It’s Protest Season: Yale
A warning not to wear culturally insensitive Halloween costumes sparked protests at Yale, which went viral over the weekend. A lecturer asked in an e-mail, “Is there no room anymore for a child to be a little bit obnoxious . . . a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”
One student wrote in a Yale Herald op-ed (now taken down): “He doesn’t get it. And I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.”
Here’s the issue. The administrator goes on to offer advice from her husband, suggesting: “If you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended.” The administrator and her husband should both know that while that might be a simple enough response theoretically, like parents who tell a child to simply ignore a bully; in practice, coping with cultural offense can be much more fraught, especially for students who feel isolated and unsupported by the larger community. Her proposed tactic puts the burden of confrontation, education, and maturity on the offended, not the offender, asking them to quell their anger, hurt, or fear in order to have a rational and mind-expanding conversation with those who have hurt them.
Like many elite schools, Yale has a tense racial past and present, one that ensures that admission isn’t necessarily synonymous with full social acceptance. The reports of recent incidents, like swastikas painted on campus, or a frat turning black girls away from a party, are surely only a few examples where some students are implicitly told that they are less welcome than their classmates.
The administrator has her free speech rights to defend offensive costumes and other people have free speech rights to call for her job. The divide is a matter of favoring the free speech rights of one over the other. In my opinion, this is another classic case of freedom of speech being mistaken for freedom from consequences for what you say.