Yale Fraternity Excoriated for Sexual Harassment Complaints

Yale University, perhaps the Ivy League’s most respected school, is still reeling from a public relations nightmare stemming from charges of sexual harassment and intimidation on campus. Earlier in the spring, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigated complaints launched by 16 current and former students that Yale had violated Title IX of the United States gender equality laws. Last week, Yale took a decisive step towards stamping out sexual harassment, intimidation, and hostility on campus by punishing a campus fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon (a.k.a DKE), for intimidating and threatening women.

Last October, the DKEs were recorded marching around campus chanting “No means yes! Yes means anal!” Video of the sexist, misogynist chant got posted on YouTube and went viral. In light of this release, Yale University officials felt compelled to take action to punish the fraternity. A May 17th story from an article in Reuters detailed the University’s actions:

• DKE may not recruit or engage on fraternity activities on Yale’s campus for five years.
• DKE may not use Yale’s name or communicate with Yale students.
• Yale University has asked the national organization of Delta Kappa Epsilon to suspend Yale’s chapter for five years.
• The Dean of the Yale College, Mary Miller, released a statement explaining the University’s draconian actions: “It is my hope that this will not only shed some light on the matter of public concern but also provide notice of the outcomes to all those who may have been affected by sexual harassment and, accordingly, educate our community.”

Did Yale go too far in punishing DKE? Did the university not go far enough?

Can sexual harassment – and discrimination in general – ever be “stamped out” in our nation’s universities and colleges? And how should schools balance the desire to cultivate freedom of expression and the need to punish people for abusing that freedom to hurt others?

These are not easy questions to answer.

Bastions of learning, like Yale, were designed not only to educate young people and instill ideals of scholarship but also to challenge them to communicate in new ways and to engage in critical, dynamic thinking. Clearly, even our nation’s most elite universities struggle with how to temper the desire to stimulate with the mandate to protect students and others from needless harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

What we learn at college can shape the way we think, behave and interact with others for a lifetime. If we learn that loud, bullying, misogynistic behaviors on campus will go unpunished and perhaps even rewarded by our peers, we will be more likely to carry these behaviors with us after we graduate and enter the professional sphere. Moreover, once we learn that the “power over other” mentality gets results, we will have difficultly unlearning it, even after we intellectually come to appreciate how it can damage others and ourselves.

Fortunately, victims of mistreatment at work can leverage a variety of resources to end bad practices and make the office safe and supportive.

If you or someone you care about has experienced mistreatment at work, the law firm of Joseph & Kirschenbaum can give you a free and totally confidential case evaluation. Learn more at www.jhllp.com or call (212) 688-5640.