World and Nation

At Yale University, harassment of women attracts national attention

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — It has taken on the predictability of an annual ritual, like parents’ weekend or commencement: the outburst of raunchy male behavior that has shaken the Yale University campus in each of the last few school years.

In 2008, fraternity members photographed themselves in front of the Yale Women’s Center with a poster reading, “We Love Yale Sluts.” In 2009, a widely emailed “preseason scouting report” rated the desirability of about 50 newly arrived freshmen women. And in October, fraternity pledges paraded through a residential quadrangle chanting: “No means yes!” Suddenly, however, these incidents have the campus here in a state of high alert. Yale acknowledged last week that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights was investigating a complaint filed by 16 students and recent graduates, accusing the university of violating Title IX, the federal gender-equality law, by failing to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus.

The Yale administration has responded swiftly, saying it had zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and announcing the creation of a new, university-wide committee to streamline a disciplinary process that is now handled differently at each of its schools. Vice President Joe Biden even weighed in this week; though not mentioning Yale, he urged colleges to do more to prevent sexual violence.

In Yale dormitories and online forums, the federal investigation has been a prime topic, with many students echoing the frustrations voiced in the complaint. In interviews, some undergraduates said the administration had become bogged down in confidentiality rules and its own tortuous procedures, missing a bigger truth about the treatment of women, who make up slightly more than half of the student body.

“I don’t think that the sexual culture is worse here than it is at other places,” said Caroline Tracey, a sophomore from Denver. “But the fact that we seem to have one incendiary, misogynistic act a year seems to say that the university isn’t being punitive enough against these large-scale activities.”

Yale officials said they had not seen the complaint and were trying to obtain it through a Freedom of Information Act request. In a letter to students on Wednesday, Mary Miller, dean of Yale College, urged students to report all sexual crimes to the Yale police, and said the university welcomed the investigation as an “opportunity to learn more and do better.”