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

Rhetoric escalates at Yale

The controversy at Yale continues unabated regarding a picture which depicted 12 students associated with the Zeta Psi fraternity holding a “Yale Sluts” sign in front of the Women’s Center and the wide circulation of this imagery among the student body. In response to this incident, the Women’s Center “presented the administration with the report ten days ago, calling for an overhaul of the University’s sexual-harassment and assault education policies, increased regulation of fraternities, disciplinary action against the Zeta Psi fraternity members and greater resources for the Center.”

In response to the Women Center, the Zeta Phi fraternity offered an apology, but the apology was rebuffed by the Center’s board, and the Center’s Board indicated that they will continue “their ongoing quest to end the “fraternity-sponsored or enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape” that they say they have observed on campus.”

But some members of the Yale community disagreed with the rape characterization-

“[Rape] is an extremely strong word that can ruin a person’s life with a simple accusation, even if the person is completely innocent,” said one fraternity member who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter. “The idea that fraternities sponsor [sexual harassment, assault, or rape] is ridiculous. These women should be focusing on the real problems that face women, not just a tasteless picture with a tasteless phrase.”

Reflecting the sentiment of many of those interviewed, Anne Carney ’09 said she found the actions of Zeta Psi offensive. She said she believes “no one didn’t find it offensive.” And Rebecca Stern ’11 applauded the Center’s efforts, declaring that “something has to change.”

But some students, like Aneesh Raghunandan ’11, said the Center has gone too far, blowing the incident out of proportion and using it as a launching pad for pushing through its reform agenda.

Jon Charest ’10, president of Zeta Psi’s Yale chapter, wrote in an e-mail that there has still been no direct contact between the Center and Zeta Psi, but declined further comment.

The dankprofessor assumes that no direct contact means no direct communication. What we have is male fraternity members depicting female students as “Yale Sluts” in the front of the Women’s Center and the Women’s Center’s Board responding in kind labeling the fraternity as being rape enablers.

The dankprofessor adheres to the viewpoint that sexist rhetoric however misdirected does not reflect a fraternity sponsorship of rape. The rhetoric needs to be toned down. We saw the consequences of such rhetoric not being toned down at Duke; righteous indignation and accusations ran amok at Duke.

Is it pipedreaming to hope that Yale administrators would attempt to bring together fraternity members and Woman’s Center Board Members and facilitate some constructive face to face communication?

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

February 18, 2008 Posted by | feminism, fraternities, rape, sexual harassment, Yale University | 1 Comment


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