Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The Yale Ballyhoo

Sexual harassment, so-called hostile environment sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape continue to be conflated as indicated by a the complaint of 16 Yale students to the Dept. Of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (the OCR) and the public responses to said complaint.

As dissident feminist Wendy Kaminer points out the group’s complaint

“reportedly includes testimony about sexual assaults, but the hostile-environment charge against the university rests as well on a litany of complaints about offensive exercises of First Amendment freedoms. A December 2010 draft complaint letter, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), focuses on these “incidents”: In 2006, a group of frat boys chant “No means yes, yes means anal” outside the Yale Women’s Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women’s dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women’s Center holding signs saying, “We love Yale sluts.” In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers “it would take to have sex with them.”

It is these public incidents that have engaged the public’s attention and brought forth a condemnation of sexual harassment/assault by Vice President Biden.  But what some call sexual harassment boils down in the dankprofessor terms as obnoxious and offensive behavior.  And the terms used are of import since offensive and obnoxious behavior are constitutionally protected and university sexual harassment codes, particularly of the hostile environment genre, may impinge on constitutionally protected speech.

For example, take the “Yale Sluts” sign which was held up by a group of Zeta Psi Fraternity members in front of the Yale Women’s Center and then the circulation of this imagery in the wider campus community.  In response to this incident the Women’s Center called for “an overhaul of the University’s sexual-harassment and assault education policies, increased regulation of fraternities, disciplinary actions against Zeta Psi members…”  The Center’s board indicated they will continue in their ongoing quest to end the “fraternity-sponsored or enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape” they had observed on campus.

So putting it in rather blunt terms condemning the Zeta Psi actions as offensive is not enough; the problem according to the Women’s Center is that the Zeta Psi members are rape enablers.  And the dankprofessor surmises that those who assert that the actions of the Zeta Psi members are constitutionally protected, they too are at risk of being labeled as rape enablers.

What was and is needed at Yale is some form of conflict resolution between fraternities and women’s organizations.  But based on my information in the three years since the 2008 incident, there has been no communication at Yale between Zeta Psi and organizations such as the Women’s Center.

Name-calling whether it be sluts or rape enablers is puerile.  The basic problem at Yale is one of civility.  The problem of civility will not be ameliorated by taking this situation into an adversarial legal system, and using the media as a means of demonizing  the “other side”.

April 9, 2011 - Posted by | civility, feminism, fraternities, higher education, rape, sexual harassment, sexual politics, Uncategorized, Yale University

3 Comments »

  1. I first read of the Yale situation in the N.Y. Post, and was dismayed. I, after all, have always respected women, and felt that the chants of the fraternity members were abhorant. I later read an article by a woman from Nationa Affairs, also in the N.Y. Post. In it, she described the anti male sentiments expressed by the Women’s Center, at Yale. This article put the frat members behavior in a somewhat different, though still offensive light.
    As the Dankprofessor says, no meaningful dialog has taken place between the fraternity and the Women’s Center in the 3 years since the rude frat behavior took place. I ask: 1) Why have 3 years elapsed before this issue became public?, and 2) Why has this matter been allowed to persist without sensible interaction between the two groups? To me, both need to temper their rhetoric and related animosity, towards the other side.

    Comment by Donald Visconti | April 11, 2011 | Reply

  2. Don, this issue became public in 2008. Actually, the fraternity apology to the Women’s Center and said apology was rejected. It would take a major commitment to facilitate a peaceful co-existence between the Women’s Center and fraternities. Most likely feminist ideology would veto the effort; would be seen as equivalent to sleeping with the enemy.

    Comment by dankprofessor | April 11, 2011 | Reply

  3. Very well put, dankprofessor! I should have known that would be the result. Anyway, I am still pleased that the fraternity apologized, as sensible women likely did accept it.

    Comment by Donald Visconti | April 12, 2011 | Reply


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