At the start of the Spring 2022 semester, K. was sexually assaulted. They can’t recount everything that happened that night, due to the impacts of alcohol and post-traumatic stress disorder, but they remember meeting an older student from a campus club they were in at a fraternity party. They talked. It was suggestive. The two went back to his room. They weren’t in the right state of being to consent—and they didn’t consent.
K. had also just started their new job on campus. As a Communication and Consent Educator (CCE), they’d spend the rest of the semester attending trainings hosted by institutions like Title IX, planning events to educate students about sexual misconduct, and flipping through readings in preparation for weekly CCE meetings—all in the hopes of creating a healthier social and sexual culture at Yale. After they were raped in high school, K. spent years working to build more supportive structures for survivors of sexual assault at their school and local community. The opportunity to continue this with Yale’s CCE program was a large factor in their decision to enroll.
Specifically, K. kept working to make Yale a more comfortable environment for survivors of sexual violence with the CCE Survivor Support team, one of four “project groups” that CCEs serve in alongside their respective residential colleges.
Despite their time learning about and educating others on sexual misconduct as a CCE, they had trouble recognizing their own experience of sexual assault. They’d only begun processing the events of that night several months later on a summer trip to Europe—when they weren’t “CCE-ing,” they told me. Although they’d started to come to terms with their experience that summer, they tried to keep their trauma out of sight and out of mind come fall semester, avoiding thinking or speaking about it.
In retrospect, K. asked: “Why do I not give myself the same care and concern as I would give literally any of my friends… especially as someone who is paid to talk about these kinds of things with people?”
The CCE program emerged partly in response to widespread scrutiny of Yale’s sexual climate both on and off campus. The program signaled an accountability shift inwards—toward a peer-to-peer system managing sexual misconduct and away from the more bare bones administrative Title IX procedures.
Melanie Boyd, Yale College Dean of Student Affairs, helped launch the program in August 2011, about four months after the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began investigating Yale for violating Title IX rules. The headline-making Title IX complaint, raised by a group of sixteen Yale students and alumni, alleged that the University fostered a hostile sexual climate and mishandled several cases of misconduct in recent years.
The complaint highlighted several campus events, many of which remain infamous at Yale more than a decade later. In 2008, Zeta Psi pledges held a sign reading “We love Yale sluts!” outside of the Women’s Center. In 2009, male students circulated the “preseason scouting report,” a mass email ranking dozens of female first-years by how many beers it would take to sleep with them. And in October 2010, pledges of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (DKE) marched around Old Campus chanting “No means yes, yes means anal!” and other misogynistic remarks.
The day after the 2010 DKE incident, Boyd’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) seminar “Theorizing Sexual Violence” met at their usual time and place at the Hall of Graduate Studies, which is now the Humanities Quandrangle. But instead of discussing the week’s scheduled curriculum, the Yale Daily News reported, Boyd urged students to reflect on a “script-breaking response” to campus sexual violence and imagine community-oriented ways to respond to such incidents.
Later that year, the University’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention, composed of Yale faculty, convened in response to the DKE incident. They released a report recommending that Yale “expand the pool of well-supported, well-educated student educators” and “raise the level of student knowledge through mandatory educational programs,” among other ideas. While the CCE program began to take shape, Yale adopted a flurry of other sexual misconduct response programs, including the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC), which investigates and adjudicates sexual misconduct cases.
A proposed CCE program, according to Interim Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Director of the Office of Gender and Campus Culture (OGCC) Eilaf Elmileik, “grew out of” Boyd’s WGSS seminar in the fall of 2020. Though the News reported that the seminar discussed the DKE incident and that the program came amid the flurry of Yale’s responsive actions, Elmileik denied connection to the public uproar.
The first class of CCEs trained for their new roles in the summer of 2011. They held their inaugural first-year orientation workshops that fall.
“These are difficult issues and require frank, thoughtful conversations—the kind of discussions students are often most willing to have with other students,” Boyd stated in a News article when the CCE program first kicked off.
Today, the student-led CCE program, which the OGCC oversees, stands unique among other sexual misconduct education and support systems at Yale. More than fifty undergraduates, distributed throughout all fourteen residential colleges and diverse areas of student life, serve as CCEs. In an effort to change the campus’ social and sexual climate as a whole, they hold “interventions,” including informal conversations and more formal workshops, like the mandatory Bystander Intervention training for first-years.
Deputy Title IX Coordinator Katie Shirley wrote to me that the Title IX office provides “guidance” on the primary content of CCE workshops. But it is typically fellow undergraduates that are responsible for educating their peers on how to prevent sexual violence themselves—despite the heavy topics at hand and the complex web of sexual misconduct policies and response systems at Yale. The University’s professionally staffed programs like Title IX and the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education center (SHARE), which provides crisis support, counseling, and health and wellness care referrals for survivors, take a more indirect role in outreach.
Title IX offers its own customizable workshops and training for campus organizations that request them, according to its website. Shirley did not address my inquiry into what Title IX’s own training looks or whether these are mandatory for students on their own. CCE Zoe Kanga ’24, who is on the Title IX Student Advisory Committee, told me that there are opportunities for students to speak directly with the Title IX office about sexual misconduct at Yale, but that these opportunities aren’t well advertised beyond CCEs’ workshops with first-year students.
“We do, of course, advertise those resources during our interventions. But I think after that it kind of falls out,” Kanga said. “And I doubt that anyone in their junior year after experiencing something is going to go dig through their archives and find that one slip of paper that they received in their CCE training first year.”
In her email to me, Shirley only described opportunities for student leaders employed by Yale—including CCEs, First-Year Counselors, Peer Liaisons, and Transfer Peer Advisors—to speak with her during open office hours. She added that she is available to meet with CCEs one-on-one if they are interested in speaking about a particular area of the office’s work further. Despite the chances to connect mentioned by Shirley CCE Aiden Magley ’25 told me that beyond trainings, collaboration between the CCEs and Title IX are sparse.
As their fall semester back to campus continued, K. couldn’t control the visceral reaction they felt when they saw their assailant in spaces they once felt safe in. Right before Thanksgiving break, they began speaking with Shirley, whom they were familiar with through CCE training, to secure a no-contact agreement between themselves and their assailant. They’d learned a little about no-contact measures through CCE training, but the intricacies of the process were still unclear.
Initially, K. believed that visiting the Title IX office would fix all of their problems. As a CCE, they directed people to the office all the time. But as they sat across from Shirley at each meeting, tackling the logistics of academic accommodations and social arrangement conditions in the new no-contact agreement, K. gradually understood they weren’t going to receive the emotional relief they needed. Title IX’s supportive measures—and all of their limits—are laid out to CCEs during training and made accessible on the office’s website. Shirley and most Title IX administrators aren’t trained as therapists. Despite this, K. came into the process expecting more support than logistical accommodations. They’d ultimately walk away emotionally unsatisfied, even though they’d later describe their experience in itself as “neutral.”
When students come to CCEs with disclosures of sexual misconduct, CCEs respond with a script designed by the OGCC. Usually, the CCE begins by informing the survivor that they are an educator, not a counselor. They emphasize that they’re available as support, but they aren’t trained to give advice or to offer solutions themselves. As someone talks through their experience, CCEs make sure to mimic their language as part of the motivational interviewing method, which prioritizes guiding students toward their own conclusions on their experiences.
During each conversation, the CCE presents the array of resources on campus available to students who state they have experienced sexual misconduct. If you’re looking for something like emotional counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, SHARE may be the way to go. If you need to move rooms to distance yourself from your assailant, or even an ex, Title IX can help arrange accommodations. And if you want to hold your assailant accountable through disciplinary consequences, you can book a consultation with the UWC. But the process may be lengthy.
As mandatory reporters, CCEs inform their OGCC supervisors of all disclosures, which are then reported to Title IX. Shirley then sends the survivor an email with resources and opportunities to follow up with the office, which they may or may not respond to.
As they navigated their own process, being a CCE made K. feel “helped and not helped.” From their own training, they recognized Shirley’s kindness toward survivors of sexual violence. Still, K. felt strange about approaching someone related to their job. They remembered thinking, “Man, this is really fucking weird.”
K. also initially felt awkward telling their bosses about the assault—after all, they were a University employee, and the OGCC coordinators were the ones who signed their paychecks. They ultimately grew comfortable enough to be vulnerable with them after a CCE friend reassured them that the nature of their work is to understand situations like theirs. Their friends in the program supported them through their experience, often offering them a place to talk through their emotions while providing a shoulder to rest on.
“We have a tendency to over-intellectualize our experiences in a way that can be challenging to give enough space for the human, personal elements of those experiences,” K. explained. “I have all this hefty consent-based vocabulary that I can use in an academic context. But where does that leave space for my rage, and my pain, and my sadness?”
When students process their feelings about a sexual situation, CCEs take care not to use words like “rape,” “harrassment,” or “assault” if the person does not do so themself.
“If someone’s talking about a ‘really weird hook up,’ we just help them work through a ‘really weird hook up,’” Kanga explained to me. “We have the skills and the trainings to just be a validating and listening ear that I think really helps.”
Unlabeled incidents that are concerning to the CCEs—which CCE Maya Fonkeu ’25 called “events of concerns”—wouldn’t be officially reported to the OGCC or Title IX office, even if they’d be considered sexual misconduct based on Yale’s definitions. So, students would never get that email with supportive resources from Title IX, unless they labeled their experiences of misconduct on their own.
Naina Agrawal-Hardin ’25, an Associate Editor of The New Journal, works with the national organization Know Your IX, which aims to end sexual and dating violence in schools through education on survivors’ rights through Title IX. Because the CCE program and SHARE are often successful at providing students individual attention and support, Agrawal-Hardin said, many people may decide against going to Title IX or other administrative bodies for accommodations.
“On the one hand, it’s really excellent that students are able to circumvent these systems that often are traumatizing, are really lengthy, or really exhausting, or don’t always turn out in your favor,” she told me. “On another level… Yale has a lot more discretion about what numbers it discloses, and how it represents the scale of the issue on campus.”
Since privacy concerns and confidentiality rules govern Title IX and the UWC, it’s difficult to know how many people who make disclosures to CCEs ultimately end up going to the Title IX office for a follow-up. Most CCEs I spoke to estimated that the majority of students who come to them do not continue onto Title IX, but stated that they couldn’t be completely sure. Shirley told me in her email that “many students who receive initial outreach from Title IX do follow up,” but declined to share more about numbers. Even if students decline to follow up with Title IX, the office’s official reports still include their disclosures.
Outside sexual misconduct surveys might provide more clarity. In the spring of 2019, Yale participated in the Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate Survey, which estimated that 38.7 percent of the women and 15.4 percent of the men at Yale College experienced some kind of sexual assault. The 2018-2019 student body totaled 5,964, indicating that at least 1,600 students experienced sexual assault. But from fall 2015 to spring 2019, Title IX received only 246 disclosures of sexual assault, according to its semiannual reports on sexual misconduct cases.
The 2018-2019 student body totaled 5,964, indicating that at least 1,600 students experienced sexual assault. But from fall 2015 to spring 2019, Title IX received only 246 disclosures of sexual assault, according to its semiannual reports on sexual misconduct cases.
Because Title IX is two semesters behind on releasing its reports, their most recent statistics on sexual misconduct at Yale date back to 2021. That year, there were a total of 152 disclosures of sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, and other recognized forms of misconduct reported to Title IX, the UWC, and the Yale Police Department (YPD). Seventeen of these disclosures involved the YPD, while ten primarily involved the UWC. Of the eight resolved UWC cases, the UWC found sufficient evidence of sexual misconduct in five. The outcome of those five resulted in “respondent-focused responses” including written reprimands, sexual consent awareness training, suspension, and expulsion.
When K. was weighing their options, they reckoned with their general beliefs against the punitive UWC system and the raw pain they experienced following the assault. K. knew ostracizing perpetrators didn’t necessarily call for a “growth mindset.” They believe putting perpetrators through the punitive system, whether it’s the UWC or the carceral system, can reproduce harm in the long run. But these beliefs didn’t change the fact that their assailant had harmed them, too. For a while, they struggled to reconcile their broader ideological beliefs on punishment with their personal feelings toward their assailant.
“I felt like being a CCE seems so much more like the former to me, and being a person felt like the latter,” K. confessed.
Sometimes, the UWC comes to speak to the CCEs about their process. Josephine Cureton ’24, who became a CCE in the Spring 2022 semester, said the UWC spoke to her for the first time in the spring of 2023. The session was “exciting.”
“It definitely was not your typical CCE meeting at all,” she said.
When I asked Cureton about what she learned, she whipped out a notebook and flipped through a list of the complicated factors that go into the UWC’s investigation process: types of text and video evidence they accept, the amount needed to reject or move forward with complaints, students’ ability to hire their own lawyers, policies on the cross-examination of witnesses, and more.
The consultation with the UWC changed the way Cureton discusses paths forward with those who make disclosures. She wasn’t previously aware of much of the information presented, including the UWC’s “rigid” application of Yale’s definition of sexual misconduct to accept or reject complaints. In order for a complaint to move forward with the UWC, investigators need to believe there is above a fifty percent chance that the event actually happened. They can also choose to reject evidence—for example, if investigators feel that a text message doesn’t say enough, they can toss that piece of evidence. Cureton never tells people they should go to any specific place, but the consultation confirmed to her that some institutional bodies are more likely to meet students’ immediate needs than others.
“I think normally if someone wants to go somewhere, SHARE is the place to go first because they are a lot better with guiding them with resources,’” Cureton said. “I don’t think I can tell anyone in good conscience that the UWC is gonna solve all of your problems.”
Ultimately, healing for K. did not involve pursuing a response for their assailant through the UWC, but elsewhere. Meanwhile, they still wrestled with impostor syndrome when they reflected on their assault, often feeling torn between their identity as a CCE and their identity as a person. If anyone else had come to them as a CCE with a similar experience of sexual assault, K. told me in retrospect, they would have felt far more concerned about them than they did for themselves. They began to question whether they were good at their job, especially as they tried to balance their personal feelings towards assault with the education they received during CCE meetings.
Beyond their own experiences with sexual violence, CCEs’ special roles as both employees and students can put them in tricky or emotionally taxing situations when disclosures are made by people they know—or about people they know.
“Oftentimes there’s this feeling of ickiness,” Cureton told me, noting that her feelings usually depend on the specific situation. “It’s really hard to put into words.”
Magley, meanwhile, described situations where people he knew were perpetrators as “shocking, and scary, and sad, and disappointing.”
Because CCEs play a dual role of employee and student, their work status often impacts the ways they navigate friendships with other students. As soon as YCC President and CCE Julian Suh-Toma ’25 finished his CCE training, he informed his friends that he still wanted to be as intimate and supportive of a friend as possible, but that he was now a mandatory reporter on cases of misconduct. If they spoke about any such experiences in front of him, they could end up receiving an email from Shirley.
Receiving and reporting disclosures, though a clearly outlined aspect of CCEs’ responsibilities, can take a heavy emotional toll on students. YCC Vice President Fonkeu said she hadn’t initially imagined the range of duties and challenges the job would entail, including the impacts that receiving disclosures would have on her own life.
The distinction between the type of support CCEs are meant to give survivors and what they aren’t is murky, especially as CCEs themselves often go to OGCC staff to check-in on their wellbeing, talk through their feelings, and encourage them to seek professional emotional support resources.
“I’ve definitely leaned on OGCC a lot of times when those disclosures start to get heavy and sort of start to pervade into the other parts of my life,” Magley said. “The support that I got from staff members during various periods of more intense emotional labor from disclosures was really helpful.”
Elmileik wrote to me that CCEs may step back from the program if they feel doing so would be best for their wellbeing, and that it is possible for staff to assign them alternate office work if finances are a concern. K. confirmed this to me—although they did not step back from the program when they went through the Title IX process, Shirley mentioned taking a step back and performing alternate work as an option for them.
It’s difficult to determine the number of sexual misconduct incidents that any CCE is told about, as defined by Yale policies. Because CCEs don’t impose their own definitions of what constitutes sexual misconduct onto students, they sometimes talk through the events of concern, which aren’t technically disclosures. In the past, Fonkeu has been troubled enough by some of these instances that she’s gone directly to her OGCC bosses for help, receiving guidance in how to address the concerning dynamics through follow-up conversations.
Because CCEs must keep conversations with students confidential, I didn’t ask her what the outcomes of these follow-ups could entail, nor did I push the CCEs to give me information on how specific disclosures impacted their individual relationships. But the overall impacts of these conversations lingered.
The number of disclosures Cureton receives fluctuates over a given period of time based on the social spaces she inhabits. Back when she was a member of a Greek life organization, she tended to get more disclosures than she does now. She emphasized the difficulty of navigating disclosures from people she knows personally, and that people tend to spring them on the CCEs at any time.
“Yes, you might be helping someone come to terms with and advance justice, and come to terms with something bad that happened to them,” Cureton said. “But it still feels really awful and disheartening to hear some of these stories.”
Going through the Title IX process changed the way K. interacted with the sexual violence survivors who came to them for support. As a CCE, they began drawing clear distinctions about the expectations people should have coming into each support system, stressing that nothing is a one-stop shop and that survivors can choose the resources they receive depending on their specific needs. K.’s own path toward healing is of their own making—involving the no-contact agreement, cathartic conversations on friends’ common room floors, visits to Yale Mental Health and Counseling, and chats with their residential college dean.
In the beginning, K. viewed the work of a CCE as having a more one-off approach, pointing people to resources, maybe checking back in, but otherwise having finished their portion of the job. But, K. told me, their outlook on these conversations now signifies “an ongoing relationship.”
“[If a CCE-chat] does something for you, you’re not done yet, come back to me as a CCE,” K. said. “I’ll help you with step two.”
Instead of listing off resources for support as “or’s,” K. began to list them off as “and’s.” Understanding this would have helped them tremendously when they came into the Title IX office expecting to be emotionally healed.
CCEs, according to Elmileik, are supposed to be liaisons between student survivors and administrative support systems—not primary point-people. But CCEs themselves spoke to different levels of engagement with students after initial disclosures. Some told me that due to the confidentiality rules governing the Title IX process, they usually let students go their way with little continued contact, leaving check-ins up to the survivors themselves. Others said that they continued to check in after the disclosure through their own initiative, whether it be through text updates about new resources or a coffee date where the assault is never even brought up.
Ultimately, the challenges CCEs face go beyond the already hefty responsibility of representing Yale and the program well. Toeing the line between employee and student comes with a set of expectations from the students they serve, especially as organizations sometimes rely on them to ‘fix’ a toxic culture. But at the end of the day, CCEs are students who experience the social and sexual climate at Yale the same way the rest of us do. And no one’s an expert.
“Oftentimes, it’s easy to forget that we are students like everyone else,” Magley told me. “And we go through similar things. And we struggle in similar ways as some of the people that we’re talking to.”
—Megan Vaz is a sophomore in Pierson College.
SHARE – Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center
Crisis support, counseling, and health and wellness care referrals for survivors. Counselors are available any time at the 24/7 hotline: (203) 432-2000.
Title IX Office – Part of Yale’s obligation to respond to sex- and gender-based discrimination as required by federal law. Compiles and reports disclosures of sexual misconduct. Can provide accommodations such as a no-contact agreement: (203) 432-6854.
UWC – University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct
Investigates and adjudicates sexual misconduct cases, with the power to discipline assailants. Process involves a trial with evidence, lawyers, and cross-examination: (203) 432-4449.