In response to the now-notorious incident this past fall—in which both members and pledges of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity publicly chanted offensive and misogynistic phrases on campus—Yale has decided to restrict the fraternity’s activities for five years. Members will not be allowed either to recruit or to conduct any other on-campus activities, and the organization will have limited access to the Yale name. Interestingly enough, however, this was not the university’s initial solution to the problem. In fact, Yale had originally decided to penalize only the students involved, although the nature of the penalties was unclear due to federal privacy laws.
To be sure, the actions of the students involved were reprehensible on many levels, and we need not explain here why the respective chants of “No Means Yes!” and “Yes Means Anal!” have no place on a college campus or in any other space. As comforting as it is to know that disciplinary action has been taken against the fraternity, however, we aren’t sure that the most appropriate decision was made. In our view, the university’s previous decision to impose individual sanctions against the offending students was a more appropriate reaction than the recent decision to suspend the activities of the fraternity as a whole. In other words, by punishing those involved, Yale demonstrated that it holds individual members of its community accountable for their actions. But in suspending the entire fraternity in a very public manner, the university seems more interested in appeasing a bloodthirsty public than it does in dealing with the incident and its perpetrators in the most reasonable, appropriate fashion possible.
Make no mistake: The violation of the federal gender-equity law Title IX, the verbal abuse, and the misogynistic implications of the chants are clear and indisputable. The issue was rightly brought into and kept in the national media spotlight when 16 Yale students filed a Title IX complaint against their university, saying that there had been an “inadequate response” to the issue and that Yale had previously failed to address cases of sexual assault on campus. And although these complaints are certainly valid—as is Yale’s responsibility to address them—the national attention drawn to the complaints alone is insufficient grounds for the university to take action against its entire DKE chapter. In short, whatever actions Yale—or any university—takes in any situation should never depend on the magnitude of a given public reaction. University decisions should instead reflect a fair assessment of the situation by university officials alone, and in this situation, that doesn’t seem to have been the case. As disgusting as the actions of this fraternity may have been, a great American university succumbing to public pressure is cause for concern rather than celebration. In our view, it would have been better had Yale addressed this situation on its own terms, and we hope that this incident will serve as a lesson to all universities across the country.
Then, of course, there are the practical problems with Yale’s new decision. Although well-intentioned, the restriction of DKE will not necessarily prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. Nor will it make the sexual environment at Yale any safer for students, unless the university can institute and enforce broader policies regarding what is appropriate and expected behavior of all. The suspension of DKE activity certainly acts as a foreboding sign for other organizations, but it is by no means a preventative measure that will halt all similar activity in the future. For instance, Yale’s campus environment could remain entirely unaffected by the fact that a single fraternity faces a five-year suspension. To us, at least, it seems that best the way to deal with the threat of sexual harassment on campus is not to compartmentalize the issue but to address it in full. In that sense, putting a temporary end to DKE’s on-campus activity does not offer a permanent solution to the problem.
To that end, the complaints about Yale’s sexual environment lodged earlier this year can only be addressed and corrected by community members themselves. Sexual harassment is a real issue affecting not only Yale but many other college campuses as well, resulting even in the introduction of legislation such as the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. Across campus at Yale and at other universities, the power to put an end to incidents such as the DKE chanting rests with those who strive to foster environments of openness and respect. Just as individuals must be held accountable for their actions in incidents like these, individuals are also needed to prevent them in the first place. There is no other way to make our campuses safer for all.
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