Yale University has been in the news for less than flattering reasons that cast into doubt how serious the Ivy League school, and universities in general, are about addressing sex crimes and making their campuses a safe and welcoming environment for women. Yale Could Just Say No to Covering Up Rape is the title of an recent essay by New School history professor Clare Potter about a recent report about sex crimes at Yale.
Potter writes that Yale is “sobered” by the statistics: In an email to the University community, Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler wrote that, from July -December 2011, 29 undergraduates brought sexual misconduct complaints to the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, Yale’s Title IX Coordinators and the Yale Police Department.
Noting that she is — who wouldn’t be? — “sobered” too, Potter (a Yale alumna) writes that those numbers are rather low:
I have never seen a campus committee work so efficiently to cover up sex crimes on campus. Out of 5,000 students, that would make the rate of “sexual misconduct” — which includes a lot of noxious, sexist and violent behaviors that are not felony rape — at .0058. This would put Yale so far below other estimates of the frequency of felony rape on college campuses that I would like to suggest they send they report to the Department of Justice with a laugh track. This report from the DOJ in December 2000 estimated that a campus should expect 350 rapes for every 10,000 women. Roger Williams College goes with the conventional number, which is that one in four women will be sexually assaulted before they graduate.
The 29 cases were all heard by a campus disciplinary committee and were voluntarily reported. Many of the rape cases were “found not to be substantial enough to pursue further because the victim was incapacitated at the time and could not provide a clear account of the alleged crime,” says Potter. But in the case in which the committee found that crimes had occurred, the student (a male student) was given a “sentence” of a one-semester suspension for assault, battery, stalking and forced sex. In a case in which a Yale student made an “informal complaint” that a male student had “nonconsensual sex” with her, the accused student was simply (says the Yale report) “counseled … on appropriate conduct” and restrictions were “imposed… on contact between the parties.”
Rhodes Scholarship Controversy
A recent controversy about a Yale quarterback further suggests that the university has a very long way to go about reporting sex crimes.
Patrick J. Witt, one of Yale’s candidates for the highly prestigious Rhodes Scholarship — under which 32 American students are selected to study at Oxford University on the basis of “outstanding scholarly achievements” as well as “their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership” — had his candidacy put on hold after the Rhodes Trust, which administers the scholarships, learned that a female student had filed a complaint against him.
A controversy, with whiffs of a cover-up, has emerged. Witt had originally won acclaim when he announced on November 13 that he would not attend an interview with the Rhodes committee, which is a necessary part of the application process for finalists, in order to play with his team against Harvard University on November 19. Witt, who transferred to Yale after spending two years at the University of Nebraska, had been a record-setting quarterback for Yale’s football team (whose record this year was 5-5). But as the New York Times reports, Elliot F. Gerson, the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust had informed Yale officials on November 4 that Witt’s candidacy was on hold unless Yale re-endorsed him by November 15.
For Witt to have proceeded as far as he did in Rhodes Scholarship application process means that Yale had expressed significant support about him as a Rhodes candidate. I administer such prestigious scholarships at my (far smaller, very local) college and the application for the Rhodes requires at least five and up to eight letters of recommendation from professors and others, a personal essay, an endorsement from the applicant’s school and much else. At a school like Yale, there is an office with a multi-person staff that assists students.
It is not uncommon for students at Ivy League schools like Yale to win prestigious scholarships like the Rhodes. So the question is, especially considering the care and the scrutiny that applicants undergo, why did an institution like Yale not tell the whole story about the accusations against Witt, who had other criminal charges on his record including one for third-degree criminal trespass in New Haven?
It’s Sex Week At Yale
Given all this, it is not surprising that university administrators at Yale have recommended that Sex Week, which is meant to promote dialogue and awareness about sexual health issues (and which is going on right now), be eliminated. Two undergraduates founded the first Sex Week in 2002 and at least five other college campuses — Brown, Northeastern, the University of Kentucky, Indiana University and Washington University in St. Louis — have held similar “sex weeks”; Harvard University is planning its first such week this year. But Yale’s Advisory Committee on Campus Climate issued a report in November calling for the end of Sex Week and an undergraduate group is circulating a petition to end the week.
Keep sex, and sex crimes, out of the discussion: Just the strategy needed to keep perpetuating a climate in which violence against women can occur.
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Photo of student on the Yale campus by Adam Solomon