When No Means Yes

On the night of Oct. 13, new pledges to the Yale fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon marched through the residential section of Yale’s campus. The students, some blindfolded, chanted such revolting phrases as “No means yes! Yes means anal!” and “My name is Jack, I’m a necrophiliac; I fuck dead women, and fill them with my semen!”

Any remotely intelligent human being must recognize the inappropriate nature of those words, and I am certain that the impressionable DKE pledges would be mortified by their actions if they seriously reflected on them. However, the fact remains that bright men chanted misogynistic phrases that, intentionally or not, encouraged rape. The Yale Women’s Center justifiably condemned the event as “hate speech” and “an active call for sexual violence.”

Since then, members of DKE have formally apologized to the Women’s Center for their actions. Two other Yale fraternities have condemned DKE. The Yale administration issued a formal statement promising to reprimand the leaders of DKE. Nonetheless, an instance of blatant sexual harassment affecting a large number of Yale freshman occurred in 2010 in one of the most open-minded universities in the country.

No matter how much we like to deny it, Harvard and Yale are very similar. Our students come from the same backgrounds, study the same subjects, and live and breathe in the same Ivy-League environment. As Harvard students, we should not shrug off last week’s horrifying events as additional proof for why “Yale sucks.” Instead, the DKE incident must serve as a warning to Harvard.

It is easy to view the “no means yes” chants as an isolated instance conceived of by impulsive, misguided, and possibly intoxicated frat brothers. However, the Yale community’s reaction to the DKE incident belies this convenient dismissal. In fact, on Oct. 18, the Yale Daily News published an editorial calling the Yale Women’s Center’s response an “overreaction.” It proclaimed that “feminists at Yale should remember that, on a campus as progressive as ours, most of their battles are already won: All of us agree on gender equality.”

These statements are not only discomforting, but also ridiculous. It is patently obvious that not all on Yale’s campus “agree on gender equality”; if this were so, DKE would not be in nearly so much trouble now.

The Yale Daily News is a widely read and respected paper whose editorials supposedly indicate the consensus view of the newspaper editorial board itself. The YDN has apologized for the disturbing nature of its article, but this editorial certainly does not reflect the inebriated impulse of a few frat brothers. The fact that intelligent and thoughtful Yale students consciously decided to condemn the Women’s Center for its reaction to the DKE incident exposes just how pervasive anti-feminist views can be on a college campus.

Worst of all, this is not the first such chauvinistic event to take place at Yale. Last year, Yale men circulated a “pre-season scouting report” discussing the hottest freshmen girls. Previously, members of another Yale fraternity took photographs of their pledges outside the Women’s Center holding signs that read, “We Love Yale Sluts.”

Luckily, Harvard has experienced no such public demonstrations of misogyny in its recent history. But as a freshman woman at Harvard, the recent events at Yale make me profoundly uncomfortable.

Harvard, too, has a Women’s Center, although it has not issued any public comment on the DKE incident. Similarly, the Radcliffe Union of Students has disseminated information about the DKE incident over its mailing list, but has neglected to make a public statement about the affair.

Although I am disappointed that neither organization has done anything to reassure or warn Harvard students about the dangers of sexually discriminatory and offensive rhetoric, the simple presence of these groups on Harvard’s campus comforts me. And in my opinion, the DKE incident emphasizes why such establishments as the Harvard College Women’s Center and the Radcliffe Union of Students are absolutely necessary. Hopefully, they will continue to fulfill the duty of making women feel at home on a campus in which freshmen eat every meal in Annenberg under the stern gaze of dozens of white men.

Harvard has not had any similarly notable instances of misogyny, but that does not make our campus a bastion of gender equality. After all, women were not even recognized as students of Harvard University, as opposed to Radcliffe College, until 1977. We are heavily underrepresented in math and science courses, and we are regularly treated as objects at final club parties. In light of this, the recent events at Yale only underscore the continued importance of women’s resources at Harvard.

Men and women across the country have joined together in condemning the actions of DKE. I am glad that I am not alone in my horror and outrage about such a disgustingly misogynistic event. However, I am distressed by Harvard’s attitude of complacency. Harvard’s feminist organizations should participate more actively in the national dialogue about the DKE affair. But more importantly, everyone at Harvard should learn from this incident at our sister Ivy. After all, if it could happen in New Haven, it could happen here as well.

Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14 lives in Matthews Hall.

CORRECTION: November 15, 2010

An earlier version of the Nov. 12 op-ed "When No Means Yes" incorrectly reported that female undergraduates were students of Radcliffe College, not Harvard University, until 1999. In fact, they became students of Harvard University in 1977, although they still received Radcliffe diplomas in addition to Harvard diplomas until 1999. The Crimson regrets the error.

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