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It’s mid-afternoon and I am still feeling shaky from early this morning, when I read Amanda Ruggeri’s recent New York magazine account of being drugged and raped while a student at Yale. After the rape, she had no access to even a rape kit on campus, despite rape generally being dealt with as an on-campus problem rather than as a violent crime requiring actual police. She was silent about it for years: she had little access to help, prosecuting the rapist would be nearly impossible, etc. Mostly it seems she remained silent in order to survive in a place where being a victim and speaking up about it turns you into a piece of gossip, into a scapegoat.
Speaking up about being raped at a place like Yale diminishes your status as a human being and an achiever, and achieving is what just about every ounce of that place is devoted to. Every waking moment seems devoted to keeping one’s armor shiny and intact, the competition and the stakes are high.
(Note: Ruggeri’s impeccably written article will slay you, so don’t make the mistake I did of wandering afterwards into the ignorant troll rape-apologist comments. There are not enough showers in the world to get that off. I am already securing a shot of bourbon and a bunch of sage incense for 7 p.m. on the dot to shake those hideous victim-blaming vibes the hell out of my realm.)
I went to Yale. I don’t make a lot of money. But many of the guys I was friends with in college in the ’90s do. These were boys I stood around watching smoke a six-foot bong who have now been running hedge funds and the like for over a decade. HEDGE FUNDS, dammit. Back then these guys were pretty cool during the day, but became an all-night radio station of boring-at-the-bong: obsessing over “Kind Legs” (not a sexual reference: this was what they called Grateful Dead bootlegs). I remember a friend who was not in the white-straight-male-bong crew joking, “You know they’ll all be bankers someday, right?” and laughing. I guess we did know it was true.
Now most of them have blossomed into quite fascinating, non-Dead-focused men, and quite a few of them have eight gazillion dollars.
Quite a few of them also have daughters.
I know that they would be happy to see their daughters go to Yale. And I also know that these fathers probably have a high level of cognitive dissonance about rape culture at Yale -- not wanting to mar their Yale halo/memories by acknowledging rape culture’s current dominance or even existence, yet underneath that, on a feeling level, likely terrified that their daughters could be under siege in this awful way some day. So terrified that they probably have to create a mental fortress where that can’t be a possibility: their brains constructing the necessary denials of rape culture’s existence by insisting they are adequately teaching their daughters to protect themselves. Making sure that their daughters will not get into any situation where they could be hurt in any way.
Every minute of their day, now, as grown-ass men, is about protecting and providing for their kids. It is unthinkable that their daughters could be unsafe when their every waking moment goes to that very goal. As fathers, the possibility that what happened to Amanda Ruggeri could happen to their own daughters does not exist.
These are men who have achieved everything -- it is simply not possible that they could fail at Mission #1: protecting their family. And it is by extension also impossible that their alma mater, whose education and prestige has provided the entry pass to this constant success, could fail to protect their family, or by extension the collective family.
This kind of denial, of course, does zilch to protect anyone from harm (and in fact just perpetuates rape culture’s necessity of blaming the victim). Their daughters are exactly as at risk as Amanda Ruggeri and the many women in her Yale secret society who were also raped, and who also remained silent in order to avoid stigma and survive.
These women (and thousands of other raped Yale students) have remained silent because there was no safe system in place for them to access their legal right to report a crime and have it prosecuted. They were silent because their identities would not have been protected and the shame ALWAYS, ALWAYS gets displaced onto the victim in rape culture.
When I went to Yale with my excellent feminist women friends and my guy friends who went on to own/run the planet, it was a deeply feminist place. (I mean -- not STRUCTURALLY in terms of percentage of women tenured and who makes the money in the end. It was the dudes who loved Kind Legs making bank immediately after graduation despite women often running circles around them academically. A few of my guy friends had secretaries their first year out of school, while my women friends and I often were secretaries to be able to pay rent while we figured out grad school or whatever.)
But the discussion at Yale back then was deeply feminist, as much as at any of the few intense liberal arts institutions in the US at that time. Feminism was the lens you read books through. I read "This Bridge Called My Back" in five different classes. Feminism was Sandra Cisneros and Laura Mulvey and bell hooks and the Guerilla Girls and it infiltrated everything.
So I ask you, Yale alums of the eight gazillion dollar variety and also all of the feminists who have graduated from this place: Why are we not withholding alumni donations until the university protects students from sexual assault, actively enables prosecution of rapists, and provides a safe way for women to report what has happened to them?
I’m surprised this is not already a thing. Can someone whose donations actually mean something to the Alumni Fund please start this in a big bold way?
If not, let me start it now.
If you donate money, please read Amanda Ruggeri’s article about being drugged and raped at Yale.
And if you’re thinking these problems have been resolved since her experience in 2005, think again. In 2011, the Department of Education opened a Title IX investigation into Yale for a “hostile sexual environment,” due to rampant violent misogyny, including the DKE fraternity chanting “No means yes, yes means anal” on a campus quad. Yale paid no fine under the resolution of this Title IX complaint, and as of 2013, students and advocates were disappointed that very little had changed.
As a result of the 2011 investigation, Yale created a “University-wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.” Which sort of tells you all you need to know: Rape should be classified as a crime, not as sex. Not including “crime” in the name of this committee means that Yale is not truly considering rape a crime.
Also: Rapists are not being prosecuted.
Last year, “the university determined that over a period of six months, six students were guilty of ‘nonconsensual sex’...Of the six Yale students found guilty, four were given written reprimands, one was placed on probation, and one student given a one-year suspension. All six will graduate with Ivy League degrees after committing a crime, which if committed outside the bounds of campus, would lead to far more serious repercussions,” according to the Feminist Wire. (Emphasis mine.)
Written freaking reprimands.
It is thus inarguable that the campus is still unsafe for women, but quite safe for rapists.
We know that the university puts a very high value on cash from alums.
We know that it is so wrong, 100% unacceptable, for rape culture to go unchecked and for basic protections and legal rights to not be in place.
We are feminists (well, many of us are).
We are the grown-ups now (all of us).
We are in a position where we actually might have some leverage.
It is our responsibility to stand up and demand fair, legal, safe treatment of rape victims.
Classmates and friends, feminists and fathers, those of you from other rape culture universities: I am not asking you to join a political cause.
What I am asking you is to take on the role of the responsible grown-ups of this community. We are now the town watch. We are the ones with wisdom, responsibility, and resources.
There are crimes being committed on our turf. There is a culture that allows physical violence and emotional intimidation not to just go unpunished, but to rule the roost.
Yale is allowing young women to be raped, intimidated, traumatized, and silenced and we are paying them to eff up this badly.
How can we allow this? It is not a political issue. It is a town-policing issue. We do not live in New Haven anymore, but many of us contribute money and we certainly benefit from our association with the institution despite its vile negligence of young women’s well being.
Right now, the people we are giving money to are failing miserably at the most basic task: Physically protecting the community they are entrusted with.
We must not turn a blind eye.
Environments of physical and emotional terror must be dismantled so that Yale is safe and functional.
Laws must be enforced.
Victims must be protected.
Criminals must be prosecuted.
Until there is a safe way for victims to report and prosecute crimes, until there is a true campus-wide erasure of rape culture, until rapists and guys who indiscriminately drug women with GHB (what do you even call that? God help us) are prosecuted as the norm, why don’t we take the simplest, most responsible action, and write the following on the response forms to all those Alumni Fund requests:
I am withholding my donation until Yale ends rape culture on campus and provides safety for women.
This might speed up the pace of change. Notably, it requires not giving away money. If Yale alums still want to donate somewhere, I’m sure Planned Parenthood will take the cash. But really -- what is easier than not writing a check? Easy, and it could have a big effect.
I sincerely hope alumni of the 55 colleges currently under investigation by the Obama administration for sexual violence will do the same.
What do you guys think? Are there specific things alums could/should request from schools with runaway rape cultures ? Or will starting to hold up the gravy train be enough?