For the better part of a month, rumors have been churning through Yale’s campus on the absence of men’s basketball captain Jack Montague, whose expulsion was confirmed by his father last week. On Wednesday evening, the New York Times reported that the expulsion was in connection to a sexual misconduct case; Thursday morning, the Yale Daily News also reported that Montague was expelled for sexual misconduct following a decision by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC).
A formal complaint was filed against Montague with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct in November of 2015, several months after an incident of alleged misconduct occurred. The decision to expel him was made on Feb. 10, 2016, and a week later the UWC chose not to hear Montague’s appeal of the decision, according to sources familiar with the facts of the case. It remains unclear if the November formal complaint was the only complaint brought before the UWC.
No other details are publicly available, but, according to Yale’s fall sexual misconduct report, which provides a summary of sexual misconduct complaints brought forward between July and December of 2015, four formal complaints were brought to the UWC against Yale college students during that time period; all were categorized under “sexual assault.”
Both the student who filed the complaint and Montague declined to comment to the YDN; Yale dean Jonathan Holloway declined to confirm the reasons for Montague’s expulsion to the YDN. Last week, Montague’s father characterized the reasons behind his son’s expulsion as “ridiculous.”
Over the past week and a half, posters have appeared on Yale’s campus accusing the men’s basketball team of “supporting a rapist”; prior to the first wave of posters, the basketball team wore t-shirts bearing Montague’s nickname “Gucci” and his number, as well as “Yale” spelled backwards (the university claims to have had no knowledge of the shirts beforehand). At the end of a high-profile game against Columbia this past weekend, members of the basketball team put up four fingers to represent Montague; guard Khaliq Ghani had “Gucci” written on his wrist tape and told Sports Illustrated that Montague is “still the captain of our team.”
More posters sprang up around campus this week, and on Wednesday the men’s basketball team released a statement:
“Yale Men’s Basketball fully supports a healthy, safe and respectful campus climate where all students can flourish. Our recent actions to show our support for one of our former teammates were not intended to suggest otherwise, but we understand that to many students they did. We apologize for the hurt we have caused and we look forward to learning and growing from these recent incidents. As student representatives of Yale we hope to use our positions on and off the court in a way that can make everyone proud.”
Also on Wednesday, prior to the release of the statement, a “chalk-in” was organized by several groups on campus to support survivors of sexual violence. Clarifying to the YDN on Thursday that the event was not specifically in response to Montague’s expulsion but rather a space to broaden the discussion into Yale’s overall sexual climate, USAY co-director Helen Price said: “Rape culture didn’t just suddenly emerge in the last month, and people have been negatively affected by Yale’s sexual climate for a long time.”
Yale, like many, many schools around the country, has in the past struggled to properly address sexual misconduct on campus.
In 2011, on the heels of the Yale chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon’s infamous “No means yes, yes means anal” chant, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation into Yale’s handling of sexual violence; the school also established the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Assault that year to better handle complaints. In 2013, the university was also fined $155,000 for failing to report all sexual violence crimes on campus between 2001 and 2002, which is a violation of the Clery Act. That same year, Jezebel reported that six Yale students were found guilty of “nonconsensual sex” and none were expelled.
More recently, in April 2015, the Yale Daily News launched a lengthy investigation into a sexual harassment verdict against the SAE fraternity and found a number of issues with the school’s approach, including Yale’s reported reluctance to enforce punishments or hold the fraternity publicly accountable. “Confidentiality protected the identities of the individuals involved, but it hindered the administration in providing a timely and accurate portrayal of what happened as a means of educating the Yale community,” the report claimed.
A few months after the SAE investigation, which was based on confidential UWC documents leaked by a student, the Yale Daily News reported in October that UWC procedures had been updated to strengthen their confidentiality clause.
A footnote in the procedures document reads:
Modified the procedures to require the parties to a UWC proceeding, and all members of the Yale community, to maintain the confidentiality of the documents prepared by, prepared for, or received from the UWC. Confidentiality of the UWC proceedings is essential to the effective discharge of the UWC’s functions and allows the UWC to make decisions free of external influence of any sort. (Section 3)
Yale’s general statement on the confidentiality of UWC proceedings reads, in part:
If parties or witnesses fear that their participation or testimony in a UWC proceeding could be revealed, then concerns about reputation, social tension, or retaliation may cause them to keep silent. Every member of the University community should recognize that breaches of confidentiality hurt the participants and have the potential to erode respect for the UWC process.
Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, told Jezebel in an interview that confidentiality policies surrounding sexual misconduct adjudication are notoriously thorny at universities around the country—“They say that everything about this process has to be secret, including the thing where we require you to agree to the secrecy.”
Goldstein continued: “The way the Clery Act is written, it requires schools to have the process available, and they can’t make access to that process conditional on a willingness to maintain confidentiality. The accuser always has the right to walk out of that process and say, ‘this is what happened to me.’” According to S. Daniel Carter, an independent consultant who filed both the UVA and Georgetown complaints as a victim advocate with the organization Security on Campus, such statements have not historically tended to spur legal action from the accused; however, “it is possible.”
In cases over the past 12 years, including those at Georgetown, UVA, and Otterbein, the Department of Education has consistently ruled that, under the terms of the Clery Act, schools cannot require sexual assault victims to keep the results of disciplinary hearings confidential as a precondition of their ability to access those proceedings (this is reiterated on page 144 of the 2011 DOE Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting).
In Yale’s case, however, the school specifically requires that documents from the proceedings remain confidential, a matter the DOE has not appeared to address. Yale is also among schools that cite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which prohibits the improper disclosure of personally identifiable information taken from education records, as a reason they don’t comment on sexual misconduct cases.
When asked for comment on Yale’s confidentiality policy, questioned as to whether Yale has students entering UWC proceedings sign nondisclosure forms, and asked for comment on the reported reasons behind Montague’s expulsion, press secretary Tom Conroy replied with a link to this May 2015 statement on Yale’s confidentiality policy. (UPDATE: An Education Department spokesperson also responded to a request for comment on UWC confidentiality policies, saying that the department cannot provide an advisory opinion, that there are exceptions to FERPA’s provisions, and that the department will investigate and act upon potential violations of the Clery Act.)
Broad Recognition, a feminist magazine at Yale, published an op-ed on March 3 titled “Frustrating Silence” that, while applauding the “noble intentions” of Yale’s confidentiality rules, questioned their effect in an environment overwhelmed by then-unsubstantiated rumors.
On a campus where students share information using methods from Yik Yak posts to signs and T-Shirts, are expectations of confidentiality realistic? Furthermore, at a time when victims of sexual misconduct increasingly feel comfortable fighting back against the victim-shaming associated with reporting, and many students decry the lack of public information on verified campus rapists, who does secrecy protect?
The answer to that question remains unclear. In their current iteration, do these policies really protect students’ confidentiality, or do they simply serve to protect the reputations of universities—while implicitly encouraging students to believe whatever unverified narrative aligns with their preexisting views on sexual violence?
The procedure of adjudicating sexual assault claims remains fraught, but Montague’s expulsion seems to represent an important shift in the power dynamic on campus. In the past, Yale has appeared reluctant to expel students for any reason, and just one student was expelled for sexual misconduct in 2015. And, according to a recent survey of 27 colleges, 23 percent of Yale undergraduate women have been victims of sexual misconduct as a result of force, threats of force or incapacitation. The fact that a senior team captain was reportedly expelled for sexual misconduct, right in the middle of a potentially historic season for the Yale basketball team, could be taken as a sign that meaningful change is underway.
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