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Jane Kim, is a J.D. candidate in her third year at Columbia Law School and an aspiring civil and human rights advocate, activist, and scholar.  Here are her thoughts on hate speech in the university setting:

Last Wednesday evening, Yale College fraternity pledges of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) marched through the College’s Old Campus – where most first-year college women are housed – chanting misogynist comments, including:

Yale University

“NO MEANS YES, YES MEANS ANAL,” “F—ING SLUTS,” and “MY NAME IS JACK, I’M A NECROPHILIAC, I FUCK DEAD WOMEN.”

Outrage against Yale-DKE’s chants, not surprisingly, comes primarily from Yale’s women’s groups, who classify the chants as hate speech and a call for sexual violence.  Meanwhile, some Yale students comment that they didn’t take the chants to heart, and that the Yale fraternity pledges were “just a bunch of guys chanting what people told them to chant.”  A Yale Daily News editorial characterized the comments as: “idiotic,” “public stupidity,” aimed to “get a rise” out of others for a “childish laugh.”  The editorial also condemns Yale’s women’s groups – these “feminists at Yale” (oh my!, the f-word) as radical, alienating, and overreacting; seems just one step away from “female hysteria.”

Yale Zeta Psi pledges outside of the Yale Women’s Center in 2008

This is not the first time that Yale students have advanced hateful speech against women.  In January of 2008, Yale Zeta Psi pledges followed a Yale female student around campus chanting “Dick! Dick! Dick!,” and stood outside Yale’s Women’s Center holding signs that read:

“WE LOVE YALE SLUTS,”

A screenshot from “Fraternity,” an art film that challenged members of Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon to scream as long as they could for a free keg of beer.

Video footage of Yale’s Wednesday night hate chants is available here.

What if these comments had been racist, anti-Semitic, or xenophobic?

What if Yale fraternity pledges had been chanting:

“F—ING NIGGERS, WORK MY FIELDS, PICK MY COTTON,”or
“F—ING JEWS, I LOVE HITLER, BRING BACK CONCENTRATION CAMPS,” or
“F—ING ARABS, GTMO FOR LIFE, WATERBOARDING’S COOL.”

I am horrified even typing out these highly offensive, harmful, and hateful words.  I cannot imagine chanting or hearing them out loud.

Why is it that anti-women comments – and anti-gay comments for that matter – are likely to be brushed off as humor, immaturity, a lapse in judgment, or a joke, and comments against other protected classes are immediately considered outrageous?  Disparate responses towards anti-women speech versus other types of hateful speech point to a phenomenon called cultural inequality or cultural violence, a concept first advanced by Johan Galtung, a pioneer in Peace and Conflict Studies, that is defined by public acceptance and perpetuation of inequality and discrimination through individual and group attitudes and values.

Yale’s not the only elite university that struggles with women’s equality. It turns out that even the best and the brightest students in our country and the most prestigious educational institutions still grapple with the equal inclusion of women – an inclusion or exclusion that affects gender-based stereotypes, equal opportunities, and progress towards non-violence against women.

The A.D. Club, an all-male final club at Harvard

At Harvard College, Yale’s traditional football (and academic) rival, and arguably the most prestigious university the world, systematic gender inequality remains present, if not pervasive.  From the number of tenured women faculty, particularly in the sciences to its social institutions, Harvard’s structural inequality (a concept also first advanced by Johan Galtung) could also be viewed as structural violence: systems of social institutions or structures that cause harm by obstructing basic human rights to equality.  Structural violence is deeply intertwined with direct violence.

One example of Harvard’s gender-based structural inequality is the College’s social institutions.  Harvard’s “final clubs,” eight all-male organizations established over a century ago when Harvard too was all-male, offer the value of a single-sex organization, as well as unparalleled accumulated wealth, legacy, real estate, alumni networks, and resources.  Once institutionally part of Harvard College, Harvard’s final clubs became independent in 1984 when Harvard merged with Radcliffe and Title IX prohibited student groups from discriminating on the basis of sex.

Harvard students hold mixed feelings about final clubs.  On one hand, some believe that final clubs offer lifetime friendships and professional networks, resources, and a place to socialize with friends on a campus that some argue lacks college life. On the other hand, some believe that final clubs are elitist, classist, racist, and misogynist, pointing to the “punch” or selection process for club members and to their “exclusive” guest-list parties. Some view final clubs as centers for sexual assault, as final clubs host a large portion of Harvard’s college parties, as non-members gain entry based on their gender (some final clubs do not allow male non-members into their clubs), and as the power dynamics of host v. guest, male v. female, prevail.  Others explain that while sexual assault may happen at college parties, including final club parties, some final clubs have met with Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault and Prevention and some final club members are also members of Harvard’s Men Against Rape. Guest-list parties are defended with the liabilities that follow hosting college parties and with the dues that undergraduate and alumni members pay to maintain their properties. Still others believe that final clubs should go co-ed.

The purpose of this post is not to debate the wrongness or rightness of Harvard’s final clubs: a complicated discussion that has remained on Harvard’s campus since 1984. After all, regardless of one’s position towards final clubs, most students and commentators would likely agree that concerns about final clubs stem from broader concerns about the structural inequalities embedded in student life and social space at Harvard – inequalities that would likely be less problematic if counter-measures were taken by the Harvard community.  For example, Harvard College does not yet have a “Student Center,” and Harvard College’s Women’s Center, despite its value, was established in 2006 and currently resides in the basement of a first-year dormitory.  The Harvard Crimson’s Staff urges the Harvard administration to sponsor a forum for first-year students to address “the clubs’ history of allegations of sexual harassment and rape, their heteronormativity, and their culture of exclusivity,” rather than ignoring – and thus accepting – the presence and effects of final clubs at Harvard.

The purpose of this post is to highlight that we have inherited a system of stereotypes, institutions, and norms – cultural and structural inequality and violence – that make it easy to tolerate and accept, and difficult to identify and challenge, gender inequality, even on our country’s brightest college campuses. The pervasiveness of structural and cultural gender inequality at Harvard and Yale is far from independent from high rates of direct gender-based discrimination and violence on these campuses.

We have inherited words like bitch, slut, and whore. We have inherited a culture that still believes that rape is not rape unless it is accompanied by force or a deadly weapon. We have inherited systems where long-standing all-male histories, narratives, legacies, and institutions grapple with preservation and inclusion, privilege and equality, history and change.

Harvard students, Yale students, and college students throughout the United States – students who are fortunate to have access to the rare privilege of higher education and the bastions of opportunity in the U.S. – should tap into their talents, educate themselves about gender equality and violence against women, and confront and challenge the norms that we have inherited and sometimes somewhat blindly accept.  Institutions evolve because of the individuals in them; that holds true for final clubs, fraternities, sororities, colleges, courts, and university administrations.

Last week, I wrote a post entitled: “An Education in Raping: Are College Campuses Protecting Rapists?” The post looked at the lessons learned by rapists, rape victim-survivors, and students through rapist-friendly college disciplinary proceedings for rape crimes. A parallel argument can be made in this post: students learn from disciplinary proceedings, college cultures, and social institutions that accept and perpetuate gender inequality. Harvard and Yale not only house structural inequality, structural violence, and direct violence against women; they also house our country’s future leaders and policy-makers. Theodore Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Joseph Story, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ted Kennedy, Deval Patrick, and William Weld were all members of Harvard final clubs.

Tolerance of cultural, structural, and direct gender inequality on college campuses teaches students and future leaders that women’s inequality is a hollow promise, a rhetorical fiction, making it even more difficult to abandon the shackles of inequality that we, as a collective culture, have inherited.  The implications for such lessons are endless.

There is a responsibility that comes with the privilege of education and the privilege of educating. If views towards rape, sexual assault, and gender equality on our country’s brightest college campuses do not change, the outcome of Harvard vs. Yale won’t matter because everyone will lose.

5 comments

  1. Blog post: Harvard vs. Yale: Inequality and Violence Against Women Shadow Our Brightest College Campuses http://bit.ly/bRxPka

  2. I never knew Harvard’s finals clubs were still not integrated. I think all the other ivy equivalents have gone co-ed.

  3. It’s a pity that such a well known university is caught up with such acts. In our country, Harvard and Yale are known as very prestigious brands. Especially Harvard’s MBA has a good reputation with regards to the financial and investment industry over here. Personally I know someone who use to work in investment banking with an Harvard MBA who did not display the behaviour outlined in this article.

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  5. Ms. Tran, You make a good many innuendoes here and post a video in which you, or someone else, apparently lied to a group of fraternity members in order to get them to behave foolishly. This is not evidence of the prevalence or problem of rape on your campus: it is evidence of childishness, self-regard, and self-indulgence on your part. I find it hard to believe this sort of thing is coming from a law student.

    The feminist law movement, to which you clearly belong, has long played the role of betrayer of real rape victims while issuing blanket condemnations against men in general for what is carelessly and inaccurately termed “the culture of rape.” I’d like to hear your and your peer’s views on the extremely dishonest and ugly role feminist leaders (“gender” specialists in particular) have played in keeping rapes of heterosexual women from being prosecuted as hate crimes, for instance. Or your view of recidivism laws, which are effective in reducing real rapes but have not been supported by so-called feminist activists in either of the states in which I and others lobbied for such legislation (I know the same is true in other states as well).

    If you and your peers were serious about stopping rape, you would not waste your time and credibility whining about a fraternity prank. The so-called gender studies law movement has a great deal to answer for in their selective outrage and self-indulgence on these issues. I eagerly await your response.

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