NEW HAVEN, Conn. ― Instead of Yale University celebrating its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in more than 50 years, the sudden dismissal of the captain of the men’s basketball team has sparked controversy and debate on campus.
The exact circumstances behind the departure of senior Jack Montague in early February remain unclear. School administrators are not commenting on the departure. His father, Jim, declined to comment on the reasons behind his son’s removal. Montague has not been charged with a crime and Yale and New Haven police say they are not investigating.
Since Montague’s departure last month, the issue has sparked a broad and emotional debate on campus about safety and sexual misconduct, with students reacting to what they have heard in the absence of an official explanation. University leaders have said they are committed to “providing a safe campus” for all students.
Yale, along with colleges and universities across the nation, has been struggling with how to respond to controversy over sexual misconduct. In 2011, after coming under federal scrutiny related to sexual assault and harassment, Yale made a number of changes in its system for handling complaints establishing a university-wide committee to handle complaints as well as expanding efforts to educate students about sexual misconduct and how to prevent it.
“I know that many of you are upset and angry, and that you are sharing deeply conflicting views,” Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said in a message to students this past week. “I know that I can count on you to join me in this effort by treating each other with respect ― especially when you disagree.”
Montague played in his last game on Feb. 6 and days later Yale changed his status to “withdrawn.” Last week, Jim Montague told the New Haven Register that his son had been expelled from Yale. Before the Yale game against Harvard on Feb. 26, Montague’s teammates wore shirts with the Yale logo spelled backward and Montague’s nickname “Gucci.” This drew a sharp reaction on campus and a subsequent apology from the team.
“We should be really proud but how can you be really proud when they are standing up for someone who did something wrong?” asked Olivia Briffault, a junior at the university. She said the team was celebrated on stage at Toad’s Place, a New Haven nightclub. “We Are The Champions” was played.
“It felt out of place,” said Briffault, who was there. “It felt like the wrong thing to do.”
This past week, Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale, the Yale Women’s Center and the Yale Black Women’s Coalition held a “chalk-in” in front of the Sterling Memorial Library. Most of the messages were supportive toward victims of sexual assault, such as, “Yale Survivors You Are Loved,” ‘”You Are Strong You Are Resilient.”
Amelia Nierenberg is a sophomore at Yale and a member of the university’s Communication and Consent Educators program, a group of students who work to “foster a more positive sexual and social climate on campus.” She acknowledged that even Montague’s own teammates have been conflicted.
“There are a lot of people on this campus who are grieving and they’re grieving for a lot of different communities right now.”
As Nierenberg sat on a bench in front of Berkeley College, a tour group passed the library, with some parents and prospective students looking down and reading the chalk messages about sexual assault.
Freshman Sara Tabin, standing in front of the library and surveying the chalk messages, said the dialogue on campus has become more productive in the past few days.
“The campus mood I want to say is shifting toward a more open discussion about rape culture and problems that we’ve had on campus,” she said. “And I think the chalk-in is strong evidence that people are using this as an opportunity to talk about these issues and support survivors.”
Freshman Valentina Guerrero said all sexual assault victims ― including those whose cases don’t elevate to the point of a campus-wide discussion ― need to know that the community supports them.
“People can’t feel alone,” she said. “There’s definitely people out there who love those that have been victims of this.”
Without specifically mentioning Montague or the allegations against him, the basketball team Wednesday apologized for their show of support.
“(We) support a healthy, safe, and respectful campus climate where all students can flourish,” the statement from the team read. “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.”
Yale handles allegations of sexual misconduct through the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. Evidence is gathered, a hearing is held and a panel of five people decide whether the accused party has violated Yale policy. If a violation occurs, the panel recommends a penalty. There is a process for appeal.
Under Title IX, universities and colleges are required to have procedures in place to prevent harassment and sexual assault from occurring on campus and to address it when it does.
Because Title IX is a civil law, a “preponderance of evidence” or just over 50 percent of the evidence is needed to find a violation of policy. It is the same civil standard that applies to discrimination cases in the workplace or elsewhere.
The standard is less demanding than in criminal courts where the legal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt. Critics of the college judiciary systems argue that the procedures don’t provide those accused of sexual assault with their right to due process under the law.
The situation has thrust Yale into the national spotlight, fueled by the storyline of the Elis return to March Madness without their captain. Nierenberg, the sophomore working with the Communication and Consent Educators program, said talking about the story from a sports angle is “not really hitting the point.”
“It’s about the way that we deal with things that are uncomfortable,” she said.
According to the results of a campuswide survey released in September, 32 percent of Yale seniors graduating that year had experienced at least one incident of sexual assault since arriving at the university. “The prevalence of such behavior runs counter to our most fundamental values,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in a letter accompanying the survey results.
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