The second thought is one I had on the bus home tonight. I spent most of today ruminating on last Wednesday's Yale fraternity pledge incident after I found out about it this morning. It's disgusting, there's no doubt about that. My first thought was "how did anyone with the intelligence to get into Yale ever think this was a good idea?" And then I realized that Dartmouth-- and, I wager, most of the other top-tier schools in the country-- has its own fair share of misogynistic frat boys, and that brought me back to my own experience.
One thing about the Yale incident really stuck with me, though, and that was from this follow-up article:
Yale Dean Mary Miller says any disciplinary action against individual DKE members will be confidential from start to finish, and that such action "is not designed to provide satisfaction to those who might feel aggrieved."
To me, this reeks of institutional neglect. What I see is a university that wants to brush this under the rug as quickly yet inconspicuously as possible. Is this a shameful incident? Of course it is. But the way to handle it is to stand up and take action, not try to cover things up with excuses like confidentiality.
I realize this may be an issue of debate. Should disciplinary action, if it were to take place, be kept confidential? My opinion is this: confidentiality should be to protect victims, not perpetrators-- especially not when the perpetrators went parading around campus openly in the first place. I don't think the frat brothers and pledges involved in this case should have the right to privacy. When someone does something this offensive and hurtful to others, their privacy should be the last concern on people's mind. It should not be a way to hide or lessen the severity or possibility of punishment. Period.
And the other part of Dean Miller's statement, that any disciplinary action "is not designed to provide satisfaction to those who might feel aggrieved." And may I ask, why not? I think Yale does need to take responsibility for the distress people might feel about this event, since it was on their campus and done by some of their students. I'm glad that Yale has chosen to use this incident to spark discussion about sexual assault, but that is not enough. That doesn't help people who might have been triggered by the incident. It's just talk talk talk, which is all that most victims seem to get for compensation these days. All talk, no action. Believe it or not, just discussing how the incident was bad doesn't help a victim feel all that much better. It's easy to say how awful something is and how things should be changed. Hearing that doesn't mean a thing if no action comes of it.
This Yale incident and how it stinks of institutional neglect really hits close to home. I was raped in my fraternity by a fraternity brother, an alumnus who was visiting for the weekend. For the most part, the reaction I got when I told people consisted of hugs and "that is awful" and "let us know what you need and we'll be there for you." Except for one. A few days after I was raped, I was told by a high-ranking elected official of the fraternity to keep quiet about the rape because if word got out, no one would come by the frat anymore and it would get ruined and that would all be my fault. We needed to keep the illusion that we were better than other frats, that rape doesn't happen at Phi Tau, or else.
When I was first told that, for a split second I believed it. It was only through remembering the writing I had found online by other strong, courageous women about how being raped is not your fault and you should not be ashamed that it happened because it was solely and completely the rapist's choice to commit that crime. And then I realized how wrong it was for someone to tell me to keep quiet about what happened in order to preserve my fraternity's reputation. It was wrong, and it made me angry that this so-called brotherhood of mine, my so-called family, would try to brush this all under the carpet.
I went to other brothers of the house and relayed what I had been told. The reaction I got? "Oh, that's awful. You should tell whomever you want." At first I thought that was a good reaction, that it meant people disagreed with the person who told me and would stand up for me and change this attitude. But no-- what it really meant was that words are easy to say, even for cowards. All talk and no action. The official was never reprimanded in any way for his actions, and even more, for all their talk about supporting me, they seemed to agree with his sentiment. I was allowed to tell whomever I wanted, of course, but they tried to do as little as possible about the event, as inconspicuously as possible, despite their promises to stand up and be a model for other frats about integrity and courage.
The man who raped me was banned from returning to the fraternity house. That seems like a pro-active, positive step, you might say. But in truth, he lived in a different state, and was never going to come back anyway because he knew I was pressing charges with the police. Yeah, my fraternity sent him a letter enforcing what he was going to do anyway. Doesn't take that much effort, does it? On the other hand, how about the fact that to this day, he is still considered a brother of Phi Tau? There was talk of editing our Constitution to make it possible to revoke brotherhood, but then two things happened: the undergrads who would have had to do the legwork stopped bothering, and the alumni got freaked out by the possibility of change. I was told by the President of the whole corporation that many alumni would withdraw their support of the House were I to push for any kind of change, and "strongly advised" that I cease and desist. How's that for another version of telling the victim to keep quiet and shoving everything under the rug?
It has been two and a half years since the incident happened my senior spring. After taking a year of medical leave, I did return to classes and receive my degree, finally moving away from Hanover this July. I struggled to make meaning of what happened in the aftermath of the rape, where people whom I thought of as friends-- even family-- failed to support me. Not only did I have to bear the burden of PTSD on my own, but also I wondered why they turned a blind eye, if it was something wrong with me that made them not care, and what that meant about my concept of brotherhood and friendship. There were times when I sat in the social space of my fraternity house and cried, needing a caring word or hug, yet people walked straight past me, carrying on conversations with other, sitting on the other side of the room to play games or read, etc. After the first week, no one bothered to even ask if I was okay when I cried. After a month or two, people started rolling their eyes when I brought up the event to see if anyone was going to push for further measures by the brotherhood. My recovery would have been so much faster and more effective if I had had the support of my fraternity, yet here I am, still struggling with what it means and how it feels to be betrayed.
Surprisingly, what hits hardest is not that the man who raped me is still considered a brother of the house, but that the official who threatened me to keep quiet was never once reprimanded or told that he should not have said what he said. In fact, pretty much everyone is still friends with him. It leads me to wonder about the fragile and fickle nature of friendship. I thought friendship meant standing up for your friend; the enemy of your friend is your enemy as well. I once asked someone how they managed to be friends with both him and me, and why, and the answer I received was that it was too hard to take a stand against someone in their social circle. She nonchalantly agreed that what he said to me was bad, but shrugged it off and continued to try to keep both his and my friendship.
Now that I have moved away from the influence of the house, I have begun to see clearly that that is not real friendship. Anyone can toss words of support out there. It takes a true friend to do something about it. And as an organization, integrity demands action. My fraternity took no action that required any effort on their part, citing excuses some of the time and just remaining silent or looking away the rest of the time. Silence condones the crime. Silence is cowardice and apathy. Silence and passivity tell the victim that s/he is not worth the effort to do what is right.
Although there are, of course, many differences between my story and the Yale pledge incident, I think the common thread is that an institution had the opportunity to stand up, take an appropriate amount of responsibility, and most importantly, take action, yet it is hedging. It's not too late for Yale to openly denounce what happened and push for serious consequences. Confidentiality is not a valid reason to hide any disciplinary action, and I think any action taken should be partly to satisfy anyone who was troubled or hurt by the incident. Yale needs to take notice of its community's distress and address it. Action, not just words and discussion and other passive means of patting victims on the head and turning away.