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Yale responds to controversial ‘scouting report’ with sex forum

In the wake of last week’s now-infamous ‘Preseason Scouting Report’ e-mail, a collection of student groups gathered over the weekend to discuss sexuality at Yale University.

A Sunday forum titled ‘A Conversation about Sex at Yale’ brought together more than 80 students and faculty in response to the ‘Scouting Report,’ an anonymous, widely circulated e-mail ranking the physical attractiveness of 53 women in the class of 2013. Volunteers from student organizations including the Women’s Center, women’s athletics teams, sororities and cultural houses led small, informal discussion groups in rooms throughout William L. Harkness Hall, addressing topics such as Yale’s so-called ‘hookup culture.’

‘Of course we think strong action should be taken against whoever wrote the e-mail, but what we can do right now is start a broad conversation in the community about sex at Yale,’ said student Blair Lanier, a Women’s Center business coordinator.

Women’s Center coordinators employed the discussion format to encourage participants to speak openly about the sensitive topics, Women’s Center board member Dounia Bredes said. (Disclosure: Bredes is a staff photographer for The Yale Daily News.)

The community forum stood in contrast to the Center’s aggressive response to the ‘Yale sluts’ controversy of early 2008, when 12 students affiliated with the fraternity Zeta Psi were photographed outside the Center holding a sign that read ‘We Love Yale Sluts.’ That year, the Center threatened legal action before demanding policy changes from the university administration in response to the incident.

About 25 students volunteered to moderate the Sunday discussion groups, split by gender into four groups of men and 10 groups of women, Lanier said. Junior Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the Center’s constituency coordinator, said the decision to divide by gender was made to create a safe environment for participants. The groups worked off a set of suggested questions prepared by the Women’s Center. In one discussion group, the conversation turned to the topic of how relationships develop on campus.

‘If relationships start as a hookup, or sex, or something much more physically intimate, is that right?’ asked moderator Amy Larsen, a freshman counselor in Calhoun College. ‘Is that healthy for men and women? Is that just ‘the way it is’?’

Before the attendees broke into groups, Women’s Center organizers addressed the crowd, acknowledging the e-mail’s impact.

‘We hope you know that the ‘Preseason Scouting Report’ was not indicative of the attitudes of most men here,’ Gunn-Wright said. ‘This event was created in response to the ‘Preseason Scouting Report,’ but that will not be the primary focus of the event.’

Although Yale administrators were not directly involved in organizing Sunday’s forum, several administrators spoke briefly during the event, including senior associate athletic director Amy Baccus and Maria Trumpler, director of the office of LGBT resources. In a nod to Yale College Dean Mary Miller, who did not attend the event, Trumpler said the forum had Miller’s full support.

Miller declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into the e-mail’s origins, though she published an op-ed in The Yale Daily News addressing the e-mail.

Participants said the discussions were productive, but several questioned whether the forum would benefit the rest of the Yale community, given its limited audience. The event was publicized on flyers posted throughout campus and through e-mails to different student organizations and freshman counselors, as well as through word of mouth.

‘This is a self-selecting group,’ said Women’s Center outreach coordinator Junior Emma Barash. ‘But when we have this conversation, it reminds people who are too nervous or too busy ‘hellip; to be a part of this conversation.’ The Women’s Center will host a follow-up event within the next two weeks, Lanier said.

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