At Yale, Basketball Success Collides With Sexual Misconduct Case
Joe Drape and Marc Tracy
March 9, 2016
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — This should be the Yale Bulldogs’ crowning moment — after a 54-year wait, the men’s basketball team brought an unshared Ivy League title home and with it an invitation to the N.C.A.A. tournament.
Instead, the team finds itself at odds with many students here over its continued support for its captain, a senior who left the university last month without a public explanation from anyone associated with Yale’s athletics department or its administration.
The departure of the player, Jack Montague, 22, was in connection with a sexual misconduct accusation, according to two people with direct knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature in which it was handled.
With protests on campus against the Bulldogs increasing, the team on Wednesday issued a statement apologizing for its public shows of support for Montague, which had included wearing shirts with his name and number during a game and making hand gestures signifying his number.
Asked by ESPN about the missing captain after the team had clinched its tournament berth on Saturday, Coach James Jones said: “We love him. He’s a great young man, and we love him.”
In its statement Wednesday, the team said it “supports a healthy, safe and respectful campus climate where all students can flourish.”
The statement continued: “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.”
The details of the episode and whether Montague was deemed guilty of the accusation remain unclear, but his father, while declining to discuss the case in detail, said in an interview that his son had been expelled. The team and the university acknowledged that Montague left school Feb. 26 but, citing federal confidentiality laws, have declined to comment on the reasons.
In a statement, a university spokesman, Tom Conroy, wrote that in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law on the privacy of student records, “Yale policy is to not release identifiable information from a student’s educational record to the public unless a student requests that the information be disclosed.”
As rumors around the accusation have percolated across campus, the case and its unanswered questions have caused tension. On Wednesday, members of a student advocacy group, Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale, gathered in the center of campus to host a rally against sexual assault.
Yale players wearing T-shirts with Montague’s number and nickname on the back. Credit Robbie Short/Yale Daily News
About 450 students and faculty members wrote messages in chalk on the concrete in front of Yale’s largest library throughout the day, some of them directed at the team.
The comments included “The only team I’m cheering for are survivors @ Yale — dismantle men’s athletic privilege” and “Imagine if Yale men cared as much about ending rape culture as they care about sports. Be an ally.”
Montague’s father, Jim, said representatives of his son would soon clarify why he had left school.
“We have been holding our tongue and waiting,” he said, “and when we put our story out there, people are going to say, ‘Why was this boy expelled?’ ”
Students said their frustration stemmed from a lack of public information. The mechanism Yale has put in place to handle sexual misconduct complaints stresses confidentiality to make students feel comfortable coming forward. If the students choose, the matter can also be settled without the involvement of law enforcement.
Outside investigators are assigned to each case, and the cases are heard by members of the Yale professional community. The dean of a student’s college makes the final decision. The findings remain confidential and are protected by the privacy law.
But the process, and the absence of a public record or accounting, lends itself to accusations of a lack of transparency.
Lucy Carmelo, a senior who wrote an editorial for The Yale Herald, said that even though she considered members of the basketball team her friends, their public support of Montague was misguided not only because of the message it sent but also because of the platform the team commanded.
“The shirts and the team’s statements support a campus climate I don’t agree with,” she said. “We should all feel safe and believe we are being heard.”
Others said the mystery around the case had made it hard to have a constructive dialogue over whether the university and the team had acted properly.
“It is difficult to report on or talk about what’s happening on campus when information is lacking,” Fiona Lowenstein wrote in Broad Recognition, a feminist magazine at Yale.
She added, “In the absence of facts confirmed by an administrative body, people will continue to weigh in on public conversation.”
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As Yale awaits its tournament seeding and word of where it will play its opening-round game, the conversation over Montague and the team has threatened to overshadow the Bulldogs’ on-court achievements.
Yale administrators have struggled to address the rancor without divulging information on the case.
Jonathan Holloway, the dean of Yale College, sent an email to all undergraduate students Saturday morning, saying that he understood many were “upset and angry” about the team’s actions but asked that they “treat each other civilly.”
Not long after, Fish Stark, a columnist at The Yale Daily News, posted an edited version of Holloway’s message on a Facebook group, Overheard at Yale, a popular stop among the more than 8,000 members of the university community. Stark said the dean should have come out in support of Yale women and a safer sexual climate.
Calls for the team to apologize ratcheted up as well.
“I wish they realized the impact their gesture would have in this community,” Grant Bronsdon wrote in The Yale Daily News on Monday. “And I hope they can understand the hurt they’ve caused, apologize for their divisiveness and return to focusing on the tourney.”
Team members had remained resolute.
After Saturday’s victory over Columbia and the team’s demonstration of support for Montague, the Bulldogs’ star player, Justin Sears, said he and members of the team had communicated with Montague via Facebook before the game. Sears said Montague had told them to win the game for him, and the team members told Montague they expected to see him at the site of Yale’s first-round game, to be announced Sunday.
“He’s still our captain,” Sears said. “He’s my brother; he’s all of our brothers. He’s back at home smiling, having a beer right now.”
Athletic Director Tom Beckett said the team had acted on its own when it donned the supportive shirts before a game.
“The university had no knowledge of the shirts,” he said. “We were not a part of that decision.”
Regarding the nationally televised comments by Jones about Montague, Conroy, the Yale spokesman, said in an email that “the coach was expressing his personal feelings about a student no longer on the team in answer to a question immediately following the team winning the Ivy League championship for the first time in 54 years.”
Sexual misconduct and assaults on college campuses have become a focus of the news media and higher-education policy makers, especially after a recent study, one of the largest of its kind, showed that more than one in four undergraduate women at a large group of leading universities said they had been sexually assaulted by force or when they were incapacitated.
The survey, released last fall by the Association of American Universities, showed that about 27 percent of female college seniors reported that since entering college they had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact — anything from touching to rape.
Yale’s handling of sexual assault has come under particular scrutiny in recent years. The university has taken a number of steps to address how such cases are handled in the aftermath of an investigation by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights into a complaint filed by 16 students and recent graduates, accusing the university of violating Title IX, the federal gender-equality law, by failing to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus.