The Yale ACLU

from the Yale Herald, 9/22/96

by Ben Smith

When Yale's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union conducted a survey of sexual harassment at Yale, the Yale Daily News missed some of our most interesting results. As expected, a relatively small, though significant number of students (17 in all) reported that professors or TAs had made them feel uncomfortable with verbal or gestural innuendos. A smaller number (8) reported unwelcome physical contact. The survey also asked students if they would complain to Yale's "Sexual Harassment Grievance Board" if they were harassed. Unsurprisingly, 70 percent of students would complain. But the Daily News missed an anomaly: when we asked subjects if they knew "how/where to file a complaint with the Grievance Board," only 8 percent - 6 percent of males, 10 percent of females - circled "Yes." The Grievance Board oversees not just faculty-student harassment, but also student-student incidents, and to most students the Board is utterly invisible.

The low profile of the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board doesn't, in itself, represent a major crisis. In practice, it means that students who wish to complain have to go through another couple of levels of bureaucracy before they reach the Board. But the Board's invisibility illustrates one of Yale's more disturbing institutional failures: an inability, or an unwillingness, to recognize internal issues of sexual politics. Instead of presenting a coherent policy or plan concerningsexual harassment, homophobic bigotry, or faculty-student relationships, Yale has acted on a case-by-case basis, without any real show of direction or even concern.

Recently, Yale has responded sluggishly to a series of anti-gay verbal attacks and threats by Yale students. When a woman was called a "piece of shit faggot" by her neighbor, Yale referred her to counseling. When another student received threats of violence on her voice-mail, Yale police told her that she could have a caller ID device, if she would wait a week. Yale has made no effort to discipline aggressors, and hasn't presented a plan to deter future actions.

The confusion surrounding the case of Professor Jorgenson, who had sex with an undergraduate in his math class, provides a final example of Yale's incompetence. The situation was kept secret until the student herself, dissatisfied with Yale's inaction, went public. Dean Broadhead then justified his decision/indecision with hedges, at best. And Yale's position is utterly unclear on the 17 cases in our sample where students were touched or leered at by professors, but where there was no sexual relationship. Yale has muddled through an amazingly complex issue without an articulated policy, and the result is an overwhelming appearance of confusion and incompetence.

Yale looks so bad when dealing with all the issues that sometimes fall under "sexual harassment" because the institution really is bad on these issues. Yale doesn't entirely ignore them - there really is a Grievance Board, administrators probably really were concerned about bigotry - but somehow the seriousness of gender and sexuality issues is hard for the bureaucrats to handle. It must have been so easy when Yale was all male, and (of course) all straight.

Yale doesn't stint on protecting delicate Yalies from our wild New Haven environment, paying legions of police, bus drivers, and two-walkers (who do very little walking). We even get a security briefing early Freshman year. Perhaps as a result, Yale students are rarely victims of violent crime and their tuition keep pouring in. But while Yale pours resources into fighting the problem - and the image - of a criminal outside world, the administration seems to have given very little thought and even less publicity to its complicated internal issues.

These problems aren't insoluble. They are frustrating, because Yale could easily put an end to much of the confusion and to some of the harassment. Dean Broadhead could make a direct statement of the University's intolerance of faculty harassment. He could publicize the University policy on all varieties of harassment, and the disciplinary consequences of such action. And it wouldn't hurt if he let the other 92 percent of us in on the secret hide-out of the Sexual Harassment Grievance board.