Yale Students Protest, Disrupt, Pro-Free Speech Event

By Terence P. Jeffrey | November 9, 2015 | 10:09am EST
(Wikimedia Commons)

Students at Yale on Saturday protested—and in one case disrupted—an event held by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program that was designed to highlight the importance of freedom of speech.

According to a report in the Yale Daily News “several attendees were spat on” by the protestors.

The targets of the protest and disruption were participating in the Buckley Program’s “Fifth Annual Conference on the Future of Free Speech: Threats in Higher Education and Beyond.”

The conference is held in keeping with the program’s mission “to expand political discourse on campus and to expose students to often-unvoiced views.”

One of the attendees—James Panero, executive editor of The New Criterion--tweeted out two videoclips of the proceedings. One shows students in a hallway chanting in unison “genocide is not a joke” as conference attendees file quietly by so they can leave the lecture hall.

The other shows a student shouting at one of the speakers at the conference and physically resisting the efforts of a security officer to remove him from the room.

The Yale Daily News, citing Buckley Fellows (Yale students who participate in the program), reported that protestors spat on conference attendees as they departed.

“A large group of students eventually gathered outside of the building on High Street," the Yale Daily News  reported. "According to Buckley fellows present during the conference, several attendees were spat on as they left. One Buckley fellow said he was spat on and called a racist. Another, who is a minority himself, said he has been labeled a 'traitor' by several fellow minority students. Both asked to remain anonymous because they were afraid of attracting backlash."

All this occurred in the context of a controversy that erupted at Yale over the potential that students might wear what could be perceived as culturally insensitive Halloween costumes.

Three days before Halloween, as reported by Vox, Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email to students warning them away from certain costumes. “Halloween is also unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most Yale students can sometimes be forgotten and some poor decisions can be made including wearing feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing black face or red face,” said the email.

Two days later, Erika Cristakis--who is a Yale lecturer, an associate master of Silliman College and the wife of Silliman College Master Nicholas Cristakis—sent out an email to students and administrators of that college.

“I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do,” she wrote.

She went on to say: “Even if we could agree on how to avoid offense---and I’ll note that no one around campus seems overly concerned about the offense taken by religiously conservative folks to skin-revealing costumes--I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious…a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.”

“Nicholas says,” she wrote, citing her husband, “if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

The Daily Mail published a story Saturday—along with a video—about a confrontation between Silliman College Master Nicholas Cristakis and a student who cursed at him and told him he “should step down” because of the advice he had given students about Halloween costumes.

Master Cristakis gave the opening remarks at the Buckley Program’s free speech conference on Saturday.

Zach Young, a junior at Yale who is the president of the Buckley Program, published a column in the Yale Daily News today describing what ensued.

“The unrest began when a student in a yellow t-shirt rushed to the front of the lecture hall during a panel. When other attendees told him to sit down, he refused and instead taped posters across the wall. A Yale police officer stationed outside entered the room and asked the student to leave.

“‘You’re going to have to carry me out,’ the student said. The officer obliged.

“Another student soon wrote about the incident on the Facebook group “Overheard at Yale.” Comments on the post identified our event’s location. “Run through,” one recommended.

“Protesters lined up outside the lecture hall. Some demanded that we immediately add speakers of their choosing to the conference. Others tried to get into the lecture hall, which was oversubscribed and required preregistration. Police stood guard at the doors to ensure our symposium could go on as planned.

“The professed reason for the protest was an off-color joke made by one of the panelists, Greg Lukianoff. ‘Given the reaction to Erika Christakis’s email, you would have thought she burned down an Indian village,’ he said, referring to an email sent a week prior about Halloween attire.

“Whether or not the remark was in poor taste is beside the point. As the Woodward Report, a cornerstone of Yale policy, makes clear, free speech is about the ability to ‘think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable and challenge the unchallengeable.’ In any case, the protests did not conclude when Lukianoff left the stage....

"What good is the First Amendment when people are shamed for holding dissenting views? Those protesters who called me a “white colonizer” and posted on Facebook “unfriend me if you disagree” are creating a campus culture that is hostile to free expression and the exchange of ideas. It is a culture in which students and faculty are afraid to voice their opinions. It is a culture of conformity, intimidation and silence….

To read the entirety of Young’s column at the Yale Daily News click here.





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