administration had mobilized to protect Witt’s—and its own—reputation.
Yale’s “unforgivable silence” has disturbing implications; for all of the supposed progress that has been made in the wake of the Title IX complaint, the Witt case was a glaring example that the university still fails to understand the gravity of sexual assault and act accordingly.
Speaking out on sexual assault: In the midst of the Witt scandal, two courageous women shared their stories of sexual assault with the Yale community in anonymous columns in the Yale Daily News. We applaud them for their courage.
Gender-neutral goes ahead: In February, the Yale Corporation approved a Yale College Council proposal to expand gender-neutral housing to juniors. After a similar proposal was rejected in 2011, the YCC’s gender-neutral housing committee, headed by Isabel Santos-Gonzalez ’13 and Joey Yagoda ’14, created a more comprehensive proposal, with thorough and persuasive arguments. The Yale Corporation voted again in February, this time allowing the measure to pass. They gave no official justification for their change of heart, although University president Richard Levin stated that the additional “data” in the report was sufficient for them to believe that extending the policy would not be problematic. While speculation is imperfect, the conservatism of the Yale Corporation could have contributed to the delay in policy change. Freshmen and sophomores are still required to live with other students of the same gender.
Spring Fling falls flat: T-Pain, the rapper who brought us such hits as “Blame it on the Alcohol,” headlined this year’s Spring Fling. This Spring Fling wasn’t the first time that Yale’s feminists have raised concerns about a Spring Fling act, but it seems that the student body remains willing to let an artist with deeply problematic messages command campus attention—and students’ annual $75 activity fee—for the sake of a good time.
Yale Health coverage changes: In late April, Yale Health announced that the details of its coverage plans will change to comply with new healthcare regulations. Beginning in the 2012-13 school year, students enrolled in Yale Health’s Hospitalization/Specialty Coverage will be able to receive free generic oral contraceptives. This has certainly been a high-profile issue at other universities, and is a step in the right direction for Yale.
But the good news ends there. Breast reduction procedures will no longer be covered; despite the very real medical problem this can pose for women, insurance companies often argue that the procedure is not medically necessary. (Yale Health has not offered a specific rationale for the change.) The student health plan continues to explicitly exclude gender-affirming surgeries, despite the fact that such procedures are covered for Yale employees and their dependents.
IvyQ is coming: In May, Hilary O’Connell ’13 announced that IvyQ , the annual pan-Ivy conference for LGBTQ students and their allies, will be held at Yale in the spring of 2013. This will be the fourth year of the conference and the first time Yale has hosted; O’Connell will chair (along with vice-chairs Stefan Palios ’14 and Carolyn Farnham ’13) what is certain to be an incredible weekend.
Keep fighting the good fight: Last weekend, Yale’s campus saw the graduation of the Class of 2012. We thank the seniors whose work helped to advance the feminist and queer causes at Yale and beyond, and wish them the best of luck wherever life takes them.
Those of us remaining at Yale have plenty more to do. We must advocate for gender-neutral housing for freshmen and sophomores, demand that Spring Fling committee more thoroughly vet the performers it brings to campus, and make our voices heard in a variety of campus publications. We must continue to demand that the administration hold those guilty of sexual misconduct, harassment, and/or assault responsible for their actions, and that organizations whose behavior is problematic are similarly punished.
We began the year waiting for significant response from the Yale administration on the Title IX complaint. The Marshall Report and its subsequent banning of Sex Week were a significant step back for sex-positivity at Yale, and the disproportionate attention given to the Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, a small student group with extreme views, was exasperating. The university’s complicity in the Witt scandal and the long-overdue decision on gender-neutral housing were, similarly, disappointing.
Looking back, however, we can celebrate the success of Sex Week and Pride Month. We can remember the courage of two women in our community who spoke about their experiences in sexual assault. In the academic year to come, we can continue to speak up and demand change.
Julia Calagiovanni is a sophomore in Yale College. She is an associate editor for Broad Recognition.