Sexual Harassment at Yale University? Ivy League School Comes Under Federal Investigation

Yale University, one of the nation’s elite schools, has become the target of a federal inquiry into sexual harassment allegations.

Last year, Yale students videotaped several members of a campus fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), marching around campus, chanting “no means yes, yes means anal.” On April 6, NPR reported on the details of serious allegations against the University. Alexandra Brodsky, a Yale University junior, along with 15 other current and former female Yale students, filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The students allege that Yale campus offers “a sexually hostile environment.” They also argued that Yale “failed to respond appropriately to personal incidents of sexual violence.”

Published statistics about sexual harassment, rape, and attempted rape on America’s campuses are astounding. The Federal Justice Department contends that 20% of all collegiate women will either be raped or suffer an attempted rape while at school. Furthermore, according to various independent studies, students who commit sex crimes often escape without significant censure from their schools.

Brodsky and her 15 other co-plaintiffs spoke out against Yale: “They are culpable because they haven’t responded appropriately. There is a feeling that we live in this space without any sort of responsibility to each other sexually, without any repercussions to these actions.”

Federal investigators are expected to complete the inquiry in about six months. Due to Yale’s reputation the inquiry could have a profound and long lasting impact on how colleges and universities respond to and manage allegations of harassment, rape and attempted rape.

This story raises deep questions about how American colleges should operate. For instance, what’s the line between allowing freedom of expression and permitting abuse or mistreatment of students? In the NPR article, Brodsky cites another incident that disturbed her. Another fraternity, Zeta Psi, hung a sign in front of the Yale Women’s Center reading “we love Yale sluts” – Brodsky alleges that the University took way too long to respond to this harassment.

On the other hand, critics of the legal action argue that college should be a place where students experiment and challenge one another. If legal action is easy to trigger, students may self-censor, and it will be difficult to cultivate an environment of vigorous and aggressive scholarship.

If you or someone you care about has been sexually harassed or has suffered retaliation or gender discrimination at your school, workplace, or other institution, connect with Joseph & Kirschenbaum at www.jhlp.com or (212) 688-5640.