Title IX and the Big Bad School

7 Apr

So I was scrambling for an idea for a post, and coming up with nothing. You were going to be subjected to another healthcare post, I think, but fortunately, NPR saved you. Thank it.

The story that caught my attention today (even more than Glenn Beck finally getting canned by Fox) was this one here. The long and short of it, if you’re not keen to go read/listen, is that the federal government is turning its ever-watchful eye upon Yale for multiple allegations that it is not sticking to its Title IX duties; that is to say, The Man is going after Yale for not respecting women. And this is not the more innocent sort of Title IX complaint wherein there is a lack of a female equivalent for a male athletic team. No, the complaint, filed by 16 Yale women, is that the school failed to adequately respond to multiple instances of both personal and public sexual harassment and assault.

Now, I suppose it could be my incredibly liberal bias (I do listen to NPR, after all), but I think this inquiry is not only meritorious, but likely long overdue. The large scale public incidents referenced in the NPR story are not merely boys being boys (which is a bullshit excuse anyway), but the kinds of things that would get normal men arrested in the outside world. The fraternity gentlemen marching about campus chanting their lovely chant? I highly doubt they had a protest permit.

The issue here is not that the campus of this fine Ivy League institution is ironically full of ignorant pigs, but rather the fact that the administration itself has been so reluctant to make any efforts to affect the student culture in any way. In the wake of the investigation announcement, of course, they’re full of ideas about how to work on changing things, though I can’t help but wonder if statement release date of 4/1/2011 was simply coincidence or if it indicates the true seriousness with which the college is committed to serving the needs of women. That letter–one of three released in the past week–was notably written by a female dean, but that doesn’t change the fact that Yale is still over three hundred years worth of an ol’ boys’ club. In fact, she references in her letter that she “was among the first women students to co-educate my own undergraduate institution.” Why? Because Yale didn’t admit women for undergraduate work until 1969. 1969! This fact is nearly hidden in their history page, a mere mumble at the end of a paragraph about their long history of international students.

Like jinxifer, I find myself comparing my own college experience to that of the Ivy League.
It’s likely surprising to no one that I went to a small liberal arts college that tends to have a considerably higher female than male population–59% to 41%, according to the website, where Yale’s undergrad ratio, par for the League, is an even 50/50. My college was serious about Title IX over a hundred years before it was enacted into law, accepting women right from the start in 1837 while Yale began accepting graduate women only in 1869. And then, of course, there’s the sheer scale of it; just comparing apples to apples, the undergraduate school at Yale is nearly five times the size of the institution I still call home. Knox is able and likes to put out figures like the percentage of seniors who’ve visited a professor’s home (95%), and then there’s the Pumphandle. At the beginning of every school year, every student, faculty, and staff member shakes hands with everyone else, starting with the president and moving on down the line, joining at the end, forming an ever-lengthening serpent of humanity around the campus. Sure, there are a few hipsters for whom Pumphandle is too mainstream, but for the most part, my college starts off with everyone having met everyone else at the school. That sort of face time isn’t the sort of thing that crosses the communal mind of Yale at all.

I tried to imagine any of the public offenses occurring at Knox. We did have five residential fraternities on campus while I was there, but the school had very strict policies regarding initiations; rush wasn’t even until the beginning of the second of our third terms, because the college wanted students to adjust to college life like normal people before sequestering themselves away in testosterone communes. So, clearly, there was an administration effort to minimize these problems and, on the whole, it really did work. Still, I posed the question to my husband, also an alum, and he replied that any man or group of men daring to be so obnoxious as the Yale frat boys on our campus would likely be castrated before the school authorities could serve swift justice–and as likely by other men as by women.

“Ex-excuse us? Yes. We’re sorry. You’ve lost your dick privileges.”

I have a lanyard, the one that still holds my house keys to this day, that simply indicates that I was staff for Knox Orientation 2000. I was never an RA, and my paid duties for the school all consisted of gopher duties for the choral director, so what got me back to school a week and a half early before my junior year was an offer to be part of a new method of educating freshmen (we called them “first-years” at my school) about sexual assault. Rather than the adults preaching down to the new legal adults, a skeleton crew of theatre majors got together and, under the guidance of a specialist in this sort of thing, created our own educational skit illustrating some of the sorts of situations and pressures to which they might potentially be exposed within the next four years.

Funny thing? It worked. When it’s your peers telling you that, really, no does mean no, even if it’s at a party or you said yes before, it works. I had a lot of those very kids come up to me, not just during the duration of orientation, but for the next two years of college, thanking me for my work with that skit. Students on both side of the gender divide confessed that we opened their eyes about the topic, and spared some of them future strife. Would it have had the same effect if it was authority figures acting out the scenes? Probably not. But at the same time, it’s not an activity that the lot of us would have up and started on our own, nor would we have had the mainstage presentation opportunity if we had. And it’s this kind of involvement, the cooperation between the staff and the students, that’s the hallmark of my entire collegiate experience and, clearly, the best way to actually educate someone rather than just jabbering at them.

Can Yale change its sexual culture? Maybe. Changing student culture requires a great deal of direct student engagement, though, and I’m not sure a school that massive actually has the chops for it, let alone the time and money. How can an administration truly value each of five thousand undergraduates, most of whom they’ve never met?

And if your school doesn’t really value you, then how good is it, actually?

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